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Comeback is real

Calvin Abueva's comeback is just the tip of the iceberg. PBA Images (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--As the saying goes, "A setback is a setup for a comeback."

Sure, 2020 has been a huge setback for Philippine sports mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this did not stop some Philippine athletes from making a huge comeback.

I listed down some of them here.

James De Los Santos

James De Los Santos transitioned from a SEA Games cut to a 36-time world champion in just one full year. From his Facebook account
A door was intriguingly shut on James De Los Santos when he was left out of the Philippine team's final karatedo lineup for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

It seemed like it hardly mattered as the Nationals racked a lot of golds in both the kumite and kata divisions, but De Los Santos, arguably the Philippines' top kata bet, not in the team raised eyebrows.

However, it did not deter him from competing, and the opportune time came amid the pandemic.

With karate events relegated to the virtual reality due to COVID-19, De Los Santos made the most of it, competing in every tournament that he can join.

From missing out on a SEA Games medal, De Los Santos now owns 42 on a global scale this past year alone.

Thirty-six of them are gold medals including two hat tricks, that is, a set of three events whose final results are released on the same day.

He finishes the year as the world number one eKata player, nearly double the score of world number two Matias Domont.

On top of that, The Hit List, a fight sport-focused podcast series, honored De Los Santos with the Male Fighter of the Year award, a proof that combat sports is not just about the literal combats but also for performance-based events like kata.

"You were a great year," he simply said.

Rolando Dy

Losing a featherweight belt in 2019, Gab Dy now has a shot at a lightweight title next year. Brave CF (file photo)
A finalist in The Hit List's Male Fighter of the Year award is Rolando Gabriel Dy.

Although he fell short in a close voting race, he was still feted with the Comeback Fighter of the Year plum.

He had a strong case why.

Gab had a sour ending to 2019, losing his Abu Dhabi Warriors featherweight title to Lee Do-Gyum in October before dropping another one to Anzor Abdulkhozjaev just after Christmas.

Both defeats came via stoppages, and being the son of boxing legend Rolando Navarette, getting knocked out for two in a row is nothing short of demoralizing especially that it is your own game.

As Bahrain-based Brave Combat Federation resumed its events, however, Dy took a huge leap of faith, moving up to the lightweight division.

As it turned out, going to 155 was all Dy needed to return to his old form, beating Maciej Gierszewski via split decision at Brave CF 42 on Sept. 24 and John Brewin at Brave CF 44 on Nov. 5.

Note that Dy accepted both fights on short notices, so while having one judge favoring Gierszewski in his scorecard is understandable since Dy still had to shake some rust off, him getting the nod of all the three judges against Brewin is truly remarkable considering that he only had the entire October to prepare.

Brave eventually handed Dy the Fighter of the Year award for his impressive lightweight debut, and he is coming into 2021 with a shot at the Brave lightweight title.

Calvin Abueva

Calvin Abueva should be in the conversation for the biggest sports comeback story of 2020. PBA Images (file photo)
And of course, there is no comeback athletes year-ender for 2020 without a citation to Calvin Abueva.

Come on! This guy was not on the hardwood for 16 consecutive months due to a ban slapped to him by the PBA for unsportsmanlike conducts.

But as he continued to reform, the league also began to soften its stance on what was actually an indefinite suspension.

Following the completion of requirements from both the PBA and the Games and Amusements Board, "The Beast" was finally unleashed in a match that was seen by over 120,000 people via live stream and thousands more on national television.

The fans and maybe the haters too cannot deny that they witnessed Abueva's triumphant return.

"Pinakita lang nila sa akin at naramdaman ko ang suporta nila," Abueva said last October.

On top of that, Abueva finished the season with no technical or flagrant foul and is even in the conversation for the Best Player of the Conference.

Aside from that, he helped bring Phoenix back to the semifinals, and the team came just one win shy of making its breakthrough finals appearance, showing that it can be a threat down the road.

If the PBA decides to give a Comeback Player award, Abueva deserves it so much.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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