Undefeated flyweight contender Milan Melindo works the sticks with his trainer Edito Vilamor at a media event for his next fight, which co-headlines Pinoy Pride XVI this Saturday at the Waterfront Hotel & Casino in Cebu City, Philippines.
MANILA, Philippines – Boxing in the Philippines is in a boom period, with the popularity of Manny Pacquiao making the art of pugilism seem more attractive than ever. No more so is the emergence of Filipino talent more apparent than in the flyweight division, where four fighters from the archipelago nation are ranked among THE RING’s top ten contenders. Half a dozen or more are also among the top 15 of the various sanctioning body rankings as well.
Yet, with prosperity comes conflict. One contender’s rise may mean the fall of his compatriot, which isn’t a prospect that appeals to the fans domestically.
“As we do not have that many world-class boxers, the last thing we want to see is a Filipino fighter eliminating his countryman from title contention,” said Atty. Ed Tolentino, a veteran boxing commentator/columnist in the Philippines. “Nobody wants to see a Filipino beating up a fellow Filipino. We prefer to see our guy beating a foreign adversary as it adds to the national pride and definitely boosts ticket sales. There is no pride that can be felt in the sight of a Filipino boxer beating his countryman.”
Two of those Filipino flyweights – Milan Melindo (27-0, 11 knockouts) and Rocky Fuentes (33-6-2, 20 KOs) – are not just compatriots but stablemates as well in the Cebu-based promotional organization ALA Boxing Promotions. The two flyweights will be part of Pinoy Pride XVI, facing foreign opponents in the two co-featured bouts this Saturday at the Waterfront Hotel & Casino in Cebu City, Philippines.
Melindo of Cagayan de Oro City is rated no. 5 by THE RING at 112 pounds, while Fuentes of Cebu City is just below him at no. 7.
Melindo will face Jean Piero Perez (19-4-1, 14 KOs), of San Felix, Venezuela, in the main event, while Fuentes will face Myung Ho Lee (15-1, 5 KOs), of Osaka, Japan, just before that. The show will air in the Philippines this Sunday on ABS-CBN channel 2 at 10:15 a.m., with a replay on Studio 23 at 6:15 p.m.
Melindo, 24, was once dismissed as a feather-fisted stylist, but has scored stoppages in six of his last seven matches, with the lone exception being his decision victory over former world titleholder Carlos Tamara two years ago. Melindo is believed by many to be ready for a title shot and is the number one contender with the WBO. Only issue is that the titleholder there is Brian Viloria, a Filipino-American with a growing home country fan base.
Perez, 31, represents Melindo’s biggest challenge since Tamara, having achieved interim status of the WBA light flyweight title but being knocked out by one left hook to the body by Juan Carlos Reveco before getting a shot at the full world title.
“He’s a good boxer, but I think he’s got a problem on body shots,” said Melindo, who will have a significant height disadvantage entering the fight. “I saw his previous fights, nothing dangerous, but he’s a former (interim) world champion so I’ll take care.”
Perez hasn’t seen Melindo, he says, but has scouted him.
“I don’t usually watch the fight of my opponents in tapes but I heard he is fast and a very good technical boxer,” Perez said of Melindo at a press conference earlier this week. “Melindo hasn’t lost a fight but I can say that every fight is different and a fight against me will be something hard for him.”
Fuentes, known as “The Road Warrior” because of his 11 fights around different Asian countries, has earned his reputation outside of the country, overcoming the odds in three fights in Japan in 2010, defeating three straight contenders as the “opponent” in defense of the regional Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) title.
His opponent Lee hasn’t faced the same level of competition, with his lone defeat coming by second round knockout in his third pro bout.
ALA Boxing President Michael Aldegeur says the blueprint to a world title shot is very different for both of his wards.
“With Milan, we’re just waiting,” said Aldegeur, who also promotes WBO light flyweight titleholder Donnie Nietes. “We hoped to get a crack at Viloria but he will fight (WBA titleholder Hernan) Marquez. If Marquez wins, it’s another ball game. Perez is ranked no. 4 in the WBA, so if we win we’re expecting to rise in the rankings.” The Viloria-Marquez has been much delayed, but recent chatter suggests it will take place in November.
Aldegeur says that he reached out informally to Viloria’s Philippine-based representatives Solar Entertainment, but said he backed off waiting for the WBO to act. “Until we get a directive from the WBO, we can’t start formal negotiations,” said Aldegeur. Aldegeur says he will travel to Hollywood, Fla. next month for the WBO convention to discuss a future shot at Viloria with WBO President Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel.
For the opportunity to raise a belt over his head, Melindo is willing to risk the momentary disfavor.
“Filipino versus Filipino, sometimes Filipinos are not OK with that,” said Melindo. “But if that happens to fight Viloria, it’s OK with me.” When asked which titleholder he prefers, Melindo pointed to South African IBF claimant Moruti Mthalane. “Mthalane is a dangerous fighter, so many people are scared of him so I challenge,” said Melindo.
For the 26-year-old Fuentes, who doesn’t have the domestic fan base Melindo does, the path is a little rockier. Though rated by all four major organizations, discussions have so far been fruitless.
“With Rocky, we’re just waiting for him to go up the rankings but right now it’s very difficult to put him in a fight where some champions want to fight him,” said Aldegeur. Aldegeur says that attempts to negotiate with Mthalane and Marquez, as well as former titleholder Julio Cesar Miranda to face Fuentes have not panned out.
“He’s not really all that popular like Milan,” said Aldegeur. “We tried to discuss but (titleholders) don’t like the high risk-low reward scenario of fighting Fuentes.”
Melindo, at least, is content to wait for the cards to fall where they may.
“All boxers are dreaming to fight the world champions, but I will let my manager plan that thing,” said Melindo. “I will wait the permission of God’s will.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel and 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.
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