Villanueva, Melindo heal title fight woes with split-decision wins

Ryan Songalia
Villanueva, Melindo heal title fight woes with split-decision wins
Filipino contenders Arthur Villanueva and Milan Melindo rebounded from their losses in recent title fights with decision wins at Pinoy Pride 34 in Cebu

LAPU-LAPU CITY, Philippines – Fresh off heartbreaking world title fights, Filipino contenders Arthur Villanueva and Milan Melindo returned to the win column on Saturday, November 28 – but barely. 

The two fighters co-headlined ALA Promotions’ Pinoy Pride 34 card at the Hoops Dome in Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines with the hope that they’d prove to be ready to return to the championship level. Instead, they had to survive tough brawls against determined Mexican upstarts. 

In the twelve round main event, Villanueva (28-1, 14 knockouts) earned a split decision nod over Victor Mendez (19-3-2, 15 KOs) of Hermosillo, Mexico to win the WBC International 115-pound title. 

Villanueva — who was coming off a 10-round technical decision loss in an IBF junior bantamweight title fight against McJoe Arroyo in July – fought more assertively than he had in at least two years.

“King” Arthur, a former chess prodigy from Bacolod City, employed a King’s Gambit in the early rounds, attacking with his often underutilized jab to set up right crosses and left uppercuts.

Villanueva pressed his advantage in round four as he caught Mendez, 22, coming in with a flush right counter towards the end of round five. Mendez never showed signs of being hurt, and instead continued to answer back with stiff right hands of his own which marked up Villanueva’s face. 

Two judges scored the fight 117-111 and 116-112, while the third scored it 115-113 for Mendez. 

Villanueva said afterwards that Mendez’s punches convinced him to play it safe later in the fight, but that he didn’t feel that one of the scorecards should’ve been in his opponent’s favor. 

“I need to improve myself first. Maybe 2-3 more fights so I will be ready for the next world championship,” Villanueva, The Ring magazine’s no. 9 junior bantamweight contender, said afterwards. 

In the co-featured bout, Melindo (33-2, 12 KOs) of Cagayan de Oro City snuck past Mexican Victor Olivo (9-1, 4 KOs) by a split-decision, winning by tallies 115-113 on two cards, while the third had the 19-year-old late replacement Olivo winning by the same score. 

Olivo hadn’t fought anyone the caliber of Melindo yet, but he didn’t come all the way from Mexico just for experience. Olivo proved dangerous in rounds two and 3, rocking Melindo with right hands whenever they stood at range, or whenever Melindo closed the gap without jabbing. 

BLOODY BRAWL. Milan Melindo (L) and Victor Olivo (R) brawled to a split decision in Cebu. Photo by Rappler

Melindo found the distance he wanted in round 4, backing up Olivo and landing fast counters, but his lack of punching power meant that Olivo would remain dangerous throughout. 

Melindo landed his best punch of the fight in round 8, a right hand that caught Olivo reaching for his own right. Olivo stumbled back but quickly regained his footing and looked for counterpunch opportunities.  

Melindo seemed to outwork Olivo in rounds 9 and 10. After the final bell, Olivo’s face was barely marked while Melindo’s swollen eyes and bloodied nose told the story of a rough encounter. 

“I fight not for the victory, but for the people who support boxing. This is a gift for them for advanced Christmas,” said Melindo, who is rated no. 6 by The Ring magazine at junior flyweight.  

Melindo had been competitive in decision losses to WBO/WBA flyweight titleholder Juan Estrada in 2013 and a 6-round technical decision to IBF junior flyweight titleholder Javier Mendoza, but ALA Promotions’ president Michael Aldeguer didn’t seem certain about Melindo’s future.

“[Melindo] made the fight closer than it was, I think he could’ve executed more,” said Aldeguer. “But Milan has his own mind. I think we need to sit down with him and see what’s in his head. Right now it’s either he wants to move forward or he wants to fight entertaining fights.  

“He could’ve lost the fight.” 

Banal, Fuentes score KOs 

Former title challengers AJ Banal (34-2-1, 23 KOs) and Rocky Fuentes (36-8-2, 21 KOs) had early nights in their preliminary bouts as they scored knockouts against overmatched opponents. 

Banal fought through a shut left eye to finish Tanzania’s Emilio Norfat (25-7, 19 KOs) at 1:41 of round three. Banal, whose two world title opportunities ended in disappointing upset knockout losses, dropped the 26-year-old Norfat with the first punch of the fight, a lead left cross that landed right on Norfat’s chin. 

Norfat made it out of round one, and caught his biggest break of the night when an accidental headbutt made Banal virtually a one-eyed fighter. Banal came out for round three with a sense of urgency, and his efforts paid off when a right hook behind the ear sent Norfat to his hands and knees. Norfat rose up again but turned his back against a flurry from Banal to prompt the stoppage. 

Banal has now won 6 straight since his ninth round TKO loss to Pungluang Sor Sinyu in a fight for the vacant WBO bantamweight title in 2012. His other defeat came in 2008, when he was stopped in ten by Rafael Concepcion for the interim WBA junior bantamweight title. 

Earlier in the night, two-time flyweight title challenger Rocky Fuentes (36-8-2, 21 KOs) dropped Indonesian Afrizal Tamboresi (11-4, 6 KOs) with an overhand right that followed a left uppercut to win by TKO at 1:01 of round two.  

Fuentes, 29, hadn’t fought in a year since losing a decision to Amnat Ruenroeng for the IBF flyweight title in January 2014, and being stopped in 6 rounds by Roman Gonzalez in a vie for the WBC flyweight title. 

“They’re far from what they should be right now,” said Aldeguer. “It’s a long process for them. AJ has had some so-so performances. We really don’t know where he’s at right now.” 

Cataraja avenges Sabillo’s loss

Filipino flyweight prospect KJ Cataraja earned a big boost of experience with a fourth round TKO win over durable Indonesian Ellias Nggenggo. The 20-year-old Cataraja (2-0, 2 KOs) had to figure out his 26-year-old Indonesian foe (10-9-3, 3 KOs), who despite being knocked down on a body shot in round one was able to elude his tormentor for much of the fight.

Nggenggo, who pulled off a major upset last year with a fourth round TKO of former WBO strawweight titleholder Merlito Sabillo, was beaten around the ring before a serious cut on his left eye ended the fight at the 2:43 mark. 

Cataraja will be back in action on ALA’s next show in February, which will highlight the stable’s younger fighters like Albert Pagara and Mark Magsayo. –

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