MANILA, Philippines – Michael Farenas had much at stake going into his bout with Jesus Rios at Solaire Resort and Casino in Pasay City, Philippines.
The 29-year-old junior lightweight contender had challenged twice unsuccessfully for world titles, having his moments in bouts with Yuriorkis Gamboa and Takashi Uchiyama but failing to leave town with the belt. A loss on Friday night would’ve made a third opportunity almost impossible to attain.
As the sun set over the Manila Bay, Friday the 13th would indeed prove to be an unlucky date. Just not for Farenas.
Farenas (37-4-4, 29 knockouts), of Sorsogon, Philippines, had little trouble dispatching Rios (26-5-1, 20 KOs), of Los Mochis, Mexico, dropping him twice on southpaw left crosses before the bout was waved off at 2:40 of the second round.
For Rios, it was his fifth loss by knockout. For Farenas, it meant he’d live to fight another day as a title contender.
Farenas’ manager – former junior bantamweight and bantamweight world champion Gerry Penalosa – said that he wants to match his ward with former junior featherweight and featherweight titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez.
The same Juanma Lopez that beat Penalosa in his only stoppage loss back in 2009.
“It’s a big step up, he needs that fight to get to another level,” said Penalosa, who fought back a smile when asked if revenge played a factor in wanting that bout.
Penalosa said he would reach out to Lopez’s promoter Puerto Rico Best Boxing Promotions on Monday to try and make the fight.
The show, entitled “First Blood,” was the maiden promotion of MAG Promotions, a joint venture between former eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao, businessman Anson Tiu Co and Penalosa.
It was the second boxing event hosted by Solaire, which is the first casino of a scheduled four to open in Metro Manila’s Entertainment City.
Penalosa said that Pacquiao was at Solaire and had intended to attend the main event, but that signals were mixed up when the final bout started at 1:30 a.m.
Meanwhile, Gerry’s nephew, Dodie Boy Penalosa Jr. also tallied a notch in the win column, though he was forced to go to a decision for the first time in his career.
Penalosa Jr. (12-0, 11 KOs), whose father and trainer is former junior flyweight and flyweight champion Dodie Boy Penalosa Sr., defeated Alem Robles (6-4-2, 2 KOs), of Los Mochis, Mexico, by a seventh-round technical decision.
The judges turned in the scores of 68-64, 68-65 and 69-64 after the fight was stopped due to a headbutt-induced cut on Penalosa’s right eye.
“I feel not so good because the fight was stopped due to the headbutt,” said Penalosa Jr. “I felt that if it lasted that I can knock him out.”
The fight was a mixed bag for Penalosa, 22, as he appeared dominant in stretches while working masterfully behind his right jab to set up hard left crosses and thudding right hooks.
One such right hook in the third round landed as hard as one could hope to land, but failed to fell the determined Mexican.
There were also moments that had Penalosa’s supporters on the edge of their seats, like in the fifth round, when a stunned Penalosa took several unanswered blows along the ropes without clinching.
Stoically, Penalosa pushed on, dominating the action in rounds six and seven with his heavy right jab. When Penalosa stopped throwing his left hand, it became clear that something was wrong with it.
Penalosa Sr. would later say that the hand injury was a lingering malady sustained during his training alongside Pacquiao in General Santos City months back for an aborted bout on the undercard of Pacquiao’s most recent fight in Macau.
“It’s good for him because he got a lot of experience,” said Penalosa Jr.’s father of the tough challenge afterward. “I know that the Mexicans are strong and that’s why he picked that Mexican boxer.”
Penalosa Jr.’s uncle Gerry, who is often his toughest critic, offered only praise for his nephew.
“He fought a good fighter who gave him a hard time,” said Gerry Penalosa of his nephew’s performance. “I wanted to see how he’d handle those situations. I really liked the way he fought today. He has improved a lot.”
In the first co-featured bout of the night, Richard Pumicpic (14-5-2, 4 KOs), of Zamboanga del Norte, Philippines, won a unanimous decision over Luis Lugo (15-5-2, 11 KOs) of Los Mochis, in a 10-round junior featherweight bout. The scores were 96-92, 98-90 and 98-92.
Lugo, 21, found success in spurts, using his superior boxing technique to counter the amateurish lunging left hooks of Pumicpic, 23. The fight soon turned dirty however, as the two began clashing heads and trading rabbit punches in clinches.
The referee took a point from Lugo in round three for headbutting, but the dirty in-fighting continued from both men throughout the bout. Lugo’s taunting only served to fuel the acrimony.
Pumicpic was finally able to break through Lugo’s more refined defense in round seven, when his left hooks began finding the range and setting up the rest of his offense. By this point, blood began streaming from Lugo’s ajar mouth, suggesting to those in attendance that his jaw may be broken.
If it was, Lugo wasn’t going to allow it to alter his focus, as he resumed his jabbing in the following stanza. Pumicpic’s physicality was too much to overcome by that point, as he controlled the remainder of the bout.
Throughout the bout, the crowd jeered the two for clinching, daring the boxers to compliment their embraces with a kiss. In round 10, they got what they asked for – twice.
During one such clinch, Lugo kissed Pumicpic on the forehead to the crowd’s delight. About 30 seconds later, Pumicpic returned the favor with a smooch on Lugo’s neck.
The two brawled to the final bell, finishing up with a respectful embrace.
Pumicpic, who is managed by MAG partner Anson Tiu Co, has now gone 5-0-1 in his last six bouts against game opposition following a rough start to his pro career.
“The first few rounds were pretty scary for Pumicpic,” said Tiu Co. “But after that I think he regained his composure and did what he does best. It shows the people here and himself that he can beat anybody around the world.”
Fate wasn’t kind to all of Tiu Co’s fighters, however.
Earlier in the night, flyweight Jeffrey Cerna (14-9, 5 KOs) was knocked out by a right hook to the body from Fernando Ocon (12-5, 4 KOs) at 1:49 of the eighth, while strawweight Ronelle Ferreras (13-6-2, 5 KOs) dropped a 10-round unanimous decision to Roque Lauro (10-16-4, 2 KOs) by the scores of 96-93, 95-94 and 97-92.
Despite the outcomes of his fighters, Tiu Co felt confident about the future of his new venture with MAG Pacman Promotions.
“We’ve very excited,” said Tiu Co. “I feel like we still need to fix a lot of things. This was our maiden event and I just want to show the people that we can do better shows.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.