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I remember a conversation I had with world champion trainer Freddie Roach about old world champions refusing to get knocked down by Father Time. We were talking about Ali, Frazier, Marciano, Holyfield, and how their careers wound down. I argued that the great ones should retire while they’re at the peak of their prodigious powers.
Coach Freddie thought otherwise. While he agreed that the old guard should take care of their health, he told me that champions only stop when they’re done. “Every old champion always feels like they have that one great fight remaining inside of them, that they can summon their power for one last time, for one last shot, and knock the F*&% out of their opponent.”
I never forgot that conversation.
Asi Taulava, all 6’9”of him, at the tender age of 39, is that big, strong, proud, and stubborn old champion for the Meralco Bolts. Asi’s been putting in work in the league back to the days of mobile phones with antenna!!! So to see him in the age of Instagram and BBM playing balls-to-the-wall basketball despite the ravages of time is absolutely awesome. He’s swatting shots emphatically, dunking in transition, rebounding in traffic, pumping his fist, roaring at the crowd, diving for loose balls, D-ing up imports, and carrying an ecstatic Coach Ryan Gregorio jumping into his arms. If he sinks a three-point shot in his next game, I'll go nuts. The big man is still swinging.
You could feel Asi’s passion everytime he yelled at his teammates to get in defensive position, or his determination whenever he hauled down precious boards, and especially his rage whenever he threw down a ferocious baseline dunk. I can only imagine the work and focus it requires for Asi to summon the strength and smarts to wrestle with the league’s young guns in the paint on a near-nightly basis. But imagine how good it must feel for The Ageless Rock to know that he still has enough left. Enough mojo to summon the power that made him one of the most dominant big men in the league, just enough to gather all his power for one more ride, one more knockout blow. All his strength. All his power. Everything he’s got.
As tears rolled down his face, after he got on all fours on the Coliseum floor, the old, stubborn champion Paul Asi Taulava smiled that big toothy grin. Father Time, you can chill for a while longer. The big man’s fire still burns. He’s still up on his feet, gloves up, ready to throw down in Chinatown. He may not be destroying teams for 50 points and 20 rebounds, but Asi is still Asi. The Godfather. The Big Man on campus. The Rock. The same blonde bomber who can still invigorate his team with a thunderous dunk or his tenacious defense around the rim. The same big goof who would sacrifice his body for extra possessions and still have the energy to do 90s commercial impressions reminding us fans “Don’t forget the kanin!” whenever we eat at Kenny Rogers.
As he runs back to the Bolts’ locker room, Asi sprints like he’s just ballin’ back in 1999. The big man rides his second wind. His heart’s on fire, and you can bet those old muscles in his body are as well. But he’s happy to feel young. Just like the old kings of the ring, Asi must be thinking to himself; “This is a 12-round fight, ladies and gentlemen. I got a lot more.” JV