Milan Melindo’s smashing first-round knockout of Colombian Jesus Geles on June 2 for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) international flyweight championship solidified his hold on the No. 1 ranking in the organization’s 112-pound division and lined him up for a mandatory shot at the title.
Great news, right? Well, not entirely.
The WBO international flyweight strap Melindo now holds is just a regional belt and does not carry the glitter and prestige of a regular world tiara. But as mandatory contender, Melindo can already demand a shot at the world title.
With an unbeaten record of 27-0 (11 knockouts) and having stopped his last four opponents, there is also no doubt that Melindo is ready for an ascension to the genuine flyweight throne.
But there lies one problem: The incumbent WBO flyweight king is countryman Brian Viloria.
In boxing hotbeds like Mexico, two Mexicans battling out for a world title is almost a monthly occurrence. However, in a country like the Philippines that does not produce world champions as regularly as Mexico, not a few fans are likely to frown on the thought of a Filipino beating up a fellow Filipino for a world crown.
Melindo does have other options. Afterall, the WBO is just one of four generally recognized organizations in boxing, the others being the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Council (WBC) and International Boxing Federation (IBF).
Since the WBC champion is also a Filipino in Sonny Boy Jaro, Melindo can instead train his sights on WBA champion Hernan “Tyson” Marquez of Mexico or IBF titleholder Moruti Mthalane of South Africa.
However, Marquez may not be immediately available as he is booked to defend his title against Filipino Ardin Diale on June 23. Mthalane has not fought since October and may be available but the problem is, Melindo is only ranked No. 5 by the IBF.
So if Melindo is in a hurry to get a shot at a world title, fighting countryman Viloria is his best option.
Records show that two Filipinos squaring off for a world crown is a rarity.
In September 1924, the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC), then a very influential boxing commission, suspended world flyweight champion Pancho Villa – incidentally the Philippines and Asia’s first world boxing champion – for eight months after the Filipino refused to defend his title against American nemesis Frankie Genaro. Villa cited an injured shoulder but the NYSAC refused to accept his explanation.
As he cannot fight in the United States, Villa returned to the Philippines where he partied almost every night. When the money became scarce, Villa decided to defend his world flyweight title on May 2, 1925 against countryman Clever Sencio at the Wallace Field in Manila. It was a boring fight, with Villa looking hesitant to hurt the clearly inferior Sencio.
In August 1937, Small Montana (Benjamin Gan in real life), a native of La Carlota, Negros Occidental, fought countryman Little Dado (Eleuterio Zapanta) for the California State Athletic Commission’s version of the world flyweight title. The fight was also a snoozer, ending in a draw after 10 rounds.
Most recently, two Filipino former world champions mixed it up in the ring, although no world title was on the line. Former world flyweight champs Rolando Bohol and Dodie Boy Peñalosa fought in 1992 with Bohol winning a 10-round decision.
With Melindo’s impressive rise in the rankings and Viloria having no immediate plans to move up in weight, a collision between the two seemed inevitable. Taking into account the skills of the two fighters, it should be a great fight.
So make way for Viloria vs. Melindo. May the best Filipino boxer win.
Even if it doesn’t sound right.