Life of a PBA Enforcer: Denis Abbatuan recalls coin hit in Presto-Añejo rumble

Rey Joble

Posted at Jan 20 2022 10:20 AM

A wayward 1-peso coin that hit Denis Abbatuan on the head at the height of the Presto-Añejo fracas left a lasting memory on the former enforcer.

It caused his head to bleed, a reminder of how feverish the two teams' rivalry was during the late 1980s.

"Naghagisan ’yung mga fans ng coins. ’Yung mga piso nu’ng araw na malalaki. Tinamaan ako noon, dumugo ’yung ulo ko," said Abbatuan.

The pelting of coins was a normal scene during a Ginebra game at the ULTRA, now PhilSports Arena in Pasig, as the Gin Kings diehards came in full force to support their favorite team at any cost.

"Alam mo nu’ng araw sa ULTRA, malakas ang fans ng Ginebra d’yan. Parang home court nila ’yan parati," recalled Abbatuan. 

Twice during those memorable encounters, Abbatuan got involved in a melee, including the one arguably called the worst brawl in PBA history, which happened during Game 4 of their battle-for-3rd series won by the Gin Kings, 171-145.

The incident happened in front of Presto's bench as teammates came to the aid of Philip Cezar, who received a clothesline tackle from 65ers import Tommy Davis and later on, got the ire of Joe Ward.

"Sumugod kasi ’yung 2 import, si Joe Ward tsaka si Tommy Davis. Pati nga si Atoy Co na naka-civilian, nadamay ’yan. Kaya free-for-all noon ’yun. Bench namin ’yun, sumugod sila doon. Eh s’yempre team, hindi mo naman puwedeng pabayaan ’yung kasama mo. Pero after nu’ng rumble, wala na ’yun, tapos na ’yun," added Abbatuan.

It turned out, that free-for-all was just part of the sequel of the heated incident between these two ball clubs.

A similar melee happened when veteran forward Abe King of Presto threw a punch at 65ers swing man Dante Gonzalgo. 

"Dalawang beses na nangyari ’yang trouble. Sa Añejo rin. Presto versus Añejo rin. Si Abe King, sinuntok niya si Dante Gonzalgo. Pasugod si Dante sa bench namin. Pinasalubungan ni Abe King ng suntok. Ayun nagkagulo," said Abbatuan.

Such a heated rivalry developed between the two squads and Allan Caidic, then the star player of the old Great Taste franchise, could attest to that.

"Ang isang nakakatawang instance d’yan, si Dante Gonzalgo was trying to save the ball from going out. Eh sa bench ng Presto ’yun. Pag-save niya, siyempre out of control siya papunta siya sa bench. Ang ginagawa nga mga players ng Presto, ’yung paa nakataas para ready sipain siya. ’Yung mga ganu’ng incident," added Caidic. 

Looking back, the role of an enforcer was an assignment Abbatuan gladly accepted.

His toughness on the court made him a perfect mold for the role, but Abbatuan clarified that he's not a dirty player. 

"Matigas lang ako. Tough," added Abbatuan. "Kasi nga nu’ng bata pa ako, mga 15, 16, bumubuhat na ako ng 50 kilos na bigas. Malakas lang ako kasi nga naging kargador ako sa probinsiya. Malakas lang talaga katawan ko kaya sabi nila kapag tinamaan ko sila, nasasaktan sila. Pero hindi ko sinasadya ’yun. Laro lang ako." 

For someone considered as a late bloomer, Abbatuan considered himself fortunate enough to play in the PBA. 
 
"Suwerte na nga ako nakarating ako sa PBA. Ilang taon lang ako naglaro ng basketball. Sa kanto-kanto lang ako naglalaro tapos nag-umpisa ako ng 1982, one year na tournament sa JRC (Jose Rizal College). Two years lang talaga ako naglaro ng basketball tapos PBA na ako. Kaya malaki pasasalamat ko na narating ko na yung goal ng isang basketball player," said Abbatuan. 

He never backed down from anyone, but more than using his brawn he would likely use his head more to endure the challenges. 
 
"Maraming beses nakaranas akong sinasadyang saktan. Pero laro lang ako. Mayroon naman ta-timing ka lang na kung gusto mong gumanti, hindi ’yung agad-agad. Kasi makikita ka ng referee, halimbawa, sinadya kang tamaan," said Abbatuan.

"Pero ako naman, iisipin ko muna. Kukuha muna ako ng timing para makaganti ako. Kasi kapag bumawi ka agad at nag-clash kayo ng player, babantayan kayo ng referee. Itataon ko na wala sa play."

An enforcer is tasked to do the dirty job. It makes the star players on one's team feel more comfortable, knowing that somebody is watching his back.

But even the enforcers would learn that there's a fine line between playing tough and playing dirty. They should all value that although they are competitors inside the hardcourt, they all share the same profession and they do it for a living. 

"Ako natutunan ko bilang isang player, sa akin lang, dapat umiwas ka na. Kasi yung mga yan kahit na kalaban mo, mga kasama mo sa trabaho. Pero minsan kasi, hindi mo rin maiwasan. Pero sa akin, hindi ko pini-personal yung ganun. Parang aksidente lang, hindi naman sinasadya. Parang wrong place at the wrong time. Pero ako yung tipong hindi nami-mersonal sa laro," he added. 

<itals> Rey Joble is a sports journalist who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and followed the league as a fan way before that. 

FROM THE ARCHIVES:

Watch more News on iWantTFC