WHEN you set loose a snake and a tiger in the same arena, no cage is big enough to contain the action that will follow.
True enough, local fight fans found themselves being treated to a fistic buffet when World Boxing Organization (WBO) light flyweight king (108 lbs.) Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes and WBO minimumweight (105 lbs.) champ Merlito 'Tiger' Sabillo spearheaded 'Pinoy Pride 23' at the Araneta Coliseum by taking on separate challengers. Nietes and Sabillo retained their world titles and, despite the contrasting results, their fights produced fireworks.
Making his second defense of the WBO minimumweight crown, Sabillo had to dig deeper to turn back the stubborn challenge of No. 1 ranked contender Carlos Buitrago of Nicaragua. Undefeated in 27 fights going in, Buitrago offered youth (21) and a smooth boxing-counterpunching style that gave Sabillo a whole lot of problems. After the proverbial feeling-out rounds, Sabillo started applying intense pressure in the middle rounds in the hope of landing his trademark left straight. But Buitrago refused to play the role of a willing accomplice and repeatedly glided to his left to avoid Sabillo's dreaded left straight. So smooth was Buitrago's move that the wild-lunging Sabillo often hit nothing but air particles. It definitely did not help Sabillo's cause when Buitrago's counter right hand repeatedly found the Filipino champ's wide-open chin.
In the ninth round, a huge counter right from Buitrago sent Sabillo reeling along the ropes. Fortunately for Sabillo, Buitrago held back on his offense and consequently failed to capitalize. It was this kind of hesitancy from Buitrago that arguably turned off some of the judges. For his part, Sabillo was relentless in pursuing Buitrago and his show of aggressiveness may have earned him valuable points. Oh, on the few occasions that Sabillo connected with his left straight, Buitrago's knees noticeably buckled.
When the smoke of battle cleared, the fight was ruled a split draw. Judge Levi Martinez of the United States scored the fight 115-113 for Buitrago while judge Joerg Milke of Germany produced the same score, albeit for Sabillo. The third judge who could have determined the winner, Takeshi Shimakawa of Japan, scored it 114-114. In a draw, the status quo is retained which means that the championship belt remains in the possession of Sabillo. In a way, Sabillo won the fight because his only objective going in was to retain the belt. Buitrago calmly accepted the outcome, perhaps fully aware that he did not exert enough effort to convincingly wrest the crown from Sabillo.
Sabillo improved his record to 23-0 with 12 knockouts, but the fight exposed cracks in his armor. Sabillo will have to work on cutting the ring better as Buitrago ran circles around him and made him look amateurish. Sabillo also has to work on his balance and it will definitely serve him well if he can develop his underrated right hand.
In stark contrast, WBO light flyweight champ Nietes needed just three rounds to pulverize Mexican Sammy 'Guty' Gutierrez. Truth be told, Gutierrez was never considered a serious threat owing to his porous defense and fragile jaw. Gutierrez was knocked out in three rounds by Mexican Raul Garcia in December 2012 and had been inactive for 11 months before facing Nietes.
The ring rust was evident as the recklessly lunging Gutierrez was knocked down two times in the opening round by Nietes. In the third, Nietes' thudding left jab set up a vicious right straight that landed flush on the jaw of the incoming Gutierrez, who skidded to the canvas face-first. He was able to beat the count but was clearly in no condition to continue. Referee Celestino Ruiz wisely pulled the plug at the 2:58 mark of the round.
The win raised Nietes' record to 32-1 with 18 knockouts. Nietes is 8-0 with 1 draw in title fights and has been a champion since September 2007, when he first won the WBO minimumweight belt from Thailand's Pornsawan Porpramook. He relinquished the belt in 2010 but promptly picked up the WBO light flyweight crown by beating Mexican Ramon Garcia (the twin brother of Raul Garcia) in 2011.
Nietes' true mettle will be tested when he takes on Mexican Moises Fuentes in a rematch next year. The two fighters fought to a spirited draw in March and a rematch is in the works. Gutierrez was meant to be a tune-up foe and Nietes dispatched him according to plan. Things figure to be different, if not tougher, with Fuentes.