CEBU, Philippines – The culture of the Filipino is one that holds the trait of humility paramount to most others. Outward displays of confidence, even when justified, are frowned upon and will result in a brash individual being dismissed as “yabang,” or arrogant person.
Milan Melindo has no such concerns regarding his public image. The 23-year-old unbeaten flyweight contender from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, talks bigger than his 5-foot-2, 112-pound frame, and isn’t afraid of getting confrontational.
“If he’s wiser than me, he can beat me up; if he’s not, then he can beat me up in his dreams,” Melindo (25-0, 9 knockouts) said of Juan Esquer at the final press conference for his 12-round battle with the former world title challenger this Saturday at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City, Philippines.
To that, the 25-year-old Mexican veteran replied “Tumbahon tika,” which in Cebuano means “I’m going to knock you out.” The small crowd of local journalists were amused by Esquer’s memorization of a local phrase and reacted with laughter.
Melindo has a lot to be proud about. Over the past three years, Melindo has risen from prospect status to number four in THE RING’s flyweight rankings, after turning back former world titleholders Carlos Tamara and Muhammad Rachman and staking his claim as perhaps the best Filipino boxer in the world without a major title around his waist.
“I feel like I’m a world champion but I don’t have a world title belt,” said Melindo, who is rated number two in the World Boxing Organization (WBO) flyweight rankings.
Rated ahead of him is fellow unbeaten Filipino Froilan Saludar, with Filipino-American Brian Viloria holding the WBO title. Yet while a clash with Viloria would provide Melindo with a chance to grab the world title belt that he covets, he isn’t keen on taking one from a countryman.
ALA Boxing Vice President Dennis Canete reasons that, because of the sparseness of world champions who claim lineage to the archipelago nation of 7,107 islands, it wouldn’t be prudent to pursue a Viloria fight just yet. Canete assured that Melindo would likely receive a world title opportunity in 2012, but didn’t specify which titleholder they would pursue. Melindo is rated in the top 12 with all four of the major sanctioning bodies and is eligible to face any of the other four claimants.
It is exceedingly rare for two Filipinos to clash in a world title fight. If it has happened in the past, such an incident hasn’t occurred in recent history.
Melindo resigned that he would likely accept a fight with Viloria if the opportunity came up, but had his heart set elsewhere.
“I think the one that would challenge me best is (IBF flyweight titleholder) Moruti Mthalane,” said Melindo, who began fighting competitively at the age of six and estimates that he had over 600 amateur bouts by the time he turned pro at 17. “He’s someone that people are afraid of. I’m not afraid of anything, make a challenge to me.
“I’m only scared of the One who made me,” Melindo said, pointing upwards.
Like Melindo, Esquer is also young and experienced, having turned pro at 18 and giving a spirited challenge to 108-pound champ Ivan Calderon just two years later. Since then he has fallen short every time he has stepped up, losing decisions to Tamara and Hernan Marquez and suffering TKO losses to Luis Concepcion and Edgar Jimenez.
Most recently, Esquer was disqualified against Ricardo Nunez in November for excessive low blows.
Despite his dismissive talk on the podium regarding Esquer, Melindo acknowledges that this is a pivotal fight in his career and that he is taking the challenge seriously. Canete says that they are currently in negotiations with Top Rank and Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions to work out an international promotion deal to provide Melindo with the best possible options.
The carrot on a stick has kept Melindo focused on the task ahead.
“He said he’s knocking me out, but I’m so confident to knock him out, also,” said Melindo.
Heavy-handed, but unpolished featherweight slugger Lorenzo Villanueva (21-0, 20 KOs), of North Cotabato, Philippines, will risk his record and number five ranking with the WBO against Diego Ledesma (18-4-2, 12 KO), of Los Mochis, Mexico in the ten-round co-featured bout that night. The southpaw Villanueva has thunderous power in both hands (hence his “Thunderbolt” nickname), but his tendency to load up on each shot makes him an inviting target for counterpunches. This battle will be fun while it lasts.
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.