AJ Banal was young and cavalier in the ring when he suffered his first career loss as a pro against Panamanian Rafael Concepcion.
That was four years ago when Banal was still in his teens.
Now 23 years old and a much more experienced and established fighter, the man they call `Bazooka’ believes he’s now ripe for a shot at a first ever world championship.
Banal battles Pungluang Sor Singyu of Thailand on October 20 at the Mall of Asia Arena for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight title in a 12-round fight the Filipino considers as the biggest break of his seven-year career.
And unlike that shocking 10th-round knockout loss at the hands of Concepcion at the Cebu Coliseum four years ago, the pride of ALA Promotions disclosed he’s definitely learned from his past mistake.
“Nag-mature na ako sa ring. Marunong na tayong mag-pacing ngayon, hindi katulad dati na sugod lang tayo ng sugod kasi gusto nga nating ma-knockout `yung kalaban,” said Banal on Thursday shortly after he finished a whirlwind, two-day media tour with Sor Singyu that began in Cebu City and ended in Manila.
That’s what exactly happened in the fight against Concepcion for the World Boxing Association interim super-flyweight crown. Banal was leading in all three judges’ scorecards until the seventh round when fatigue finally caught up with him, enabling the Panamanian to turn the tide and score a 10th round knockout.
“Nanghina ako. Dinaan niya sa gulang. Pag mag-clinch kami hindi ko na alam ang gagawin ko,” recalled Banal of that fateful night.
Since that loss, the 23-year-old native of Bukidnon has racked up 11 straight wins, including an eight-round decision of Indonesian Ruben Manakane in his last fight in July. He now has a 28-1-1 record, including 20 KOs.
He’s looking forward to adding Sor Singyu to that list two months from now.
“Basta patient lang tayo sa ring, kung makakuha ng tiyempo para ma-knockout gagawin natin. Siyempre, yung knockout gusto ng mga fans yun, e,” he said as trainer Edmund Villamor and ALA Promotions executive Chad Canares listened.
“Pero siyempre `yung pacing ang mahalaga. Si Manny (Pacquiao) sugod din ng sugod `yun, pero marunong siyang mag-pacing sa sarili niya. Yun ang natutunan ko sa kanya.”
Villamor said chances of a win over the 24-year-old Thai, holder of a 42-1 record, with 27 KOs, is very bright, considering most fighters from Thailand are not familiar with fighting southpaw boxers like Banal.
“Sa mga tapes na napanood namin, medyo awkward siya pag southpaw ang kalaban. Yung kay (Eden) Sonsona nahirapan siya (10-round unanimous decision), e kaliwete rin `yun,” said Villamor.
Banal began boxing at the age of nine, and won his first major tournament by bagging the 42 kgs. gold during the 2002 Palarong Pambansa in Naga City.
A decade later, he hopes to finally nail a first-ever world championship.