Overlooked champ Marlon Tapales continues to fight for respect
MANILA, Philippines - It was a Rocky movie set in Southeast Asia.
Marlon Tapales, the gritty Filipino fighter from Lanao del Norte, survived two knockdowns in round 5 to stage the comeback of a lifetime, knocking down the champion Pungluang Sor Singyu in the sixth before knocking him out in the eleventh round to win the WBO bantamweight title.
The valor Tapales showed last July in Thailand should have made him a star in his home country.
“We actually believe he can be one of the best Filipino boxers ever,” says Ryan James Salud, who manages Tapales alongside his father Rex “Wakee” Salud, the boxing kingmaker from Cebu who guided the Peñalosa brothers Gerry and Dodie Boy, plus Malcolm Tunacao, to world titles in years past.
“[Tapales] is a special talent. What he has is hard to find nowadays. He is a complete fighter. He has power, speed, smarts, and most importantly he has heart.”
The only problem is that, outside of the most hardcore of boxing fans with knowledge of Thai streaming sites, few Filipinos were able to see the fight. Tapales-Sor Singyu, like many of the biggest fights involving Filipinos these days, wasn’t carried by a Filipino TV network.
Without support from TV networks, boxing championship fights at arenas in Manila have become a thing of the past, and the best Filipino boxers have to take their talents into hostile territory for meaningful opportunities.
“It is just a bit sad for him not to get the exposure he deserves. He is clearly underrated,” continues Salud.
Tapales’ first title defense, set for this Sunday, April 23 against Shohei Omori at EDION Arena in Osaka, Japan, won’t be televised live in the Philippines, though Salud says they’re negotiating with TV5 to get the fight shown on a same-day delay broadcast (An email to TV5 requesting comment was not immediately returned).
This will be the second time Tapales (29-2, 12 knockouts) and Omori (18-1, 13 KOs) will have fought. If the Sor Singyu fight displayed Tapales’ courage, the first Omori fight in December of 2015 showed the boxing world that his punching power was better than his knockout percentage would suggest.
Tapales, a southpaw, chased down Omori and dropped him 4 times in two rounds to become the mandatory challenger for the 118-pound title before the referee waved off the fight.
Tapales' second-round knockout of Shohei Omori in their first fight
That desire to finish his opponents before the final bell comes from a fear of having everything he’s worked hard for taken away by officials who side with the local fighter.
“My biggest concern when fighting abroad is if the fight will reach the full 12 rounds because a hometown decision is most likely to happen,” said Tapales, 25, who is 5-1 in fights outside of the Philippines. “That’s why I always make sure to go for a knockout.”
Tapales, one of 8 children, grew up on his father’s rice farm in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte. With so many mouths to feed, there sometimes wasn’t enough to go around, he says.
“My parents had a hard time providing for all of us since we are 8 overall. Going to school at the same time and our daily expenses,” said Tapales.
By age 9 he had become interested in boxing from watching Gerry Peñalosa’s fights, and a neighbor named Julius Nabio encouraged him to try the sport himself. To help his family, Tapales left school in his third year of high school and decided to become a professional boxer.
Since his first fight in 2008, Tapales has been mostly successful in the ring, knocking out Filipino contenders Randy Petalcorin and Warlito Parrenas en route to becoming a contender himself. His only two defeats are a sixth-round stoppage loss to Brix Ray in 2009, and majority decision loss to David Sanchez in 2013 in Mexico, a fight Tapales says he took on 4 days' notice.
If he gets past Omori a second time, a dangerous mandatory defense awaits against the winner between Filipino boxer Arthur Villanueva and South Africa’s Zolani Tete, an elimination fight set for Saturday, April 22, in Leicester, England.
Tapales isn’t looking past his rematch though. He’s trained for 3 months for this fight, including a short stint in Hong Kong sparring with top contender Rex Tso, before wrapping up at the Wakee Salud Gym in Cebu. He says he’s in better shape for this fight than their first meeting, but he expects Omori to be better, too.
“I think he improved a lot, since his only loss came from me. I’m pretty sure he learned a lot from that fight and is now a better and stronger fighter,” said Tapales. – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.