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Efren’s Arrival — as Cesar Morales — Causes Stir
1986 Red’s Billiards 9-Ball Open • Feb. 2, 1985 • Houston, Texas
By now the story is a part of the Efren Reyes legend: In 1984 under the pseudonym Cesar Morales, he popped up at Red’s 9-Ball Open in Houston and dominated a field full of America’s best.
The only slipup Reyes had was on his way out the door — $10,500 richer — when he signed a few autographs “Efren Reyes.”
The stunned crowd was just coming to terms with this Morales character, so who the heck was Efren Reyes? More than 23 years later, everyone in the billiard universe can answer that question.
Sportswriter John Grissim ran into Reyes in Manila in the late ’70s and went so far as to say he could give America’s top pros the 8 and the break. By 1985, Reyes was already the No. 1 player in the Philippines, though only a few Americans would have recognized the name.
But nobody knew Reyes by face, so he slipped into Red’s as Morales. The stick-figured 30-year-old didn’t attract too much attention when the 108-player bracket was drawn, but that quickly changed.
Reyes ran through Bobby Hunter, Danny DiLiberto and Mike Gulyassy by identical 10-6 margins. Claiming only his brother joined him on the trip across the Pacific, Reyes attracted an entourage of Filipino supporters, who brazenly gave away games on the wire while betting on their new hero.
In the hot-seat, Reyes faced Wade Crane (who was playing under the alias Billy Johnson). Hometown fans chanted “U.S.A! U.S.A!” while the Morales crew responded with “Manila! Manila!”
Up 5-2, Crane couldn’t lock up his opponent, and Reyes jumped and banked and kicked his way to a 10-7 victory.
Crane sent local boy Earl Strickland home in third-place to earn another shot at the Filipino. If the Texans hoped the carnival-like setting would rattle the newcomer, they found out how difficult that was in a matter of minutes.
In the race-to-12 final, Reyes completely disheartened the crowd from the get-go. He collected the first six racks, finally chuckling to himself when he missed a shot in the seventh game.
Crane scrapped his way back to within two games, 7-5, but the day was all Reyes. With sublime position play and artistic shotmaking, Reyes approached the case 9-ball while his vocal supporters began chanting, “Where’s da bif?” — a reference to the newly released and soon-to-be-iconic Wendy’s advertisement.
With the arm motion of a symphony conductor and the smile of a sheepish teenager, Reyes snapped off a major tournament, in a game that was as foreign as the 10-gallon hats in Red’s Billiards.
“I didn’t even know the rules,” Reyes said, months after his first U.S. victory. “I figured as long as I keep making balls, I will win.”
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