ALREADY ranked No. 2 by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) in the junior featherweight (122 lbs.) division, 'Prince' Albert Pagara was in a position to take his sweet time and wait for that eventual mandatory title shot. But amid loose whispers that he vaulted to the No.2 spot by feasting on foes barely removed from the intensive care unit, Pagara asked for a match with Mexican Cesar Juarez to silence the naysayers.
Juarez, of course, was the law graduate who banged the gavel, err glove, hard on 'Filipino Flash' Nonito Donaire Jr. last December. In a display of uncanny resiliency, Juarez bucked two knockdowns in the fourth round and nearly pulled the upset rug from under the feet of Donaire.
Juarez relentlessly pursued Donaire and mercilessly hammered him along the ropes. Donaire had to dig deep in his arsenal to survive the gut check and win the WBO junior featherweight title via a hard-earned decision in a brawl that merited Fight of the Year nominations. And Donaire minced no words in admitting that it was one of the toughest fights of his career.
"Any moment in time, kung sino man yung boxer na nasa situation na ganun (facing Juarez’s relentless assaults), I am sure majority would have stopped and questioned himself, ” Donaire confided to this writer.
Unfortunately for Philippine boxing, that next guy who found himself in the situation Donaire described turned out to be Pagara.
In a huge upset, Juarez (18-5, 14 knockouts) survived an early knockdown to stop the previously unbeaten Pagara in eight rounds. Pagara got off to a sizzling start, knocking down Juarez with a huge hook in the first round. But the slow-starting Juarez recovered and retaliated by bombarding Pagara's body with debilitating shots.
Juarez is no stranger to bouncing back from a knockdown. In July 2011, Juarez was decked twice by Edgar Lozano. Juarez recovered and was one round away from going the distance when he was disqualified for an errant blow. A year later, Juarez hit the canvas three times, twice in the first round, against Jorge Lara. Juarez did not fold and lasted the 12-round distance before losing on points.
The knockdown Juarez suffered against Pagara was the eighth in his career, but as in previous fights it only got his adrenaline going. It was as if Juarez needed to be floored to shake off the slow start and get into a punching groove.
After absorbing a ton of body shots from Juarez by the end of the seventh round, a visibly drained Pagara slumped to his corner. It was a surprise that Pagara was able to answer the eighth stanza, but his fate was sealed. Juarez swarmed all over Pagara and unloaded a searing combination that dumped Pagara in his corner. Referee Edward Collantes made the 10-count and the fight was over at 0:15 of the round.
The loss was Pagara's first as an amateur or pro and snapped his 26-bout winning streak. Pagara's future is now in shambles. The title fight that was within reach going into the Juarez fight is now a figment of the imagination.
Pagara (26-1, 18 knockouts) will have to work his way back to title contention. It is not going to be easy because long after the physical scars have healed, the mental debris remain.
While he showed up with a ripped body, conditioning, or the lack of it, proved to be Pagara's main problem. He looked so exhausted coming out for the eighth round that he could have fallen from a sneeze from Juarez.
At age 22, Pagara still has time on side. It will serve Pagara well not to dwell on the loss and go back to the gym the moment he receives a clean bill of health. The road to a boxing throne is not paved in gold. It is a bumpy one, riddled with challenges aimed at testing a fighter's resolve. Pagara can either give up the quest or return more determined than ever.
Oh, and if he does return, it won't hurt Pagara's cause if he drops the neon-colored outfit and the blonde hair. Vanity can come after the throne is clinched. Now, more than ever, 'Prince' Albert needs to embrace the warrior's persona.