I spent my early years in Polomolok, South Cotabato, a sleepy town down south whose claim to sporting fame in the early ‘90s was of having produced a PBA player in Bruce Dacia, a University of the Visayas alum who also saw action in the MBA for San Juan Knights.

Before that, our claim to fame was hitching on the famous sons of our neighbors, Manny Pacquiao of General Santos and Kenneth Duremdes of Marbel.

In fact, before the age of the internet, you’d hear quirky urban legends of a kababayan, who heard from another, who heard from his cousin (you get the drift?) of how one guy from Polomolok supposedly fought with Pac-Man in the amateur ranks or of how one got elbowed by Duremdes in a pick-up game.

Of course, these days, social media would have ferreted out the truth or spread the story faster.

I haven’t been back to Polomolok for quite a while, but I always get elated when I hear of townmates doing well and none, lately, has done better than Reymart Gaballo, the 25-year-old who won the WBC interim bantamweight title with a split decision win over Emmanuel Rodriguez on Dec. 19, 2020.

Undefeated in 24 fights with a respectable 20 knockouts, the youngster is in for the biggest fight of his life as the WBC has ordered a mandatory match with the legendary Nonito Donaire Jr.

“I’m so happy and glad to fight my idol Nonito Donaire. This fight will make me happy because since I was a kid, I watched him fight on TV. I didn’t expect I will fight Nonito,” Gaballo told Ring TV’s Ryan Songalia.

Here’s a fun fact: During one of their early visits to Cebu, when a kababayan told me that the Donaires onced lived in Silway, I asked the elder Donaire to confirm it and he said yes.

The conversation was fleeting, as there were so many people and I wasn’t able to ask him to confirm if that was when he was single or when he had a junior already. What’s the significance of that? Well, Silway is another sleepy town next to Polomolok, a place where we had Boy Scouts camps as kids.

By the way, the buildup to this fight will be a refreshing change for Donaire; from having that nasty exchanges with fellow champion Johnreil Casimero to having an undefeated kid call you “my idol.” And of course when nice guys fight, it’s hard to pick a side.

Gaballo vs. Donaire, I hope my kababayans down south will be paying attention to this one.