MANILA, Philippines – Jesse Espinas had spent much of his working year fighting off foreign talents in Thailand, but the Filipino boxer found his toughest test of the year right at home.
The class of Espinas (16-2, 11 knockouts) shone through despite a determined challenge from Lito Dante (12-7-4, 7 KOs) as he won a unanimous technical decision Wednesday, December 21 at the Cupang Plaza Covered Court in Muntinlupa City, Philippines.
The fight was stopped 47 seconds into the ninth of a 10-round scheduled strawweight fight after a clash of heads left the Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental native Espinas with a long, wide gash through his left eye brow. All 3 judges scored the fight 77-75 in favor of Espinas.
The win keeps Espinas on track for bigger opportunities in 2017 after a breakout year in 2016 which saw him emerge from a domestic trialhorse to a top 15 contender in all 4 of the major sanctioning bodies.
The sour ending was the culmination of an otherwise outstanding fight which contrasted the slick southpaw movement and combination punching of Espinas and the rugged determination of Dante, a 6-year pro from Sierra Bullones, Bohol who goes by the nickname “Naruto.”
Espinas’ speed and ability to punch off of angles befuddled Dante early on, keeping him off balance and making him an easy target in the first round. The fight leveled out into the second and third round as Dante began to force the fight, coming in low under Espinas’ counter punches and banging away with his body shots and chopping right hands.
Dante, whose durability has made him one a measuring stick for a prospect’s worth, succeeded in drawing Espinas into a brawl and making Espinas come forward at times. Espinas showed he had the power to go punch for punch with Dante, hurting him with a quick lunging right hook and pouring on the punishment along the ropes until Dante recovered.
The win capped off a breakout year for the 24-year-old Espinas who moved past a technical knockout loss to Christian Araneta in 2015 to win 5 straight in 2016, beginning with a fifth-round stoppage of Joey Canoy (who had a 10-1-1 record) in January, followed by an eighth-round knockout of previously-unbeaten Paipharob Kokietgym (who was 32-0 at the time) in Thailand a month later.
Espinas then scored knockouts of Indonesians Tommy Seran and Silem Serang and is now rated among the top 15 contenders by 3 of the 4 sanctioning organizations at 108 pounds, and among the top 15 at 105 pounds with the fourth.
“By 2017 I will get something big for him, that is my plan for him because he’s world rated now. If we will have a chance to get a world championship fight, I will grab it because he’s ready,” said Espinas’ promoter Sammy Gello-ani, who also handles IBF flyweight titleholder Johnriel Casimero.
Gello-ani says he would like to see Espinas back in the ring in February or March.
Earlier in the night, Bago City’s Joepher Montano (7-0-2, 6 KOs) maintained his unbeaten record with a final round knockout of Daffy Dempo (4-6, 3 KOs), knocking him out at 2:42 of round 8 in their junior welterweight title fight.
Montano, a former fighter from the ALA stable now trained and managed by Joven Jimenez in Imus, Cavite, looked on his way to a quick stoppage in round two when a left uppercut followed by a right hook put Dempo on the seat of his pants. Montano, a 20-year-old southpaw, had trouble sustaining the pace and eventually leveled out, keeping control of the fight but appearing out of position when he threw his pushing right jab.
With just seconds left in the fight, Montano closed the show, landing two overhand lefts on a weakened Dempo, dropping him and forcing referee Jerrold Tomeldan to wave off the fight.
The show was promoted by Dante S. Almario. – 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.