With AJ 'Bazooka' Banal getting knocked out last year by Thai Pungluang Sor Singyu in his bid for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight title and featherweight contender Rey 'Boom Boom' Bautista being forced to archive the gloves recently after dropping a decision to lightly-regarded Mexican Jose Ramirez, super lightweight (140 pounds) Jason 'El Niño' Pagara found himself being elevated to main event status last Saturday in the 20th edition of ABS-CBN and ALA Boxing Promotions' popular boxing show Pinoy Pride.
Before another packed Waterfront Hotel and Casino crowd in Cebu City, Pagara, ALA Boxing Promotions' latest world title hopeful, made his second successful defense of his WBO International super lightweight title against tough Mexican hombre Aaron 'La Hoya' (The Jewel) Herrera.
Herrera came to the fight with an impressive record of 25-1 with 17 knockouts and definitely lived up to his credentials. The native of Yucatan, Mexico turned pro in 2006 and won his first 24 fights before dropping a decision to Fernando Garcia in July 2012. He rebounded strongly from the defeat by stopping Jorge Pimentel in one round in his last fight before taking on Pagara. Herrera's last two victories have actually come by first-round knockouts.
The lanky Herrera got off to a good start, keeping Pagara at bay with a textbook left jab and good footwork. In the second round, though, Pagara exploded with a huge left hook that buckled Herrera's knees and eventually floored him. Herrera emerged from his intimate moment with the canvas with a cut on his right eye and for awhile it seemed Pagara was going to hit the showers early.
Pagara's left hook repeatedly rattled Herrera in the ensuing rounds, but the Mexican proved to be one tough cookie. Herrera got his game back in the fifth round, when he nailed Pagara with a beautiful left jab-right straight combination. Herrera seized control in the middle rounds, feeding off his left jab. On the occasions when he just stood in front of Herrera, Pagara swallowed a truckload of jabs from the Mexican. Pagara kept each round close though, rallying in the dying minutes with sizzling left hooks and right straights. While Herrera displayed better boxing skills, it was Pagara who carried dynamite in his fists.
When the smoke of battle cleared, Pagara retained his hardware with a unanimous decision, earning scores of 115-112, 116-111 and 119-108. This writer scored it 115-112, reflecting the closeness of the fight.
"Mahirap din siyang kalaban. Nung ma-knockdown ko siya sa second round akala ko hindi na siya tatayo, pero napilitan na lang ako na i-maintain yung stamina ko," Pagara told this writer. "Hindi naman ako nasaktan sa laban na ito. Tinitingnan ko lang talaga yung jab niya para maka-timing ako."
With another successful defense of the WBO International title, Pagara improved his ledger to 31-2 with 19 knockouts. Pagara's two losses have come on points. He lost to countryman Rey Anton Olarte in December 2007 and Mexican Rosbel Montoya in September 2011. Pagara defeated Olarte in their first meeting in August 2007 while he avenged the loss to Montoya by flattening the Mexican in August 2012. Pagara blamed the first loss to Montoya to overconfidence and a slew of personal problems.
Pagara, who has won his last four fights (three by knockout) since losing to Montoya, is definitely inching closer to a shot at the regular world title. This brings about a whole new dilemma as the super lightweight division happens to be one of the most talent-loaded divisions in boxing today. The World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Council (WBC) unified champion is American Danny Garcia (26-0, 16 knockouts) while the International Boxing Federation (IBF) is American Lamont Peterson (31-2, 16 knockouts). Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez (55-6, 40 knockouts) sits as the WBO champion but he is likely to give up the crown or be stripped of it if he defeats Timothy Bradley on October 12 for the WBO welterweight (147 pounds) title.
The current interim WBO super lightweight champ, Denver native Mike Alvarado (34-1, 23 knockouts), is the most beatable titleholder in the weight class. Alvarado, who defeated Brandon Rios on points in his most recent outing, remains unpolished. Pagara will be an underdog against Alvarado, but a fight involving the two boxers figure to be intriguing and exciting.
Pagara is the first to admit that he still has a long way to go, but the kid is all too willing to soak in all the valuable lessons.
"Darating lang yan (world title shot)," said Pagara. "Yung dapat ko pang i-improve ay yung speed at power ko."