DENVER Cuello may have failed to bring home the World Boxing Council (WBC) minimumweight championship, but he definitely won the hearts of boxing fans at the World Trade Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates by going the full 12 rounds with China's Xiong Zhao Zhong despite a dislocated right shoulder and cuts on both eyes.
Cuello, who waited over two years for his shot at the WBC crown, actually got off to a sizzling start by knocking down Zhong with a wicked left in the first round. Zhong barely survived the round and his fate seemed sealed early on. "Hilo talaga siya sa left straight ko," Cuello told Spin. ph. shortly after the fight.
Cuello was in complete control until the fifth round, when Lady Luck suddenly frowned on him. He felt something snap in his right shoulder and the excruciating pain that followed reduced him into a one-armed fighter for the remainder of the fight. "Mula sa fifth round, injured na ako," confirmed Denver, who sustained a torn rotator cuff. "Tapos, puro headbutts pa yung kalaban ko."
There was no concealing Cuello's injury. According to his manager Aljoe Jaro, Cuello's dislocated right shoulder was literally dangling after the fifth round and referee Hector Afu seriously contemplated on stopping the fight. Zhong, the shorter fighter, tried to capitalize by headbutting Cuello repeatedly on the head and shoulders. Zhong was slapped a one-point deduction in the seventh round for the dirty tactics, but he succeeded in opening cuts above Cuello's eyes. Cuello's left eye was almost swollen shut at the end of the fight.
"Gusto ng awatin ng referee dahil laglag na talaga ang balikat ni Denver at duguan na dahil sa sugat sa ulo," said Jaro. "Pero ayaw ni Denver dahil alam niya panalo siya sa pagtatapos ng round."
Indeed, with both eyes cut and with only one good arm left, Cuello gallantly fought on. The scorecards reflected how competitive Cuello was despite the serious injuries he sustained. Judge John Keane scored the fight a draw at 113-113. Zhong, however, retained the belt by majority decision after judges Roman Filimonov and Sergio Izonzo both scored the fight for him with scores of 115-112 and 113-110, respectively.
"Sa first round bumagsak na siya (Zhong). Pagdating ng fifth round, bumigay ang balikat ni Denver kaya wala siyang balance hanggang ninth round. Ibigay na natin sa kalaban yon. Pero sa seventh round, binigyan siya (Zhong) ng one-point deduction at sa rounds ten and eleven nakabalik si Denver. Kwentahin na lang natin kung sino talaga ang lamang," narrated Jaro.
Cuello's record sank to 33-5 with 21 knockouts after the fight. The decision loss to Zhong also snapped Cuello's 12-fight winning streak but all is not lost as Jaro informed Spin. ph. that the fight contract with Zhong came with a rematch clause. "Actually may agreement kami. May rematch kami at nasa kasulatan yun. Papa-operahan ko muna si Denver pagbalik namin dyan (sa Pilipinas)."
Make no mistake, Cuello remains focused on winning the WBC minimumweight belt. Since the WBC created the 105-pound division in 1987, a total of 13 fighters have been crowned champions, but - believe it or not - not one of them is a Filipino. Mexican Ricardo Lopez, who held the WBC minimumweight crown for a record nine years (1990 until 1999), manhandled Filipinos Pretty Boy Lucas, Manny Melchor, Andy Tabanas and the hard-punching Edito "Ala" Villamor. Mandaue City native Rodel Mayol fought for the WBC crown in May 2006 but was decisively beaten on points by then champion Eagle Kyowa.
Cuello has dismissed the setback to Zhong as an aberration. Jaro feels the same and believes that his ward is destined to collar the crown.
"Pag napanoood nila (local fight fans) ang laban, maawa sila kay Cuello, pero bibilib din sila sa kabayanihan na pinakita niya dahil gusto pa rin niyang maipanalo ang laban," said Jaro. "Hindi ko ikinahihiya ang pagkatalo namin. Ipinagmamalaki ko pa rin si Denver."