MANILA, Philippines – Froilan Saludar isn’t accustomed to experiencing adversity in the ring. The 22-year-old flyweight prospect has barely lost a round since turning pro two years ago.
However, it’s a different story outside of the ring, where no one is immune from tragedy.
Saludar (13-0-1, 10 knockouts), of Polomolok, South Cotabato, Philippines, is returning to the ring on Friday, Dec. 23, for the first time since August against late replacement Samuel Apuya (7-6, 4 KOs) at the Imus Plaza Covered Court in Imus, Cavite, Philippines. The four-month respite was the longest of his brief career, but he wasn’t relaxing on holiday.
Saludar had to do what no parent ever imagines having to; he buried his newborn son.
Shortly after dispatching of Filipino journeyman Gabriel Pumar in ten rounds on August 6, Saludar’s wife of two years went into labor with their second child two months premature. The boy died shortly after, leaving Saludar distraught. A bout scheduled for September 17 was nixed and Saludar returned home to be with his family in the Mindanao province of Davao.
With a wife and a 2-year-old son to support, Saludar collected himself and made the northbound flight in October to Manila to resume his training and continue his boxing career.
“After my son was buried, I just thought that I have to keep on boxing because boxing is my life, my work,” said Saludar. “I accepted what happened and focused on my boxing career.”
Known as “The Sniper” for his powerful right cross, Saludar bears a striking resemblance to Luisito Espinosa, the former bantamweight and featherweight beltholder who is sort-of responsible for his path to the sport. Saludar says he first became interested in boxing after viewing Espinosa’s successful featherweight title defense over Cesar Soto in 1996 when he was just seven years old.
His style isn’t unlike “Lindol” Espinosa’s either, with his lanky frame belying his one-punch knockout power.
Saludar is somewhere in the middle of fifteen brothers and sisters, all of whom grew up working on their father’s pineapple farm. Saludar’s tenure on the farm began at the age of nine, picking pineapples on the six-hectare (approximately 60,000 square meters) farm that supplies produce to the Dole Food Company. When Froilan was14, Saludar’s father brought his eight youngest sons to the local boxing gym to learn how to defend themselves.
Saludar took to the sport. He won three national titles during an amateur career that included approximately 50 bouts. Saludar’s two younger brothers, Rey and Victorio, are now on the Philippine national amateur team that he was once the star of.
“I first heard about him from the national team, he always knocked out his opponents,” said Joven Jimenez, Saludar’s manager and trainer. Like Saludar, Jimenez is from Mindanao and was a member of the national team from 1991-1995, losing thrice to 1996 Olympic silver medalist and fellow national team member Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco before heading up the Philippine Navy boxing team from 1998 to 2006.
Since an accidental headbutt-induced technical draw with Brian Diano in June of 2010, Saludar has knocked out each man he has faced, including a one-round, one-punch demolition of Thai trialhorse Liempetch Sor Veerapol this past February. Just three months earlier, Sor Veerapol had extended current World Boxing Organization (WBO) flyweight champ Brian Viloria seven rounds before succumbing to Viloria’s body assault.
Now Saludar finds himself as the highest-rated contender to Viloria, a Filipino-American. Saludar holds the WBO’s number two spot at flyweight, ahead of countryman Milan Melindo, whom Saludar may wind up meeting in an elimination bout in the not-too-distant future.
According to WBO Asia Pacific Chairman Leon Panoncillo, Viloria, who earlier this month stopped mandatory challenger Giovani Segura, has nine months before he is due for another mandatory, which gives Saludar just a little bit of time to grow before facing the vastly more experienced Viloria.
Saludar’s promoter Sammy Gello-ani feels that his man is ready for “The Hawaiian Punch” right now.
“Honestly, any time that opportunity comes, I’d love it because I’m so confident that he can do it,” said Gello-ani, who handles Saludar alongside U.S.-based international matchmaker Sampson Lewkowicz. “I firmly believe that he can beat whoever we can put in front of him.”
While Melindo’s trainer Edito “Ala” Villamor says that they’d prefer not to face a fellow Filipino in Viloria, there was no such hesitation from Saludar, who like Melindo, was in attendance to watch Viloria defend his belt against Segura.
“Viloria is the champion so there is no choice but to fight Viloria,” said Saludar. “I’m encouraged to fight Viloria because he had a good performance in that fight.”
The tandem of Gello-ani and Lewkowicz has produced one world champion (Marvin Sonsona) and another interim titlist (Jhonriel Casimero) in recent years. Both splashed onto the international scene after only 15 fights or so, but burned out quickly due to distractions outside of the ring. Gello-ani believes that Saludar is a different type of person, that being married with a child keeps him from the late nights that have hindered the careers of his equally-prodigious stablemates.
After Friday’s match with Apuya, who has been stopped in three of his last four fights, Gello-ani plans on bringing Saludar back in February or March against a Mexican opponent to further test the resilience of Saludar.
In the meantime, Saludar looks forward to flying back to Davao to spend the holidays with his family.
“I’m already holding the ticket so I’m happy now,” said Saludar.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.