By Aljo Dolores

It’s the dying moments of the game. Your opponent is throwing a flurry of punches left and right, with pure intentions of knocking you out. Your back is pressed against the ropes. What do you do?

Rocky Balboa had an answer to that. You fight back. To the end. Even if your opponent brings you to your knees or sends you crashing face first to the canvas.

I know that Rocky is just a product of imagination, a scripted movie that is somewhat out of touch with reality. But to date, his story is still one of the best underdog tales ever told in this world.

Last Wednesday, Juan Gomez de Liaño had a chance to replicate that same magic Rocky showed in the movies.

The younger GDL bro had to answer the same question during the final moments of the UAAP finals. Game on the line, your on the losing end of the game, what do you do?

Game two was everything the experts and fans alike expected from the Ateneo Blue Eagles: methodical, clinical, superb basketball on both ends of the floor. No one could stop Thirdy Ravena as he wreaked havoc in the entire Big Dome. No one could outperform Ange Kouame as he dominated the paint all game long. UP just had no answer against the defending champions from the get-go.

It would have been completely understandable if Juan stopped resisting what was the inevitable rise of Ateneo back to the top. Nothing was going their way. A missed shot here, a missed rebound there. The Fighting Maroons had to bleed for points while the Blue Eagles were doing every single thing according to their will. Interceptions, bank threes, flashy pinpoint passes—you name it, Ateneo did it.

Towels should have been thrown at some point in the second half. The Blue Eagles were throwing one haymaker after the other. Juan’s team stood no chance against the might of the pound-for-pound kings in Ateneo. It became clear that it was time to retreat.

Maybe Juan should just give up. He can try again next year, when Bright Akhuetie is back to full health. Besides, this wasn’t supposed to be UP’s year. Heck, they weren’t expected to be anywhere near the finals this season. In a way, the Fighting Maroons overachieved. As such, Season 81 could be considered as their trial run—a very successful one—for next year when Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras will enter the lineup.

But just like Rocky Balboa, Juan was prepared to come down swinging.

Against all odds, Juan unleashed a crusade of his own. In the fourth quarter alone, he scored nine out of his 24 points to keep his team afloat. Even with UP down by double digits, he never wavered, never gave up. He kept on attacking Ateneo’s defense. He tried to counter every blinding shot that came his way.

One may ask, why bother tiring yourself when you’re gonna lose anyway? The answer to that was simple. Juan was just being true to his identity as a Fighting Maroon: Walang takot kahit kanino. It didn’t matter if he faced the best team in the UAAP today. He was locked in on pouring every ounce of his game to this moment, no matter what the results may be.

In the end, Juan’s effort wasn’t rewarded with a win. Ateneo delivered the blow that clinched the title. They retain their belt for another year.

But to say that UP got knocked out easily? Not true at all. With Juan, it didn’t matter if the lead was nine or 20, he kept fighting as if it’s the last game of his life.

Just like Rocky, Juan came down swinging. He never gave Ateneo the luxury of seeing his team lying down face first on the canvas. He fought as long as he was on the floor.

He was defiant. He fought hard. Just like how a Fighting Maroon does so.