MANILA, Philippines – There was a time when Sonny Boy Jaro fought just for the paychecks. And why not? He had saved up enough money through his pro career and opened up a shoe store in the Rizal province of the Philippines. He was ready to move on to the next stage of his life, and the opportunities to come in as an “opponent” meant additional capital to get the business started.
Solid and formidable at strawweight (105 pounds) and junior flyweight (108 pounds), Jaro began taking fights at junior bantamweights (115 pounds) and above in the last two years, losing to Oscar Ibarra and Hirofumi Mukai in one-sided fights overseas. The defeats did little for his standing in the sport but put money in his pocket.
His manager Aljoe Jaro, a distant cousin and former pro in his own right, blames this complacency for many of his in-ring shortcomings over the past few years.
“Before in the past, his training wasn’t good,” said Aljoe Jaro. “He only fought for the money, not the title.”
But the difficulties of maintaining a small business in the Philippines caught up with Sonny Boy Jaro, and his business and all of the investments were gone. So now, at 29, Jaro approaches the sport with a different dedication. But will it be enough against one of the greatest flyweight champions the sport has ever seen.
This Friday, Jaro (33-10-5, 23 knockouts) will have his third – and perhaps last – shot at a world title, this time against aging legend and RING/WBC flyweight champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (83-3-2, 44 KOs) in Chonburi, Thailand.
Jaro hasn’t earned this shot with his recent work inside the ring; the four fight win streak that he’s riding since the Mukai loss has been built on competition with losing records. But Jaro has fought some of the best fighters in the sport’s lightest divisions over the past decade, including Giovani Segura (KO by 1), Edgar Sosa (decision loss), Pornsawan Porpramook (KO by 5) and Florante Condes (decision win, KO by 2), even if he isn’t often on the right side of the outcomes.
But in spots he has shown that he can be competitive, such as his 2008 defeat to then-WBC light flyweight champion Sosa, when he scored a knockdown in the ninth round of that decision loss. Sosa’s mouthpiece was knocked out, and the break to clean it off helped him recover.
Segura, who knocked out Jaro in the first round of Jaro’s only other world title opportunity, admits that he was hurt by a Jaro right hand.
“Jaro is a small guy and he’s easy to hit, but one thing about him, he hits hard,” said Segura, a former RING champion at 108 pounds.
“He hit me twice with the right, and the second time he hit me he hurt me and I kinda stumbled back. I was like, ‘Damn, this guy really hits hard.’ He realized it but I knew he would throw it again and when the right came again, I got him with the body shot. I guess that day I was the smarter guy, but it was not an easy fight.”
Wongjongkam won his first world title in March of 2001, six months before Jaro turned pro, when he knocked out Filipino Malcolm Tunacao in the first round to win the WBC flyweight title. Wonjongkam has successfully defended his title 22 times over two reigns, putting him up there with Jimmy Wilde and Pancho Villa.
But Wonjongkam, THE RING’s No. 8 pound for pound entrant, is now 34, ancient for smaller fighters, with a lot of mileage on him.
The Thai legend once scored a :34 second knockout of Daisuke Naito, the fastest in flyweight title history, in 2002, only to lose a decision to that same man in 2007, followed by a draw the next year. Wongjongkam’s impressive speed is not what it once was, and Jaro is hoping to capitalize on his diminished abilities.
“This time I think Pongsaklek is not like he was before, he was faster before, but now he’s too slow,” said Aljoe Jaro. “He has more experience, but he’s very slow right now.
“I think Sonny Boy is gonna have a big chance to beat him because he’s too old and Sonny Boy is a hungry boxer.”
Common belief among international promoters and managers is that, winning a decision in a world title fight in Thailand is as difficult as beating an Eskimo in a snowball fight. Not that anyone thinks Jaro can win a decision; his only prospects are a puncher’s chance.
“If you didn’t knock (the Thai) out and just beat him up every round, you’re going to lose by decision,” said Aljoe Jaro. “That’s one of the bad experiences I’ve had. This fight, we are making sure we will knock him out.”
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.