Ryan Songalia

Banal, Fuentes score KOs in Cebu

CEBU CITY, Philippines – There are some that question the heart of bantamweight contender AJ Banal, but “Bazooka” never gave Raul Hidalgo a chance to ask those questions.

Banal (27-1-1, 20 KOs) of Bukidnon, Philippines moved his record to 27-1-1 (20 KOs) with a first-round technical knockout of Hidalgo (16-6, 12 KOs) of Casas Grande, Mexico, at the 2:29 mark, preserving Banal’s no. 1 ranking with the World Boxing Organization (WBO) at 118 pounds.

The ending came after Banal, 23, landed a hard overhand left cross behind Hidalgo’s ear, causing his legs to wobble dramatically. Referee Danrex Tapdasan Esq. rushed in immediately to halt the bout, choosing caution over entertainment.

“The safety of the fighters should always be the first priority,” Tapdasan said regarding his call. “When the safety of one boxer is in jeopardy, entertainment should yield and take a backseat.”

Antonio Aldeguer, founder of ALA Promotions, supported the referee’s decision but says that he would have liked to have seen more from Banal.

“The referee was right, but if you look at it from the perspective of a fan and a promoter, it’s too premature,” said Aldeguer.

Michael Aldeguer, Antonio’s son and president of ALA Promotions, says that he would have liked to see Banal extended a few rounds as he approaches a possible shot at the WBO bantamweight title currently held by Jorge “Travieso” Arce.

“It’s disappointing in a way but a win is a win,” said Aldeguer.

Aldeguer said that he spoke recently with WBO president Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel, who said he believed that Arce will return to 122 pounds where he had previously held a title later this year, in which case the 118 pound title would be vacated. Aldeguer is hoping to face the no. 2-rated Pungluang Sor Singyu (40-1, 26 KOs) of Thailand – possibly by July – for the vacant belt, unless a fight with Arce can be made.

Arce is rumored to be back in action on the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley undercard on June 9, although no opponent has been announced.

The next stop for Banal appears to be Oxnard, Calif., where Michael Aldeguer says he will train under rising young coach Roberto Garcia, who also handles Nonito Donaire Jr. and Brandon Rios.

“We talked to (Garcia a few days ago), we wanted to wait for after this fight,” said Michael Aldeguer, who added that current coach Edito Villamor will be retained as one of the coaches. “You gotta do what’s best for the fighter and Garcia is an expert at making game plans. Banal needs more sparring, he can’t keep beating up the same people in the gym.”

In the co-featured bout, THE RING’s no. 6 flyweight contender, Rocky Fuentes (33-6-2, 20 KOs) of Cebu City, scored a devastating sixth-round knockout of Javier Franco (19-7-1, 10 KOs) of Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico. The time of stoppage was :52.

Fuentes, 26, used his smothering aggression to push Franco to the ropes for lengthy periods of each round, focusing heavily on the body in the early rounds. Fuentes scored the first knockdown of the fight midway through the third round when the two traded left hooks, landing high on Franco’s temple and sending him skidding to the floor.

Franco was able to recover well enough to land effective counter-punches when Fuentes’ defense failed to keep up with his aggression. The pressure of Fuentes was simply too much in the end, though.

Just seconds into the sixth round, Fuentes trapped Franco in the corner and landed a sneaky left hook to the body, causing a delayed reaction that sent Franco to the floor. Franco made it back to his feet and returned fire, but Fuentes was slightly faster to the draw, catching Franco with a right cross as he prepared to uncork one of his own, sending Franco to the floor, face-first. The referee stopped the bout without a count.

Fuentes remains rated in the top five in all four of the major sanctioning bodies.

Also, undefeated 18-year-old bantamweight prospect “Prince” Albert Pagara extended his record to 11-0 (9 KOs) with a knockout of Thailand’s Phupha Por Nobnom (10-8-1, 9 KOs) at 2:58 of the second round. Shortly after scoring the bout’s first knockdown with a pair of right crosses, Pagara dropped Nobnom for the count with a hard overhand right cross.

Nobnom laid motionless for three minutes as ringside paramedics administered oxygen to the fallen pugilist, who had lost his last bout to a fighter with an 0-8 record. The crowd let out a collective sigh when Nobnom eventually sat up unassisted.

In the television opener, bantamweight “King” Arthur Villanueva (18-0, 12 KOs) of Bacolod City, Philippines maintained his undefeated record, winning a competitive unanimous decision over a Rey Migreno (15-19-3, 13 KOs) by the scores of 76-73, 77-72 and 76-74. Villanueva had a difficult time utilizing his reach advantage, fighting for long stretches in close with the physically stronger Migreno, who was knocked out in four rounds by current RING flyweight champion Sonny Boy Jaro last year.

Villanueva scored a knockdown in the third round, but the extra point was negated the following round due to an accidental headbutt. Migreno lost a point for a low blow later in the bout.

In one of the more bizarre moments you’ll ever witness in boxing, JoJo “Flash” Entor made his way to the ring accompanied by the tunes of Hanson’s “MMMBop”, highly unique for someone who engages in the hurt business. To top it off, his entrance attire included a Mardi Gras mask, plus a cape and horns equipped with flashing lights.

Still, Entor (19-10-7, 7 KOs) of Mabinay, Philippines went on to dominate journeyman Ali Marapao (2-9) for a unanimous decision victory.

The card will be aired in the Philippines tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 10:15AM local time on ABS-CBN channel two, and replayed at 3:30PM on Studio 23.


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