2014: The best of Philippine boxing
As one of the country’s greatest boxing icons experienced an Indian summer, another was entering a career ice age. The contrasting fortunes of Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr, the two men who have established the Philippines as a modern boxing world power, were the two main storylines that defined the year of Philippine boxing in 2014.
For the first time since his disastrous 2012 campaign, Pacquiao lifted a world title belt over his head, avenging an earlier decision loss to Timothy Bradley to regain the WBO welterweight title in April. Unable to coax his other conqueror Juan Manuel Marquez into a 5th clash, Pacquiao instead turned to unbeaten junior welterweight titleholder Chris Algieri to conclude his year, dropping him 6 times en route to a dominant win.
The sight of Manny Pacquiao standing victorious atop the ring ropes again was one ripped out of his dream run of 5 years ago and gave reignited hope that the 36-year-old Pacquiao could finally arrange the long-delayed mega fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The image of Pacquiao standing in victory was in stark contrast to that of Donaire collapsing before Jamaican knockout puncher Nicholas Walters in what may end his tenure as one of the sport’s top fighters.
The year began precariously for Donaire, who, too, was rebuilding after a 2013 loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux and a shaky knockout of Vic Darchinyan. Donaire earned a title in his 5th division by winning a headbutt shortened technical decision for a belt against Simphiwe Vetyeka in Macau. Nothing about what happened in Macau allayed tensions of Donaire fans ahead of the Walters clash.
Whether a return to 122 pounds for Donaire can bring him back to glory the way Pacquiao has reinvigorated himself is a tale to be recounted in the 2015 installment of this wrap-up. But just as we’ve seen demonstrated time and again over the years, the dimming of one light allows another’s beacon to shine brighter.
Donnie Nietes, who had long lived in the shadow of Pacquiao and Donaire, finally registered a signature win, knocking out Moises Fuentes to win THE RING magazine junior flyweight championship, while Brian Viloria continued his comeback from the Juan Estrada loss with 3 lesser victories.
Prospects emerged and veterans faded, yet while the names may change as each year passes, there remains little threat across the sporting grid to supplant boxing as the Philippines’ best sport. With that in mind, take a look back at the year that was in Philippine boxing.
Fighter of the Year: Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao entered 2014 with the burden of restating his case as an elite fighter. After losing a decision to Bradley and being knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Marquez during a nightmare 2012 campaign (and just a tentative decision win over an outclassed Brandon Rios in 2013 between), many wondered if he could reawaken his fighting heart to be the terror that reeled off signature wins one after the other during the previous decade.
First on Pacquiao’s agenda was a second bout with Bradley. Despite being rocked early by a right hand from the previously unbeaten American, Pacquiao’s superior stamina carried him over the final third of the fight to redemption. More importantly than registering another win, it marked the return of his aggression after years of complacency nearly brought his career to a halt.
In November, Pacquiao met unlikely pay-per-view adversary Algieri in Macau. Algieri had earned the shot by upsetting Ruslan Provodnikov – another potential Pacquiao opponent – to win the WBO junior welterweight title and spoke confidently about retiring the Filipino legend in weeks leading up to the fight.
Once the bell rang, none of the talk meant anything. Pacquiao quickly put Algieri on the defensive, chasing him around the ring, knocking him down 6 times before winning a lopsided decision. Pacquiao has stated his intentions of moving back to 140, where he had a cup of coffee several years earlier before moving up to 147 for bigger fights.
There doesn’t seem to be much more business for Pacquiao to accomplish aside from avenging the Marquez knockout and finally meeting Mayweather in the biggest fight in boxing history, however. And while there has been much to jeer about his on-the-court exploits, Pacquiao seems to have finally gotten his groove back in the boxing ring.
Runner-up: Donnie Nietes
They say that the mark of a great champion is a signature win, and after 11 years Nietes finally found what he had been searching for. The best fighter to ever come out of the ALA Boxing Gym finally found his pugilist muse in 2013 when he engaged in a spirited draw with Moises Fuentes.
The 32-year-old Bacolod native was criticized as the type of boxer to win 7 out of 12 rounds, rarely dominating opponents. That reputation was ameliorated when he met Fuentes a second time this past May, as his right crosses brought the former WBO 105-pound champion down 3 times in the 9th round at the Mall of Asia Arena. Nietes polished off his year by frustrating Carlos Velarde into submission in round 7 of their November bout.
Nietes has now been an unbeaten champion over two divisions for over 7 years, adding THE RING magazine 108-pound title to his collection. More than just the belts he wears around his waist, this year has finally earned him the respect he had sought all along.
Fight of the Year: Jomar Fajardo D12 Francisco Rodriguez
Waterfront Hotel, Cebu City, Philippines
The crowd laughed as Jomar Fajardo was announced in pre-fight introductions. The reaction stemmed from his name’s similarity to Filipino basketball player June Mar Fajardo. After 10 rounds with a reigning world champion, this Fajardo had made a name of his own.
Fajardo was a late replacement for Virgilio Silvano, taking the fight on one week’s notice while Rodriguez had just thrashed Merlito Sabillo to win the WBO belt before engaging in another Fight of the Year candidate with Katsunari Takayama to annex the IBF title.
Fajardo, 22, of Maasin, Iloilo, Philippines stood toe-to-toe with the WBO/IBF strawweight champion Francisco Rodriguez Jr, holding the Mexican brawler to a split-decision draw. Fajardo leaned heavily on his overhand right, loading up comically at times to land with devastating effect or miss with farcical exaggeration. The biggest punch of the fight came near the end of the 3rd round, when one such right hand broke Rodriguez’s nose and nearly put him down.
Rodriguez’s attack was more diverse, mixing up shots to the body and head while managing to win rounds with his superior boxing technique. The result dampened anticipation for a clash between Rodriguez and Nietes, if only temporarily.
Knockout of the Year: Marvin Sonsona KO3 Akifumi Shimoda
The Venetian, Macau, China
For two rounds, the worst of Marvin Sonsona was on display. Looking rusty and uncoordinated, Sonsona dropped the first two rounds before the General Santos City native bailed himself out of a tight situation in the ring using the same weapons he uses with most things in his life: his fists.
The 24-year-old former junior bantamweight champion announced his reemergence as a credible featherweight contender with one left uppercut, separating the Japanese ex-champ from his senses with such force that it bounced Shimoda’s head off the canvas and hyper-extended his knee.
Sonsona, whose career has been marred by bouts of inactivity due to instability outside of the ring, put a bow on his year by avenging his only career defeat with a split decision over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. As important as that win was for his career, it pales in comparison to the shock value of the Shimoda win, which may just be the best knockout of 2014 in all of boxing. For that reason, he also earns the award for Comeback Fighter of the Year.
Runner-up: Rey Loreto KO3 Nkosinathi Joyi
Rey Loreto appeared to be little more than a tuneup for former IBF strawweight champ Nkosinathi Joyi when the two met on February 1 in Monaco. While Loreto’s 13 prior losses suggest his in-ring shortcomings, what couldn’t be discounted was his punching power.
With one overhand left, Loreto put Joyi out for the count. Loreto added another win in his home province of Davao del Sur in October and, as of press time, is scheduled for a February 28 rematch with Joyi, this time in Joyi’s home country of South Africa.
Prospect of the Year: Mark Magsayo
Since turning pro in 2013, Mark Magsayo has been the biggest reason to show up early at ALA-promoted events. Promoter Mike Aldegeur knew he had something special on his hands with Magsayo, a Leyte native with over 200 amateur fights to his credit.
Magsayo, 19, is currently 9-0 (7 knockouts) and remained busy with 5 fights in 2014, knocking out all but one of those opponents with a two-fisted educated attack that includes special attention to the body, the use of angles to open up a defensive foe and the ability to split the guard.
To top it off, he concludes every performance with a standing backflip ala the late Johnny Tapia.
Upset of the Year: Faris Nenggo TKO4 Merlito Sabillo
Waterfront Hotel, Cebu City, Philippines
The year 2014 was as disastrous as it could be for Merlito Sabillo. Coming off a Cinderella run in 2013, when he traveled to Colombia to upset Luis De la Rosa for the WBO strawweight title, the 30-year-old Sabillo’s luck ground to a screeching halt when he was stopped in 10 one-sided rounds by Francisco Rodriguez Jr in Mexico.
The loss to Rodriguez, as devastating as it was, could be excused. Losing to Faris Nenggo, could not be. Nenggo, an Indonesian who entered with an 8-7-3 record, figured to be an easy enough bout to rebuild his confidence and get back into the title hunt. Nenggo, as limited as he was, had Sabillo perfectly scouted. Nenggo timed Sabillo’s predictable charges, countering Sabillo’s lunging left crosses with shots of his own.
The fight was essentially even in the 4th round when Nenggo glanced a left jab off Sabillo’s right eye at the perfect angle, creating a cut similar in shape and severity of the one Arturo Gatti sustained in the Angel Manfredy fight. The stoppage was completely appropriate, leaving Sabillo’s career imperiled.
Promoter of the Year: Jim Claude Manangquil
A recent Vice story erroneously credited a Thai man with being the youngest boxing promoter in history. Those familiar with Jim Claude Manangquil, a 22-year-old General Santos City native, know differently. Manangquil, who is the son of well-to-do tuna exporters, began managing boxers at age 13 and promoting his own shows at 15, but hadn’t made his mark on the international scene until 2014.
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The highlight of his year came in August, when he led Randy Petalcorin to the interim WBA junior flyweight title in Shanghai, China, becoming perhaps the youngest person to promote a holder of a major world title. He also maintained Harmonito dela Torre’s unbeaten record (14-0, 9 KOs) with 3 wins (including a knockout in Macau in February), while leading Darryl Basadre to the WBC Youth World bantamweight title in Japan and Raymond Tabugon to the IBO Intercontinental light flyweight title in South Africa.
Manangquil is one-half the tandem that leads Sanman Promotions, which consists of himself and GenSan-based businessman Dexter “Wangyu” Tan.