Efren “Bata” Reyes and Francisco “Django” Bustamante are two of the most respected names in billiards. They have shown us time and again that their skill is beyond ordinary. The two have won many accolades; their individual titles are beyond measure but they share a couple of titles that they cherish a little more than others.
Reyes and Bustamante have won the World Cup of Pool twice, first doing it in the inaugural competition in 2006 when they dispatched the USA team composed of Earl Strickland and Rodney Morris in Cardiff, Wales; and again in 2009 when they defeated the strong German team of Ralf Souquet and Thorsten Hohmann back in Manila.
But the legendary duo has shown signs of slowing down. Last year they were soundly beaten by an unheralded team from Indonesia in the Round of 16. They had to watch the rest of the competitions in the sidelines. Pool players, like golfers, are blessed with long careers. Unlike basketball or boxing, pool players can be pushing 40 and still be at the top of their game. However, progressing in age also means that there will be changes in their game brought about by changes in their bodies. Their eyesight may no longer be as clear as it once was and their hands may not be as steady as they were before so it is understandable why Reyes and Bustamante are struggling.
In good hands
Good thing for the Philippines, we have another team in the competition who will carry the fight for flag and country should the legends fail: reigning World Pool Masters Champion Dennis Orcollo and former World 9-Ball Champion Ronnie Alcano. Orcollo reached the finals in last year’s competition but he had a different partner in Roberto Gomez. This year, with Alcano by his side, Orcollo is setting his sights on the title. Anything other than that will be an underachievement.
If the two Filipino teams meet in the finals, you can be sure that most of the fans will be rooting for the older duo. Reyes and Bustamante are growing long in the tooth and fans know that they don’t have a lot of years left in their careers. We want Reyes and Bustamante to win because it’s fun to see the old guys whooping it up and having fun. But if you ask casual pool fans, they’d all say that Orcollo and Alcano have a better shot at winning, and they say this for good reason.
Orcollo owns the number 1 spot at the World Pool-Billiard Association. For comparison, this is like Manny Pacquiao holding number 1 pound-for-pound slot in Ring Magazine’s rankings. Alcano is also no slouch as he holds the third spot. Bustamante and Reyes who have both held the number 1 spot are now 38th and 43rd, respectively.
An uphill climb
The road to the crown will by no means be easy for both of the Philippine teams. The 32-team field is littered with big names from all over the planet. The favorite to win the competitions is the team of Fu Jian-Bo and Li He-Wen of China who won it all last year. The Chinese duo is the most consistent duo in these competitions, winning the title twice and finishing at least in the semi-finals in the other two times that they joined. The other teams to look out for include Germany’s Souquet and Hohmann, Chinese Taipei’s Ko Pin-Yi and Kuo Pin-Chun, Japan’s Yukio Akagariyama and Lo Li-Wen, and England’s Darren Appleton and Chris Melling. But with the hometown crowd behind them, our representatives will surely not disappoint.
“May asim pa rin kami ni pareng Django, kahit na medyo may edad na kami, may panalo pa rin naman kami,” Reyes said. “Kaya pa rin naming manalo ni pareng Efren, ang problema lang kapag nagmintis ako o nagmintis siya, sumusumpong yung arthritis namin,” Bustamante joked. Even though they still have a sense of confidence, the two are aware that they are no longer the favorites to win it all. They are aware that there are younger and hungrier opponents who will love nothing more that to hold a victory over legends such as Reyes and Bustamante.
In the press conference for the World Cup of Pool, Alcano just sat in one of the odd corners of the table. The media’s questions were mostly directed to Reyes and Bustamante which meant that Alcano did not have to talk a lot. But when it was time for him to say his closing statement, he simply said, “Magkita na lang tayo sa finals.”
It wasn’t clear if he was talking to Bustamante and Reyes and guaranteeing an all-Filipino finale or if he was talking to the media and guaranteeing nothing else but his and his partner’s entry to the finals.
The World Cup of Pool will run from September 6 to 11 at the Block Atrium, SM North EDSA. Reyes and Bustamante will be in action on September 6 against Kuwait at 6 pm and Alcano and Orcollo will open their title bid the next day against Austria also at 6 pm. All matches will be aired live through Solar Sports.