The next generation of Filipino boxers make their case
DAVAO, Philippines - They sit atop the dais at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City like contestants in a game show. Their faces betray little emotion, stoic in their disposition as if a sign of emotion would betray unworthiness to their aspiration.
Junior welterweight boxer Jason Pagara, junior bantamweight Arthur Villanueva and junior featherweight Genesis Servania all rank among the Philippines best young fighters, potential heirs to the throne as the era of Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire Jr. and Brian Viloria fades by the day.
All 3 have the look of a champion, that steely demeanor that seems ripped from a Gary Cooper narrative. But it’s what lies beneath that makes a champion fighter.
Each has shown the will and heart to be a star in the most dangerous of sports. All 3 have shown their vulnerabilities and flaws along the way. Yet these not-yet-ready-for-primetime fighters are set to bare it all once more, with a shot at a world title potentially around the corner.
Who wants to be the next Philippine boxing star?
The 3 fighters will face Mexican opponents on the Pinoy Pride 29 card this Saturday, February 7, at the USEP Gym in Davao City.
The 23-year-old Pagara (34-2, 21 knockouts) will face Cesar Chavez (24-7, 12 KOs) in the 12-round main event, while the 23-year-old Genesis Servania (25-0, 11 KOs) faces Juan Luis Hernandez (17-3-1, 9 KOs) in a bout also scheduled for 12.
Though Villanueva (26-0, 14 KOs) is only scheduled to go 10 rounds, his bout against former WBO flyweight champion Julio Cesar Miranda (38-11-2, 29 KOs) figures to be the stiffest assignment of all 3.
All 3 protagonists are rated in the top 5 of at least one of the sanctioning bodies that dictate who receives world title opportunities, but their promoter ALA Boxing has learned through trial and error to play chess, not checkers with regards to moving his fighters.
ALA President Michael Aldegeur has seen the likes of Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista and AJ Banal implode when matched too audaciously. What happens Saturday will dictate their next steps.
Pagara seeks credibility
Pagara, a native of Cagayan de Oro, comes from a fighting background. His father, Reynaldo Pagara, was an amateur boxer who supported Jason and his 5 younger siblings as a carpenter. His younger brother Albert is also a highly regarded prospect from the ALA Gym.
He reportedly had 90 amateur bouts but turned professional at just 14 years old to help support his siblings through school. He won his first 9 bouts before earning an opportunity on an ALA card. He lost, but was still invited to join the ALA Gym in Cebu City. He continued fighting, winning 15 straight and earning a reputation as a local fan favorite for his brawling style and willingness to take a punch to deliver his own.
His reputation took another hit when he was upset by Rosbel Montoya in 2011 by a decision, but he avenged it with a knockout win in a rematch the following year and has won seven straight since then against opponents with a combined record of 121-14-7.
Still, Pagara has not performed evenly in his wins, often being outslugged when he does away with his boxing posture and elects to brawl. In the talent-rich 140-pound division, the margin for error is small.
“People ask the question, can he make it at 140? If he was at 112, he could be a world champion. But at 140, the best fighters are there,” Aldegeur candidly assessed.
Still, Pagara remains confident, calling for bouts against the division’s RING magazine champion Danny Garcia and former unified champion Amir Khan.
His opponent on Saturday, Cesar Chavez, has won 3 bouts against dubious opposition following a stretch where he lost 5 of 6 bouts by knockout. Chavez admits that he earned the nickname “El Dolar” because like the US dollar he goes up and down.
Genesis the number one contender
Servania has shown to be the type of blood and guts fighter that appeals to fans, and like Pagara it has often worked to his detriment. In his first fight outside of the Philippines in 2013, the Bacolod City native was knocked down by former title challenger Konosuke Tomiyama before winning on a technical split decision.
Cuts have been a major issue for him in recent fights, as his willingness to engage often leaves him susceptible to headbutts and punches.
When he’s been on, he has been deadly, scoring back-to-back highlight reel knockouts of former titleholders Rafael Concepcion and Alexander Munoz, in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
If Servania fights hungry, it’s because he knows what it was like to be a have-not. He grew up in a home without running water. His father was a convicted felon who couldn’t get a job so his mother sold buckets of fish to keep food on the table.
Servania dropped out of school at 15 and became a trike driver. Seeking to make more money, Servania turned pro without a single amateur fight. Now ranked the top contender by the WBO at 122 pounds, Servania is the logical next in line for a title shot, but awaiting him is Guillermo Rigondeaux, the two-time Olympic gold medalist widely regarded as the best technical fighter in the sport.
“Rigondeaux is one of the toughest fighters to fight,” said Aldegeur of the fighter who ended Donaire’s reign as a top fighter. “But again, it’s an opportunity again for Servania. If he just becomes aggressive and believes he can fight Rigondeaux, then maybe he can grab it.”
Servania says he’s “ready” to face Rigondeaux, but would prefer if he didn’t “run” as he puts it. “Stand and fight for the people, for the boxing fans,” he said.
Servania, too, appears to be in soft on Saturday, as he faces a 32-year-old Hernandez whose 3 defeats have all come by knockout (including once to a fighter with a 5-8-1 record) and who is one fight removed from a four-year ring absence he attributes to “family problems.”
Still, Hernandez feels he is at an advantage because there aren’t any videos on YouTube of him while Servania’s fights can be easily viewed online.
Villanueva in tough
If Pagara and Servania are being called to testify, Villanueva is being subjected to a trial by fire. The 34-year-old “Pingo” Miranda is a significant step up in competition for Villanueva, who has looked unimpressive in his past two fights.
Miranda won his world title with a knockout of Filipino contender Richie Mepranum and made 3 defenses before losing to Viloria in a close battle. While clearly on the downslide, Miranda has the power, mental toughness and aggressive style to break down a fighter lacking in confidence.
“This Saturday will define him,” Aldegeur said bluntly. “The last two fights of Arthur, I have to admit took us aback. We felt that Arthur had to step up and show us if he’s ready or not. His last two fights were disappointing. We had a long talk with him and said that if he’s ready to fight for a world title, the only way to find out is to fight a former world champion.”
Villanueva excelled in chess in his native Bago City in Negros Occidental and worked as a tricycle driver as early as 12 to help his mother support the family of 12 after his father died.
There have been flashes of brilliance, like when he thoroughly outboxed knockout banger Marco Demecillo to earn a spot in The Ring magazine’s rankings. There have also been moments of weakness, like when he descended the stairs after his poor outing versus Fernando Aguilar a year ago at Solaire Resort and apologized profusely to his handlers.
But trainer Edito Villamor hasn’t lost hope in the 26-year-old, and thinks that a solid performance would right all of the wrongs of the past year and reinforce his standing as a rising contender.
“I hope Arthur can execute the game plan for him,” said Villamor, who fought twice for world titles during his own career in the 90s.
“We don’t question the heart of Villanueva. If he wins this impressively, then Arthur will be ready for a world title.”
The question of who will be the next Manny Pacquiao is one that is too inane to entertain. But as to whom will fill the void left by him when he no longer reigns atop the sport is a call all 3 seek to answer. - Rappler.com