THE RING's No. 4-rated flyweight Milan Melindo counter punched former title challenger Juan Esquer to a seventh-round TKO in the Philippines on Saturday. Melindo is now the No. 1-rated challenger to the WBO belt held by Brian Viloria.
CEBU CITY, Philippines – Milan Melindo is not noted for his punching power, but after seven rounds of flawless counter punching, Juan Esquer had been beaten into submission.
Melindo (26-0, 10 knockouts) did not flatten the former world title challenger Esquer (27-10-2, 21 KOs) with his accurate uppercuts as he did to Rosendo Vega last March, but rather broke him down mentally, compelling Esquer to flop from a phantom low blow and effectively quit the bout. The time of stoppage was 2:16 of the seventh.
Esquer, of Navojoa, Mex., backed Melindo, of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, into a corner and landed a strong low blow, then as referee Danrex Tapdasan stepped in to warn Esquer, Esquer fell on the floor and feigned a low blow that never happened.
“I saw Juan Esquer, he was the one who punched and committed two low blows,” recalled Tapdasan after the bout. “When I was about to warn him, Milan lightly punched him in the breast area. It was not a strong punch, I saw it. He was the one who was knocked down, but Milan was the one who was hit by a low blow. I told Esquer, 'You were the one who committed the low blow, there was no violation on the part of Milan.' Then suddenly his cornerman went up to the apron and waved off the fight.
“I think it was his way out of the fight because he knew he was outclassed.”
The final resolution brought an anticlimactic ending to an otherwise competitive night of fights at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City, Philippines, which were promoted by ALA Promotions.
From the opening bell, it was clear that Melindo had the perfect opponent in front of him to showcase his educated left jab and world class timing. Esquer charged forward without a jab, winging big punches to the outside of Melindo's guard. Then in the fourth, Melindo landed a solid low blow that drew a warning from the referee. Esquer, who had complained several times before of borderline shots, fell to the floor in a comical exhibition to try and get Melindo disqualified.
For five minutes, Esquer attempted to rise only to fall back down, as if reenacting a Shakespearean demise. It was a portent of things to come.
“Esquer was doing everything to stop the fight without getting knocked out,” said Melindo, THE RING's no. 4 rated flyweight contender, who called Esquer “a good actor.”
“If the fight continued, I would have knocked him out because he was (wearing) down.”
Melindo is now rated the number one contender by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) to flyweight titleholder Brian Viloria. Melindo said that he preferred not to face another fighter of Filipino lineage, but said it was the decision of his promoter.
ALA Promotions President Michael Aldegeur revealed that he had spoken with Top Rank Inc. CEO Bob Arum, as well as Michael Koncz of MP Promotions about a co-promotion deal with Melindo, and that he's hoping Melindo's next fight will be on the undercard of Pacquiao's next fight in Las Vegas some time in June.
Aldegeur said that the plan is to have Melindo fight a final elimination bout next to force the Viloria mandatory, but said he also was considering pursuing matchups with IBF title claiminant Moruti Mthalane or WBA titleholder Hernan Marquez for Melindo.
Aldegeur added that he had spoken with trainer Robert Garcia - who trains Nonito Donaire, Jr. and Kelly Pavlik - about adding Melindo and bantamweight contender AJ Banal to his stable of fighters in Oxnard, Calif.
“(Milan) is ready,” said Aldegeur. “We just want to have him fight abroad, train abroad, get some good sparring abroad and elevate his opponents and go from there.”
Villanueva Starches Ledesma in One
In the co-featured bout, featherweight KO artist Lorenzo Villanueva (22-0, 21 KOs), of North Cotabato, Philippines, lived up to his nickname "Thunderbolt," landing a pair of electric left crosses to stop Diego Ledesma (18-5-2, 12 KOs), of Los Mochis, Mex., at 1:17 of the first round.
Looking more composed and relaxed than in his earlier bouts, Villanueva calmly exploited Ledesma's wide right hand to land a perfect left cross on Ledesma's chin. A disoriented Ledesma struggled to his feet but was a sitting duck for Villanueva's heavy-handed assault. The second knockdown was similar to the first, with the only difference being Ledesma's inability to rise before the count of ten.
“I attribute it to his work with Freddie Roach,” said Manny Pinol, manager of the WBO’s No.-5 ranked featherweight, when asked about Villanueva's dramatic improvement in technique. Pinol said that Villanueva had worked with Roach for three weeks while Manny Pacquiao was training in the Filipino province of Baguio prior to his most recent bout with Juan Manuel Marquez.
Villanueva spent time sparring with Pacquiao and Jorge Linares there, and was supposed to join Roach in Los Angeles for training before his visa was denied.
Also, 21-year-old flyweight prospect Mhar Jhun "Astig" Macahilig (14-1, 8 KOs) of Cebu City, Philippines turned in his best performance to date, knocking out former world title challenger Kaichon Sor Vorapin (25-11, 9 KOs) of Thailand with a single left hook to the body at 2:01 of the second round. Macahilig, whose nickname translates to 'tough' in Tagalog, had some issues in the first round getting past the long jab of the taller Sor Vorapin, but cut down the distance in the second round and battered Vorapin against the ropes.
Vorapin had previously challenged Hugo Cazares for his WBO 108 pound title, losing by a knockout in the sixth round. His resume also includes two victories over THE RING's No. 5 ranked flyweight contender Rocky Fuentes, but has now lost two straight by knockout.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia