Newly-crowned RING/WBC flyweight champ Sonny Boy Jaro (left) with longtime friend Denver Cuello
RIZAL, Philippines – There was a time when strawweight contender Denver Cuello was advocating for his promoter, Aljoe Jaro, to help out his friend Sonny Boy Jaro (no relation). Cuello and Sonny Boy had long been friends and stablemates, but Sonny Boy had chosen to go into business for himself, taking fights on short notice for the money and accruing unnecessary losses as a result.
Sonny Boy Jaro found himself relegated to trial horse status and his career was going nowhere.
“Denver told me, ‘Sir, please help Sonny Boy,’” recalled Aljoe Jaro, who now promotes both and owns the open-aired second floor gym where they both train in Binangonan, Rizal, Philippines. “He’s a good friend of Denver, so I said. ‘OK.’”
Just last week, the gamble paid off with a colossal upset, as Sonny Boy Jaro became Jaro Boxing’s second world titlewinner (first was IBF strawweight beltholder Florante Condes in 2007) by stopping long-reigning flyweight kingpin Pongsaklek Wongjongkam in Thailand to take his WBC title and become THE RING’s flyweight champion.
For the 25-year-old Cuello (29-4-6, 19 knockouts), the turnaround of his stablemate has provided additional motivation as he prepares to make his move in boxing’s lightest division.
“I knew that Sonny Boy has a strong punch and that if he can just hit his opponent, he can become champion. I believe the same for me,” said THE RING’s no. 7 strawweight contender Cuello, who fights Indonesian Kid Suryana (7-1, 4 KO) at Jaro Plaza in his hometown of Iloilo City, Philippines this Saturday in the ten-round main event. As is common in the Philippines, tickets begin at just 100 pesos, or about $2.50 USD. The most expensive ringside ticket is 500 pesos, or about $12 USD.
The Suryana fight, which will be his first in his home province, will serve as the final tuneup before he prepares to meet Mexican contender Ganigan Lopez (20-4, 14 KO) in an elimination bout to determine the mandatory challenger to WBC strawweight titleholder Kazuto Ioka of Japan. Jaro says the Cuello-Lopez bout will likely take place on May 12 in the Philippines, but isn’t so sure about when — or if — the Ioka bout will happen.
“I don’t know yet, because I heard from Japan that Ioka will move to 108 because he doesn’t want to fight Denver,” said Jaro, who claims he reached out to Ioka’s promoter to make the fight as a voluntary defense but was rebuffed.
A Facebook message to Kazuto Ioka requesting comment was not answered, and this writer’s profile was subsequently blocked from further contact.
Rodolfo Roble, a long-time assistant of Aljoe Jaro, remembers the first day they set eyes on Cuello. It was 2003 and Cuello was just 15 years old. He was already a top local amateur and had come to Manila in search of a gym and promoter to begin his pro career. Cuello weighed just 98 pounds and was thin as a rail. He was eating with the locals, as Jaro usually served breakfast to many of the impoverished residents.
“I asked Aljoe, ‘Who is this kid?,’ asked Roble.
“According to him, he’s a boxer,” responded Jaro.
For a year, Cuello trained with the team, which included the physically imposing specimens of Condes and Sonny Boy. Both could bench press 190 pounds, nearly twice their own weight, while Cuello was far from his physical prime. But Cuello turned pro at age 16, losing a split-decision to another 16-year old, which he followed with a draw in his next outing. Cuello would lose twice more by TKO before his 18th birthday, but Jaro didn’t lose faith. He saw the potential in the growing young man, who began to assert himself more in the gym.
“We took notice of him when Condes needed sparring and he could not hit Cuello,” said Jaro. “Even Sonny Boy had trouble with him. We used to call him ‘Sparring King.’ Nobody beats him in the sparring.”
In an ironic twist, Cuello, who once was the apprentice under Condes, is now rated two spots above him on THE RING’s ratings.
Since 2006, Cuello has lost just once, when in 2010, he rose off the canvas in round one against recent title challenger Juan Hernandez in Mexico. In the third, he knocked Hernandez down with a body shot, and as Hernandez was going down, landed another body shot before the referee, who was out of position, could send Cuello to the neutral corner. Cuello was originally awarded the KO win, but the referee reversed the decision shortly after and disqualified Cuello.
But Cuello’s work in Mexico has earned him the attention of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who now co-promotes Cuello under his Canelo Promotions alongside Jaro.
For Aljoe Jaro, the success of Sonny Boy Jaro has implications for his other rising young talent in the gym.
“Denver is very happy that Sonny became champion because Denver is without a doubt the uncrowned champion,” he said.
Photos / Ryan Songalia