MANILA, Philippines – Michael Aldegeur wore a wry smile on his face as he made the rounds during Thursday’s press conference at the Gloria Maris banquet hall in the Cubao section of Quezon City, Philippines.
Dressed in a cream colored blazer and pink oxford shirt, the youthful president of ALA Boxing spoke optimistically about this Saturday’s double world title boxing event across the street at Araneta Coliseum, featuring WBO light flyweight titleholder Donnie Nietes defending against Sammy Gutierrez, plus WBO strawweight titleholder Merlito Sabillo defending against mandatory challenger Carlos Buitrago.
With two of the country’s three world titleholders in action, plus fighters traveling from Mexico, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, the show will be the company’s biggest event, both in scope and in budget.
Yet, as beads of sweat trickled down the side of Aldegeur’s face, there were small traces of worry from behind his smile.
This will be the Cebu-based company’s third attempt to infiltrate the Manila market in the past year, and they know the difficulties in trying to sell boxing tickets in the National Capitol Region.
Just last month, Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions hosted a boxing event headlined by IBF junior flyweight titleholder Johnriel Casimero at the Makati Coliseum just a few miles down the road. The event was free to the public, as are most in the area, making it difficult for a promoter to push tickets.
Veteran Filipino sportswriter Ronnie Nathanielsz, who has covered Filipino boxing champions dating back to the great Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, cautioned via Twitter that free title fights “will kill boxing.”
“It has been very difficult,” admitted Aldegeur, when asked about trying to infiltrate Manila. “Right now we’re taking baby steps. This is going to be the biggest card we’ve ever done. This will tell it all. I’m not saying it’s going to be the ultimate goal that we’re trying to achieve, but I’m saying that it’s going to be a step towards that direction.”
Aldegeur, whose company has partnered with local TV network ABS-CBN and Asia Brewery to create the popular grassroots boxing program Pinoy Pride, will be hosting their twenty-third installment of the series. Most have been held in Cebu at the Waterfront Hotel, where they have cultivated their own market of ticket-buying fans
Aldegeur says that many Cebuanos will be flying in on fight night, “but we also need the Manila crowd to come in.” He expects the arena, which most famously hosted the third Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight title fight in 1975, to be 60-70 percent full.
Tickets begin at 110 pesos (about $2.50 USD) in the nosebleed seats and range up to 5,500 pesos ($120 USD) for ringside seats.
The event will be the first world title fight at the famous venue since the twin-bill that featured Nonito Donaire Jr. and Brian Viloria’s title wins in April of 2009.
Aldegeur says he is hoping to use this event to springboard to other major events, which he says will include a show in Dubai. Aldegeur says that they have also received written approval from the California State Athletic Commission to do boxing events there, which would be the first time an Asian promoter has done so.
In the main event, Nietes (31-1-4, 17 knockouts), of Bacolod City, Philippines, will meet Sammy Gutierrez (33-9-2, 23 KOs) of Puebla, Mexico. Nietes, 31, openly derided Gutierrez as a “tune-up fight” for a rematch of his draw with Moises Fuentes next year.
And with good cause. Gutierrez hasn’t fought since December of last year, when he was stopped by former titleholder Raul Garcia in three rounds. Nietes, a former WBO strawweight titleholder, has reigned as titleholder for over six years, but inactivity and a style not conducive to exciting fights has kept him from breaking out as a top domestic star.
Aldegeur says that he has had talks with Bob Arum of Top Rank about putting Nietes-Fuentes on one of their upcoming cards in Asia, perhaps in Macau or in Singapore.
The co-featured bout, which pits defending titleholder Sabillo (23-0, 12 KOs), of Bacolod City, against Buitrago (27-0, 16 KOs), is less of a sure bet. Sabillo, 29, won the title in March when he stopped Luis De La Rosa in eight rounds in Colombia and defended the title against Jorle Estrada at Manila’s Solaire Resort and Casino in July, knocking Estrada out in nine in his first ever headlining spot.
Yet while Sabillo had only a couple of amateur fights underneath his belt when he turned pro in 2008, Buitrago was a veteran of 175 amateur bouts. The bout is considered a toss-up bout.
“You’ve got to understand that nobody knew Merlito before – the Solaire fight was the first time people saw him fight on TV or anywhere,” said Aldegeur. “Donnie, he hasn’t gotten the recognition that he deserves because of his style of fighting, so this is going to be a challenge. Hopefully this will be the start of something big in the next few years.
“I’m not expecting a jam packed crowd – not yet – but this should be a step in the right direction of what we’re hoping to achieve.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. 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.