The two highest-touted upcoming Filipino flyweights overcame their toughest challenges over the weekend — on different ends of their home country.
On Friday night, unbeaten knockout artist Froilan Saludar (16-0-1, 11 knockouts) was extended the 12-round distance for the first time in his career against tough Mexican Jose Alfredo Tirado (27-12, 19 KOs) en route to a unanimous decision at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City. The following night at the Waterfront Hotel and Casino in Cebu City, Milan Melindo (27-12, 19 KOs) flirted with disaster in the second half of his bout with Venezuelan Jean Piero Perez (19-5-1, 14 KOs) to win a majority decision.
Coincidentally Melindo, 24, and Saludar, 23, are ranked the no. 1 and no. 2 by the WBO at 112 pounds, respectively. The champion is Brian Viloria, a Filipino-American, who is expected to face WBA titleholder Hernan Marquez in November in a much-delayed unification bout that will shape the future paths of the two unbeaten Pinoys. Should the WBO order an elimination bout to determine a mandatory challenger, it’s conceivable that Melindo and Saludar could face each other in a battle that breaks the unwritten Filipino code of not facing fellow countrymen.
Saludar of Digos City, Davao del Sur was headlining his first big event in Metro Manila, facing his first notable step-up in the 32-year-old Tirado from the hometown of boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Culiacan. Tirado, who beat former world champion Cristian Mijares ten years ago, long before Mijares was on the championship radar, imposed pressure unlike anything Saludar had previously experienced.
Saludar, a two-time National Youth amateur champion, landed effectively in the early rounds with his vaunted right cross, but Tirado, who has only been stopped twice, would brush it off each time. Tirado began to find success once he closed the gap and smothered the taller Saludar. Tirado was largely outlanded in most of the rounds but with half of Saludar’s 16 previous bouts having ended in knockouts inside of two rounds, there was concern that his conditioning wouldn’t hold up.
“No matter how hard I hit him, he never seemed to get hurt,” said Saludar. “He is the toughest man I’ve ever fought. I learned so much from this fight.”
Those concerns were not only allayed but proved unfounded when Saludar closed the fight with his two best rounds of the contest, potshotting his durable opponent with right crosses from a distance.
The scores — 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110 — did not reflect the competitive nature of the bout.
Melindo’s bout would be more dramatic, however.
Melindo, of Cagayan de Oro City, who is rated no. 5 by THE RING at flyweight, has rarely had to deal with adversity, but he got a crash course in crisis management with Perez, who won the interim WBA junior flyweight title but was knocked out in his next fight before he could fight for full recognition.
Dealing with sizable height and reach disadvantage, the 5-foot-2 Melindo was forced to press the action in a way he isn’t accustomed to doing. Melindo found success in the first two rounds, stunning Perez with a left hook in round one that moments later would cause him to clinch and fall to the canvas. Veteran referee Bruce McTavish ruled it wasn’t a knockdown.
In round 3, Perez began to find a rhythm with his left jab, keeping Melindo at bay when he doubled it up and made him come up short with his counter attempts. Melindo took the momentum back in round 4 with his body work, trying to duplicate the one punch to Perez’s midsection that finished him in two rounds against Juan Carlos Reveco last year.
Despite Perez’s impressive workrate from the outside, Melindo seemed to have the fight going his way as the middle rounds approached, pressing forward with body work combinations and stunning Perez briefly with right-cross counters.
Yet in the eighth, as the two fought back and forth for control, a clash of heads created a cut under Melindo’s left eye that visibly seemed to bother him. It was the third time Melindo had been cut in his career. The wound painted a bull’s eye for Perez right cross, which he set up by rolling Melindo’s own right hand attempts and coming back with his own, ala James Toney, in round nine.
“We told him to use his jab more because he can’t penetrate the opponent because of the cut,” said Melindo’s trainer Edito Villamor, who himself once challenged legendary champion Ricardo Lopez for a world title. “We told him that it was just a small cut, don’t bother yourself. Just focus and win the fight.”
Melindo fought valiantly as the blood streamed into his eye, but Perez’s increasing accuracy down the stretch continued to narrow the cards going to the final bell.
The first judge, the Cebu-based Salven Lagumbay, scored the bout 114-114 even, but was overruled by the other two who had it 116-112 and 115-113 for Melindo.
Despite the difficulty his ward encountered, Melindo’s promoter is optimistic about what he saw.
“The fight was good for Milan to prepare him for a world title,” said Michael Aldegeur, president of ALA Boxing Promotions, which handles Melindo. “That’s why we took a chance on Perez for Milan to know what he needs to work on before he fights for a world title. I am sure Milan learned a lot and it will help him become a better fighter.”
Aldegeur said he will speak with WBO president Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel at next month’s WBO convention in Florida about the next move of Melindo. Aldegeur says he believes Melindo will get his first shot at a world title next year.
Also on the Cebu card, THE RING’s no. 7 flyweight Rocky Fuentes (34-6-2, 20 KOs), of Cebu City, outclassed Japan-based South Korean Myung Ho Lee (15-2, 5 KOs) over twelve rounds to retain his Oriental Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) flyweight title. The scores were 117-112 twice, and 116-112 on the third.
The 26-year-old Fuentes has now won 14 straight and remains ranked in the top 15 of all four major sanctioning bodies.
Photo / Rey Megale
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 email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.
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