Ronnie Nathanielsz dies at 81

Karl Cedrick Basco, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 12 2016 04:54 AM

Ronnie Nathanielsz, one of the Philippines' most recognizable and divisive sports media personalities, died in San Francisco, California early Saturday morning.

He was 81.

Nathanielsz's family pulled him off life support days after rushing the sports broadcaster to a hospital days ago, where he was under intensive care.

He was in the US and was expected to join a TV broadcast panel covering Manny Pacquiao's fight against Jessie Vargas on November 5, when he felt chest pains on the way to Las Vegas.

He later suffered cardiac arrest.

"He's loved and respected by majority of sports fans because of his contributions in boxing journalism, although I do understand that there are significant people who don't like him because of his history with the Marcoses," said ABS-CBN sports broadcaster TJ Manotoc.

"He'll be a big loss."

Nathanielsz wrote a column for the sports section of the Manila Standard-Today newspaper and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and was involved in several sports promotions, particularly in boxing.

He worked on camera covering the Philippine Basketball Association games in the 1980s and early 1990s, but reporting and providing analysis in boxing were his bread and butter.

His break came in 1975 when he was appointed by Ferdinand Marcos to act as liaison officer between the government and the organizers of the fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, dubbed "Thrilla in Manila."

"It was a memorable time in our life and we got close enough for (Ali) to call me 'brother,' while I called him 'champ,' " Nathanielsz wrote in a column paying tribute to Ali, who died in June.

When Pacquiao rose to fame, Nathanielsz was one of the first local media personalities to refer to the world champion as "a national treasure." He became a go-to pundit by TV and radio shows whenever Pacquiao or any Filipino boxer was up for a major bout.

Nathanielsz was respected by his peers in boxing and basketball media circles, but drew occasionally irrational scorn from sports fans.

His staunch loyalty to the Marcoses was a thorn in his reputation.

In a column titled "My Filipino Heart" that he wrote for the Standard-Today last month, Nathanielsz said he was offered by his father to work in Australia where some of his family was based, but that wasn't where his heart was.

"I declined much to (my father's) annoyance so much so that he pointedly asked me why I was so much in love with President Marcos," Nathanielsz wrote.

"I told him then that Marcos has bestowed on me the cherished right of citizenship, for which I would be eternally grateful because being accepted as a Filipino was the highest honor one could receive."

Nathanielsz, who was born in Sri Lanka, was granted Filipino citizenship by Marcos in May 1973, citing his "long and continuous service to the Filipino people in the field of journalism."

His unabashed allegiance to the Marcoses was in full display — and journalistic virtues challenged — when as host of the "Face the Nation" talk show in the late 1970s, Nathanielsz was taken to task by Ninoy Aquino for his loyalty to the dictatorship.

Boxing expert and lawyer Ed Tolentino said critics went after Nathanielsz for being a Marcos loyalist "when they have nothing else to throw at Ronnie."

"The thing with Ronnie is that he doesn't mix his dual personalities," Tolentino said. "When he talks sports, it's all about sports. Politics? He knows there is another forum for that."

When Nathanielsz expressed his opinion, Tolentino said he was "firm but fair."

"What makes Ronnie a great boxing commentator, broadcaster is simple: He is not beholden to anyone," Tolentino said.

"He is not just another voice in the wilderness of Philippine sports. He freely spoke his mind about every issue and offered more than the proverbial 10 cents' worth of opinion. He cared about every athlete, particularly boxers as boxing is very close to him."

In his last tweet, Nathanielsz blasted the leadership of the Philippine Olympic Committee for the way it handled the election of its leaders.

In the Standard-Today column, he said he had aspired to become a boxer but he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat in his late teens, which essentially derailed his ambitions of becoming a fighter.

Nathanielsz said he took pride in working as a "broadcast journalist," and alluded to having lived his life to the fullest.

"I may not have reached the heights of success I desired," he wrote, "but it was never for want of trying." - with a report from Dyan Castillejo, ABS-CBN News

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