GOING into his 12-round showdown with World Boxing Organization featherweight (126 lbs.) champion Oscar Valdez of Mexico last weekend, Filipino challenger Genesis ‘Azukal’ Servania was given only two chances: slim and none.
When the bell rang, not a few fans swore they saw ‘slim’ immediately walking out of the Convention Center in Tucson, Arizona. While a native of Sonora, Mexico, WBO champ Valdez grew up partly in Tucson where he made one of his maiden appearances as an amateur boxer at age 12. A crowd of over 4,000 packed the arena, including members of Valdez’s family. Sports cable giant ESPN carried the fight and had it distributed to about 150 countries. Clearly, the focus was on the unbeaten Valdez, the former Olympian known for his aggressive style and terrific power punches.
For the first three rounds, Valdez repeatedly tagged Servania with damaging left hooks and overall treated him like a homecoming present to his fans in Tucson.
In the fourth, however, Servania stopped being a wide-eyed tourist and decided to stand up and fight.
An excellent counterpuncher even during his early days as a member of the ALA boxing stable, Servania caught a backtracking Valdez in the fourth round with a perfect left to the body/right to the head combination that dumped the Mexican to the canvas. While Valdez was not seriously hurt, he knew as he rose from the canvas that Servania was no easy picking.
It was total war after the fourth round as Servania tried to capitalize on the knockdown. Valdez rebounded strongly, returning the favor by knocking down Servania in the fifth stanza with a bone-jarring left. Servania crashed hard to the canvas and seemed out, but aided by a huge fighting heart he bounced back to his feet and beat the count.
In the remaining rounds, though, Valdez’s volume punching dictated the tempo of the fight as Servania seemed to be looking for the big counter punch. Valdez again rocked Servania in the 11th round, but the Filipino came out with both guns blazing in the 12th and final round. The last minute of the fight saw Valdez and Servania trading blows without remorse to the delight of everyone in the arena.
Valdez won via a unanimous decision, receiving scores of 117-109, 116-110 and 115-111. Not a few thought that the scores should have been closer. ESPN scored the fight 116-110 for Valdez. This writer tabbed it 115-111 for Valdez.
Valdez improved his ledger to 23-0 with 19 knockouts, but his visibly marked face clearly showed that Servania was a legitimate adversary. Valdez’s trainer, Manny Robles, claimed that his ward was too anxious to please his fans and figured in unnecessary exchanges. Still, it cannot be denied that Servania gave Valdez his toughest fight.
Servania absorbed his first loss (29-1, 12 knockouts), but he left the venue with newfound respect. It may even be safely posited that Servania’s fistic stock grew despite the loss to Valdez.
A native of Bacolod City, Servania briefly worked as a tricycle driver to augment the family income. He turned to pro boxing in 2009 and started meriting attention for his smooth, counterpunching skills. Servania was initially identified with the ALA boxing stable in Cebu, until he packed his bags and relocated to Japan in 2015. Still, Servania’s last few fights with ALA were no longer impressive and it did not get any better when he saw limited action in Japan.
Servania fought only once in 2016 and the fight with Valdez was only his second for the current year following his second round knockout of countryman Ralph Lulu in Japan in April.
Servania received only US$55,000 for the Valdez fight but he may be headed for a pay hike, and even another shot at a world title, if he stays the course. Servania’s crowd-pleasing performance against arguably the best featherweight champ today earned him the fans’ respect and the marketing eye of several promoters, including Top Rank’s Bob Arum. “We knew this guy was tough,” said Arum. “He was a real scrapper.”
Servania proved that against Valdez and it will be interesting to see how he will perform when he returns to the squared circle. The price of sugar just went up for the boxer they call ‘Azukal.’