By Nick Giongco
Malcolm Tuñacao probably still hears the bell 20 years after.
On May 19, 2000, Tuñacao found himself fighting under searing conditions in a Thai city 50 kilometers from the Laos border in a successful bid to become a world boxing champion.
His reign as World Boxing Council (WBC) flyweight king lasted just 10 months and Tuñacao was forced to relocate to Japan to seek another shot at glory.
Under new management, Tuñacao got his long-awaited break but came up short of winning another world title.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Cebu-born Tuñacao is still in Japan doing a job he never dreamt about becoming: a garbage collector.
But it’s not the kind Filipinos are used to.
“Easy job” said Tuñacao, now 42 and six years removed from being a pro fighter, in Filipino from the port city of Kobe. “All my life, I was into boxing and this was my first real job,” said Tuñacao, who is joined in the job by four other stablemates in a Japanese gym.
“The trash I pick up doesn’t smell because there is a system here and a proper way to dispose of garbage,” said Tuñacao, who reigned as WBC 112-lb champ from May 20, 2000 until March 2, 2001.
In becoming champion, Tuñacao had to beat somebody who had knocked out Manny Pacquiao — Medgoen 3K Battery — eight months earlier.
“I new I could beat him because I liked his style, something that was made for me,” said Tuñacao.
The victory was the fastest pulled off by a Filipino boxer in his quest for a world title: 11 fights.
“What a memorable fight,” he said as he looked back to that humid afternoon day in May two decades ago.
It was a fight that was supposed to propel him to bigger things.
However, Tuñacao had to yield the title the following year and wandered around the Philippines before deciding to try his luck in Japan where he is seeking to become a permanent resident.
There he met a Japanese girl.
“My partner Taeko is working on my documents and I intend to stay here for good,” said Tuñacao, who had a decorated amateur career under Tony Aldeguer’s ALA Boxing Club.
It was Taeko who rescued Tuñacao from impoverished conditions in Mandaue several years ago.
During a visit back home a few years back, Tuñacao got into an argument with his then wife, who stabbed him in a fit of jealousy.
“Taeko brought me back to Japan and she borrowed money so I can be operated on again since my (stab) wound wasn’t healing,” said Tuñacao, who already has a two-year-old daughter they named Karen.
“She has sacrificed a lot for me,” he said of his new partner in life.