Ryan Songalia

Francisco Rodriguez stops Merlito Sabillo in 10, wins strawweight belt

Did all of the wars catch up to Merlito Sabillo, or did Francisco Rodriguez Jr. just have the right game plan to shut him down?

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, as the unheralded Rodriguez mauled and dominated previously unbeaten Sabillo, wresting the WBO strawweight title with a 10th-round technical knockout at the Monterrey Arena in Monterrey, Mexico on Saturday night. The time of stoppage was 1:50.

The 20-year-old Rodriguez (14-2, 10 knockouts), whose previous biggest fight was being stopped in seven rounds by Roman Gonzalez, fought intelligently from the outset, backing up the 30-year-old Sabillo (23-1-1, 12 KOs) of Bacolod City, Philippines and hammering him to the body in the first round.

Matters went from bad to worse in the second round when Sabillo was dropped by a Rodriguez flurry that began with a left hook and culminated in Sabillo rising up from his hands and knees.

Sabillo looked slow and ineffectual the whole way, as his lack of defense left him a sitting target for Rodriguez's overhand rights and left hooks. Sabillo had some success in round six, connecting with his straight left cross several times to good effect.

By the 10th, Sabillo was a spent force, and rather than allow him to take unnecessary punishment, head trainer Edito Villamor stepped onto the ring apron to halt the bout.

Sabillo, who won the title last March in a bruising fight against Luis De la Rosa in Colombia, was coming off a life-and-death brawl with Carlos Buitrago in November.

Sabillo had spent the last few months training in Los Angeles and Mexico alongside stablemate and current WBO junior flyweight titleholder Donnie Nietes.

Rodriguez has now won three straight since the loss to Gonzalez.

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