Philippine pro boxing may be on wobbly legs these days, but a 105-pound 'Tiger' set to go on a prowl this Saturday is bent on proving that Filipino boxers have not lost their winning fangs.
World Boxing Organization (WBO) minimumweight champion Merlito 'Tiger' Sabillo is promising nothing less than a spectacular performance when he makes his first defense of the 105-pound championship against Colombian challenger Jorle Estrada in the main event of Pinoy Pride XXI at the plush Solaire Hotel and Casino in Pasay City.
"Asahan nila ang magandang laban namin (ni Estrada)," Sabillo told Spin.ph. "Naghanda po talaga ako dahil idedepensa ko ang korona para sa Pilipinas."
Following the shocking defeats suffered by Philippine boxing stalwarts Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire, Jr., the rise to the championship throne by the undefeated (22-0, 11 knockouts) Sabillo made for a feel-good story. On March 9, Sabillo stopped Colombian Luis De la Rosa in eight rounds to claim the then interim WBO minimumweight crown. Sabillo and De la Rosa were picked to battle for the interim belt after the regular champion, Moises Fuentes of Mexico, moved up in weight on March 2 to challenge Filipino Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes for the WBO light flyweight (108 pounds) diadem. After Nietes retained his title via majority draw, Fuentes decided to stay in the weight class and pursue a rematch.
With Fuentes abandoning the 105-pound class, Sabillo was promoted to regular champion by the WBO in April. Sabillo consequently became the country's third reigning world champion after Nietes and IBF (International Boxing Federation) light flyweight champ Johnriel Casimero. On June 15, Edrin Dapudong stopped African Gideon Buthelezi in one round for the International Boxing Organization's (IBO) super flyweight (115 pounds) title, but the IBO is sorely lacking in credibility when compared to the more prestigious and generally recognized WBC (World Boxing Council), WBA (World Boxing Association), IBF and WBO.
The only boy among three children, the 29-year-old Sabillo grew up in Bacolod City and dabbled in different sports before belatedly developing a passion for boxing. "Bago ako nag-boxing, iba't ibang sports ang sinalihan ko," said Sabillo. "Nag basketball ako, BMX o bisikleta at karate din. At ang huli nga po ay boxing."
Sabillo was already 24 years old when he barged into pro boxing in January 2008 with a four-round points win over Powell Balaba. Learning the sport late, Sabillo admitted that adjusting to the demands of the sport was not easy. "Medyo nahirapan sir kasi hindi madali ang pagiging boksingero, kailangan talaga 100 percent ang focus sa training at disciplina," he said.
Fortunately for Sabillo, he fit into boxing like fish to water. He captured the vacant Philippine minimumweight title in August 2010 with a 12-round decision over Jetly Purisima. After two successful defenses of the local crown, Sabillo annexed the vacant Orient Pacific Boxing Federation minimumweight title with a 12-round decision over Rodel Tejares in October 2011. From the oriental level, Sabillo barged into the world stage by stopping De la Rosa for the WBO plum.
Taking on De la Rosa before a highly-partisan crowd in Cerete, Colombia, Sabillo absorbed a lot of punishment early on before flooring Dela Rosa in the eighth stanza with a crushing right hand. De la Rosa beat the count, but Sabillo sent him crashing to the canvas again with a howitzer left straight. The referee pulled the plug at 2:52 of the eighth round and Sabillo received a standing ovation for his gutsy performance.
Southpaw Sabillo is the heavy favorite in his first defense of the WBO crown. The 24-year-old Estrada, 16-6 with five knockouts, offers the punching power of an ant and is not particularly active on offense. The Colombian moves well in the ring but experts believe he will have no place to hide once Sabillo picks up the pressure. Sabillo loves to weave his way inside and owns a head-snapping right uppercut and a destructive left straight.
Make no mistake, Sabillo's defense leaves plenty to be desired as he tends to lunge in with his head exposed, but Estrada appears to be bereft of power to capitalize. All things considered, 'Tiger' Sabillo's first world title defense should be a roaring success.