Year 1988 would be remembered as a year of twists and turns for old rivals Mon Fernandez and Abet Guidaben.
It was during that season when these two protagonists met in the finals for the first time after the disbandment of their fabled previous squads, Crispa and Toyota. In the 1988 Open Conference, Guidaben and his more seasoned San Miguel Beermen, were able to get the better end of the match up against then playing coach Fernandez and his young Purefoods Hotdogs in a grueling seven-game series.
Statistical-wise, Guidaben, then the reigning Most Valuable Player, was leading the derby ahead of Fernandez and several other contenders like Hector Calma, Ricardo Brown and Allan Caidic.
The feverish rivalry was very much in display during their finals' confrontation as Fernandez and Guidaben went at it with excessive physicality.
Then came the shocking event that would change their fortunes.
Fernandez and the Hotdogs were the first to reach the championship round, but getting there too early cost them a sound beating at the start of their best-of-five titular showdown with the Añejo Rhum 65ers of playing coach Robert Jaworski.
The plot thickened when Fernandez had a sub-par game and then Purefoods president Rene Buhain ordered to bench the superstar center/forward the rest of the series, allowing the veteran-laden Añejo squad to beat Purefoods, 3-1.
In a shocking development, Fernandez would be traded to Guidaben, then playing for Tanduay, for the second time in their respective careers. In 1985, the two would trade places as Fernandez would be shipped to Tanduay after playing for Beer Hausen/Manila Beer.
Fernandez, who claimed to have been shabbily treated at Purefoods by Buhain, heaved a sigh of relief when he was sent to San Miguel for Guidaben.
Guidaben, on the other hand, had a change of fortunes as he saw his back-to-back MVP aspirations slipping away after the Hotdogs had a mediocre showing in the season-ending Third Conference. It was an opportunity seized by Fernandez, who blended quickly with the star-studded Beermen, whose core was composed of Brown, Calma, fellow young stars like Samboy Lim, Elmer Reyes, Yves Dignadice and Franz Pumaren and imports Michael Phelps and playing coach Norman Black.
Fernandez won a championship immediately in his first conference with his new squad. Winning his fourth MVP award was like an icing on the cake and a redemption of sorts. But the situation deprived Guidaben his third plum that would put him on equal terms with his old rival.
“Thanks to Rene Buhain,” said Fernandez, his words dripping with sarcasm during his interview with The Link Podcast.