The Rivalry’s sports wish list for 2023 (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.

7. More world boxing champions

There was a time at the start of the year when the Philippines had more than a half dozen world champions in different weight divisions. But 2022 didn’t pan out well, with Donaire losing his WBC title at 118 lbs against The Monster, Japan’s Naoya Inoue, Anajas losing twice to Argentina’s Fernando Martinez in two separate IBF super flyweight title bouts, Casimero’s WBC bantamweight title taken away from him, Donnie Nietes suffering a unanimous decision loss to Japan’s Kazuto Ioka for the WBO super flyweight belt, and Mark Magsayo losing his WBC featherweight title via split decision to Mexico’s Rey Vargas.

Fortunately, there have been bright spots, like Dave Apolinario winning the IBO flyweight belt against Gideon Buthelizi of South Africa, Casimero’s no-contest result against Japan’s Ryo Akaho being turned into a second-round knockout win, and Vincent Astrolabio’s twin victories against Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux and Nikolai Potapov of Russia. 2023 should be a perfect moment for bounce back moments for Donaire, Ancajas, Magsayo, Nietes, Vic Saludar, Rene Mark Cuarto, Jonas Sultan and Pedro Taduran while expecting greater moments from up-and-coming stars like Eumir Marcial, KJ Cataraja and Carl Jammes Martin.

Can John Riel Casimero reclaim his belt in 2023? (Alvin S. Go)

8. Wesley So making it back to 2800 ELO level

The Cavite-born woodpusher, now representing the US, remains one of the best chess players in the world. So will end the year at world no. 8 in classic chess, no. 4 in rapid and no. 15 in blitz. Online, he’s just as solid, ranked second in the world in rapid, tied for third in blitz, and eighth in bullet.

His classic ELO rating has hovered between the 2760 and 2788 levels the past couple of years (he’s now at 2760) but we can’t wait to see him get back up to the 2800 level and perhaps, even surpass his personal best of 2824.5, achieved in February 2017, the seventh-highest ELO rating in history. His first tournament for the year is on January at Wijk Aan Zee, the Netherlands, for the annual Tata Steel Masters tournament. This was the same tournament Wesley won in 2017 which catapulted him to second-best in the world behind world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway. Replicating the feat accomplished six years ago would jumpstart what perhaps could be another strong year for So.

RELATED: Wesley So takes inaugural title

Will Wesley So return to 2800 ELO level in 2023? (

9. EJ Obiena surpassing the 6-meter mark in pole vault

How often can a pole vaulter clam victory over Armand Duplantis, who, at 23 years old, is already regarded as the GOAT in the sport? The Swede is currently the Olympic and world indoor and outdoor champion with a personal best of 6.21 meters and has been practically unbeaten for three years already. But Obiena finally broke Duplantis’ run, defeating him by coming up with a 5.91 leap to win the gold medal in the Wanda Diamond League in Brussels. Duplantis missed the same mark to settle for the silver.

With a personal best of 5.94, it won’t be long for the 27-year-old Obiena gets past the 6-meter mark and be one of only 22 other pole vaulters to reach it. And with Obiena smoking the peace pipe with the local athletics officials, one can’t help but feel upbeat with his chances of achieving this feat, or even winning the gold medal in the upcoming World Athletics Championship to be held in Budapest this August.

EJ Obiena soared to great heights in 2022. (EJ Obiena FB page)

10. The Philippines winning the overall championship in the 2023 Phnom Penh SEA Games

It’s not uncommon to see the host country win the overall championship in the SEA Games. It’s not only because of the hometown advantage, but also the hosts’ privilege in selecting the sporting events. For the Philippines which has won the overall championship twice, both at home soil in 2005 and 2019, this may be a perfect opportunity to duke it out for the top spot especially with Cambodia serving as the hosts.

The key factor though would be what events will be featured in the 32nd staging of the regional sports spectacle. Expected to give the Filipino athletes a run for their money would be perennial powerhouses Thailand and Vietnam, with Indonesia serving as the dark horse country. The SEAG will also serve as the ideal preparation and training ground for all the athletes for the Asian Games, to be held in Doha, Qatar in January 2024.

11. Azkals regaining lost glory

In the recent AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup, Thailand creamed the Azkals, 4-0, after the latter received a major boost by beating Brunei, 5-1, 3 days before. Last December 20, the young booters lost out to Cambodia, 3-2 in a painful start to the AFF tourney.

But even more painful to see is the lack of public support. Only a few spectators showed up to watch the Brunei game at the Rizal Stadium. Comparing these to the almost full-packed and lively audience the national football team has been used to having the past 10 years, it may take a while before the Azkals can bring themselves back to mainstream attention.

Perhaps, it’s the time of the year when the holidays made it difficult for casual fans to watch the games. Or maybe it’s the lack of familiar names like the Younghusbands, Neil Etheridge, Angel Guirado, and Chieffy Caligdong. It might take a while for this new crop of players to go to the next level, but it will be more difficult without local support.

After a stellar run in the 2010s, the Azkals have fallen on tough times of late. (Thailand FA)

12. Better health for the Big J

In October 2021, the family of Robert Jaworski, Sr. released a medical report informing the public that the Living Legend is suffering from a rare blood disease. The illness makes him anemic despite having high levels of iron in his blood. The family has consulted with both international and domestic medical experts but to date, no one has yet understood the condition of Jaworski.

Curiously, on March 8, the Big J will be celebrating his 77th birthday – a significant number as he has used the no. 7 on his jersey for his entire career. The Rivalry would want nothing less than to see Jaworski up and about, given a clean bill of health, and find his way back into public consciousness. Imagine Jaworski showing up in one of the Gilas games at the FIBA World Cup, expressing his full support to the national cause. Achieving this would only make his larger-than-life being even bigger, a testament to the never-say-die persona people have come to associate with him.

The Living Legend Sonny Jaworski spent 2022 battling health issues. (Ernie Sarmiento)


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