JUST when you thought the weather cannot get any hotter, the University of Southeastern Philippines (USEP) gym in Davao City was transformed into a broiling cauldron last Saturday when it played host to the popular and top-rating boxing series Pinoy Pride.
In its 19th instalment, Pinoy Pride featured three bouts that had the fans screaming their lungs out. In a rare showdown between two undefeated and promising Filipino boxers, ‘King’ Arthur Villanueva successfully defended his Orient Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) super flyweight (115 pounds) diadem with a hard-earned 12-round unanimous decision over stubborn challenger Marco Demecillo. Flyweight (112 pounds) contender Rocky ‘Road Warrior’ Fuentes followed up Villanueva's sterling performance with a 10-round drubbing of Mexican Juan Kantun while in the main event, World Boxing Organization (WBO) International featherweight (126 pounds) champion Rey ‘Boom Boom’ Bautista figured in a bloody tooth-and-nail brawl with Mexican Jose ‘Negro’ Ramirez before dropping a split-decision.
Villanueva-Demecillo was easily the best fight in the card. It was competitive throughout, with the outcome hanging in the balance. Iligan City’s Demecillo entered the fight with a record of 18-0 with 14 knockouts and the reputation as a debilitating body puncher. Predictably, Demecillo worked on Villanueva's body with the mindset of Vicki Belo: the guy was bent on extracting all the bad cholesterol from Villanueva's body.
Villanueva boxed beautifully in the early rounds, keeping Demecillo at bay with a steady left jab-right straight combination. Demecillo, however, just kept chugging forward and even dared Villanueva to hit harder. In the ninth round, with some of Demecillo's body blows landing below the waistline, Villanueva looked ready to capitulate. Showing the heart of a true champ, Villanueva held on and outboxed Demecillo in the last two rounds to pocket the win. Villanueva, who improved to 21-0 with 11 knockouts, made his first successful defense of the OPBF title he won from Japanese Taiki Eto in December.
Cebu native Rocky Fuentes, the reigning OPBF flyweight king, traded knockdowns with Mexican Juan Kantun en route to a convincing win in a non-title affair.
Fuentes, 35-6 with 20 knockouts, came out smoking and floored Kantun with a mean left in the first round. When Kantun locked lips with the canvas again in the third round, Fuentes seemed destined to hit the showers early. But Kantun rebounded in the fourth round by also decking Fuentes. Fuentes was hit just when he lost his balance on a very slippery canvas and this resulted in a knockdown being called. Fuentes regained his composure and floored Kantun for the third time with a clubbing right hand in the seventh stanza. Kantun spent the remainder of the fight clowning around, mocking Fuentes' power. The end result was a lopsided decision win for Fuentes, who is now on a 15-fight winning tear, his last defeat coming by way of a split-decision loss to countryman Richie Mepranum in December 2007.
The main event saw Rey Bautista figuring in a bloody, foul-plagued slugfest with Jose Ramirez. A huge underdog, Ramirez almost ended the fight in the first round when he caught Bautista with a right-left combination. Bautista sagged along the ropes and almost stumbled out of the ring. He was able to beat the count and was saved from the ignominy of a first-round knockout defeat by the sound of the bell.
Bautista mounted a comeback and had the crowd on its feet in the eighth round when he floored Ramirez with a short right. Ramirez got up and barely survived Bautista's vicious assaults. The fight was pretty even at that point, but Bautista lost his edge and focus in the 10th round when a wayward elbow from Ramirez opened a profusely bleeding cut along the left side of his face. Bautista inexplicably stopped punching and tried to parry Ramirez's assaults with an assortment of dilatory tactics that included a headlock whenever the Mexican got too close for comfort.
Bautista ended up losing by split decision. It was a generous decision considering that many at ringside thought Ramirez deserved nothing less than a unanimous nod.
Bautista's record dropped to 34-3 with 25 knockouts. After the fight, he was advised by ALA Boxing Promotions head honcho Tony Aldeguer to archive the gloves. "You can see the wear and tear," Aldeguer told this writer who covered the fight for ABS-CBN. "It is dangerous if he keeps on fighting. In boxing, it takes just one punch (for a fighter to sustain serious damage)."
Pinoy Pride XIX did not end the way everybody wanted it, but there was no denying the thrill-a-minute action the card provided.