MANILA, Philippines – With bigger purses available elsewhere, it’s rare that world title fights land in the Philippines, leaving Filipino boxing fans to admire their champions from afar.
Saturday night’s double world title bill was a rare treat for Filipino boxing fans, as two of their native titleholders were afforded the opportunity to make defenses on home soil.
In front of a sparse, yet passionate crowd at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines, WBO junior flyweight titleholder Donnie Nietes and WBO strawweight titleholder Merlito Sabillo – both of Bacolod City – retained their titles.
In the main event, Nietes (32-1-4, 18 knockouts) blasted out overmatched Mexican Sammy Gutierrez (33-10-2, 23 KOs) of Puebla, Mexico at 2:58 of round three, while Sabillo (23-0, 12 KOs) retained his title with a split-decision draw against mandatory challenger Carlos Buitrago (27-0-1, 16 KOs) of Managua, Nicaragua.
Nietes, who has reigned as champion for six years across two divisions, dropped the overmatched Gutierrez twice in round one on right crosses before knocking him out with a picture-perfect counter right in the third.
Gutierrez, who hadn’t fought since being stopped in three rounds last December against Raul Garcia, was selected by ALA Promotions as a safe tuneup for a rematch between Nietes and Moises Fuentes, who held Nietes to a draw in their first meeting in March.
ALA Promotions president Michael Aldageur says he has held talks with Top Rank boss Bob Arum about holding the rematch next year, either in Macau or Singapore in April or May.
“I feel there were times that he learned from their first fight,” said Aldegeur of Nietes’ upcoming rematch with Fuentes. “I think he fought the wrong fight in that fight. He wanted to knock the guy out. I think there will be a chance that he’ll show more in the rematch because he has learned from those mistakes.”
While the Nietes outcome was never in doubt from the moment the fight was signed, Sabillo and Buitrago was looked at as the real event of the night.
The two undefeated fighters didn’t disappoint.
For 12 rounds, the two passed the momentum back-and-forth, as Buitrago’s slick counterpunching and combinations clashed with Sabillo’s raw southpaw aggression and hard left crosses.
The bout took on the appearance of a poor man’s Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez I – minus three first round knockdowns.
Rounds eight and nine were instant classics as both Sabillo and Buitrago exchanged brutally, with Buitrago backing up and throwing counterpunches and Sabillo banging away relentlessly.
Sabillo was stunned badly by a Buitrago overhand right in the ninth, but after regaining his composure, raised his arms ala Pacquiao to the crowd’s delight.
In the end, a draw was the only worthy outcome as neither deserved to lose. The scorecards were 115-113 for Sabillo, 115-113 for Buitrago and 114-114 even.
Afterwards, a despondent Buitrago wondered aloud whether the decision would’ve gone in his favor in another locale.
“A draw in his home country means I really won,” said Buitrago, THE RING’s no. 6 strawweight contender, despite the three judges being from the United States, Germany and Japan. The referee Jack Reiss was from the United States, as well.
Aldegeur said that he will await the WBO’s decision on ordering a rematch but conceded that one is usually in order when a mandatory challenger holds a champion to a draw. Still, he doesn’t expect the rematch to be an immediate one.
“I feel that the decision was fair enough because you have to give credit to the world champion. [Sabillo] was the aggressor,” said Aldegeur. “It depends on how you look at it. He brought the fight to the challenger.
“I think Sabillo will learn from this, he didn’t have any amateur background and fought a guy like Buitrago. I think is something that will be big for him to learn from in the future.”
Flyweight contender Milan Melindo (30-1, 12 KOs) showed no ill effects following his first career defeat, outboxing and outslugging former title challenger Jose Alfredo Rodriguez (29-3, 18 KOs) en route to a 12-round unanimous decision victory. The scores were 118-110, 118-109, 119-109.
Melindo, 25, of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines displayed a dominating jab and impressive counterpunching abilities, picking off Rodriguez, 24, of Mazatlan, Mexico continuously.
Melindo rocked Rodriguez repeatedly, particularly with a left hook in the third round, but was never able to drop his foe. Melindo was cut late in the fight on the bridge of the nose by a head clash.
The bout was Melindo’s first fight back following a spirited, but losing effort to WBA/WBO flyweight titleholder Juan Estrada in July. Rodriguez’s only prior defeats were against Alberto Rossel and Kazuto Ioka in world title fights.
Earlier in the night, two-time world title challenger AJ Banal (30-2-1, 21 KOs) won a unanimous decision over Manuel Gonzalez Garcia (16-8-2, 5 KOs) of the Dominican Republic. The scores were 98-92 on two cards and 100-90 on the third, which didn’t reflect the competitive nature of the fight.
Banal has now won two straight since being stopped by Pungluang Sor Singyu last November in a vie for the vacant WBO bantamweight title.
Photo / Jay Directo-AFP