Who has what it takes to inherit mantle from Pacquiao as flagbearer of Philippine boxing?
Manny Pacquiao’s stunning defeat to Australian Jeff Horn last month left the country with three world titleholders: IBF flyweight (112 lbs.) champion Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes, IBF junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) kingpin Jerwin ‘Pretty Boy’ Ancajas and IBF junior flyweight (108 lbs.) title holder Milan ‘El Metodico’ Melindo. 

WITH the boxing career of Manny Pacquiao knocking on heaven’s door, it’s not a bad idea to rate the country’s incumbent world boxing champions and ascertain if anyone of them has a chance to carry the baton that is now slipping through Pacquiao’s weary, 38-year-old hands.

Pacquiao’s stunning defeat to Australian Jeff Horn last month left the country with three titleholders: International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight (112 lbs.) champion Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes, IBF junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) kingpin Jerwin ‘Pretty Boy’ Ancajas and IBF junior flyweight (108 lbs.) title holder Milan ‘El Metodico’ Melindo. The three champs make for an interesting mix, offering contrasting styles and their share of strengths and weaknesses.

Off the bat, Ancajas (27-1, 18 knockouts) offers the most promise: youth, a flexible fighting style and a talent-loaded division that figures to provide him with quality fights. Ancajas was given a chance to showcase his fistic wares in the Pacquiao-Horn undercard in Brisbane and the kid from Panabo City, Davao del Norte delivered with a textbook seventh-round stoppage of Japanese Teiru Kinoshita. The southpaw Ancajas worked on the lanky Kinoshita with surgeon-like precision, bloodying the challenger’s eye with some piston-like jabs early in the fight before shifting his attack downstairs with debilitating body shots. In the seventh stanza, a right hook from Ancajas pricked Kinoshita’s body and sent the deflated Japanese down to the canvas.

Ancajas, 25, is a thinking, patient boxer who takes out his foes brick-by-brick. He offers a versatile offense that keeps foes perplexed throughout the contest. Ancajas is in a position to be a major star as he competes in a division loaded with talent. The junior bantamweight division boasts of names like former world champs Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez of Nicaragua, Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico and incumbent World Boxing Organization champ Naoya Inoue. The 24-year-old, undefeated Inoue (13-0, 11 knockouts), nicknamed ‘Monster,’ is easily the most intriguing foe for Ancajas. Inoue won the world light flyweight (108 lbs.) title in only his sixth pro fight and then jumped two divisions higher to win the WBO’s junior bantamweight title with a second-round knockout of Omar Narvaez in 2014. Inoue is almost the complete package, boasting of superb lateral movements and a powerful, busy left jab that serves as the fitting precursor to his dreaded windmill right hand. The kid is a gym workhorse and is considered by many as the best Japanese fighter today.

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Nietes, 40-1 with 22 knockouts, is a 35-year-old veteran who continues to chug on and dodge Father Time. Nietes has not lost a fight since 2004 and has won world titles in the minimumweight, light flyweight and flyweight divisions. The Bacolod City native offers an unconventional fighting style that has managed to keep him afloat all these years. The problem with Nietes, however, is his failure to secure the big fight. He moved up in weight to chase Roman Gonzalez, but Thai Srikaset Sor Rungvisai beat him to the draw and defeated the highly-touted Mexican in March. Nietes was also the odds-on pick of many (including yours truly) to prevail over the overrated Zou Shimming of China, but no deal was brokered between the two. Shimming, true enough, was exposed as a fraud in an 11th round knockout loss to Sho Kimura of Japan.

The clock is ticking on Nietes whose power has grown suspect as he moved up to the heavier flyweight (112 lbs.) class. Nietes has not been in a competitive contest since 2014, when he stopped former Mexican world champ Moises Fuentes in nine rounds. The search for that one big fight has become a very frustrating quest for the man they call ‘Ahas.’

Melindo (36-2, 13 knockouts) has been appraised by this writer as a talented fighter from the time he made his maiden appearance in the popular boxing show ‘Pinoy Pride,’ but the lack of consistency and suspect dedication midway in his career almost cost him. Fortunately, Melindo was able to rediscover himself, resulting in an impressive ascension to the throne in May. Melindo bamboozled Japanese Akira Yaegashi in one round to collar the IBF light flyweight diadem.

Melindo, 29, is booked to make his initial title defense on September 16 against South African whirlwind slugger Hekkie Budler. At his best, the diminutive Melindo is a judicious fighter; an excellent counterpuncher who boasts of deceptive power in his left hook. Melindo can be outboxed, but ranged against a brawler like Budler, the Filipino’s counterpunching brilliance is expected to shine.

Pacquiao’s career may be winding down, but Ancajas, Nietes and Melindo make for a clear sign that Philippine pro boxing is far from going down on its knees. 

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