Local boxing fans were treated to a rare double feature in the recent edition of Pinoy Pride when two of the country’s reigning world champions unleashed their brand of mayhem in the same card.
Before a modest crowd at the Araneta Coliseum, World Boxing Organization (WBO) minimum weight (105 pounds) champion Merlito “Tiger” Sabillo and WBO light flyweight king (108 pounds) Donnie “Ahas” Nietes fashioned out contrasting victories against Latino challengers. Sabillo labored for 12 rounds and barely kept the title with a razor-close split-draw against Nicaraguan Carlos Buitrago while Nietes blew away in just three rounds overmatched Mexican Sammy “Guty” Gutierrez.
To be fair, Sabillo drew the tougher opponent. The undefeated Buitrago (27-0) came in as the No.1 ranked mandatory contender for Sabillo’s throne while Gutierrez was nothing more than a tune-up foe for Nietes.
True to form, Buitrago gave Sabillo one tough fight. It was evident in the early rounds that Buitrago was no Jorle Estrada, the doughnut-knitted Colombian who was flattened by Sabillo in his first defense of the crown in July. Buitrago offered a smooth boxing-counterpunching style that gave Sabillo a lot of problems. On several occasions, Buitrago cleverly sidestepped the wild lunges of Sabillo and nailed the champion with picturesque right counters. In the ninth round, a textbook counter right hand from Buitrago sent Sabillo reeling along the ropes.
Buitrago, however, lacked Sabillo’s tenacity. Throughout the fight, it was Sabillo who pressed the action. While many of his punches hit air particles, Sabillo did twitch the legs of Buitrago when his vaunted left straight found the Nicaraguan’s chin. Buitrago was just so good in rolling with the blow that Sabillo failed to hit him with optimum force.
The decision was a nail-biter. American judge Levi Martinez scored the fight 115-113 for Buitrago while German judge Joerg Milke came up with the same score, albeit for Sabillo. Japanese judge Takeshi Shimakawa, who could have determined the winner of the fight, turned in a 114-114 score, making the result a split-draw. In a stalemate, the champion gets to keep the belt. Sabillo (23-0, 12 knockouts) retained the title, but the fight exposed flaws in his arsenal. Against clever boxers like Buitrago, Sabillo will have to learn how to cut the ring properly. It will also serve him well if he can develop his underrated right hand.
While Sabillo was able to heave a sigh of relief against Buitrago, Nietes literally bamboozled the limited Gutierrez. Gutierrez came out of his corner like a wild bull, lunging at Nietes head-first. Nietes wisely used his left jab to snap Gutierrez’s head back and a follow-through right straight had the Mexican in Queert Street in the opening minutes of round one. Gutierrez kissed the canvas twice in the first round and barely survived the Nietes’ assaults.
In the third stanza, Nietes caught Gutierrez with a solid right straight just as the Mexican was lunging in. Gutierrez absorbed the full impact of the blow and skidded to the canvas face-first. The Mexican was clearly in no condition to continue when referee Celestino Ruiz waived the fight over at the 2:58 mark of the round.
Gutierrez’s caveman style of fighting turned out to be tailor-made for the calculating Nietes. Truth be told, the Mexican carried a lot of ring rust heading to the fight, having last fought in December 2012 when he was stopped in three rounds by Mexican Raul Garcia.
Nietes posted his third defense of the title and improved his record to 32-1 with 18 knockouts. Believe it or not, the guy has been a champion since 2007, when he captured the WBO minimumweight belt. Nietes gave up the belt in 2010 but collared the WBO light flyweight crown in 2011.
Nietes got the confidence-building victory he needs as he gears up for the return match with Mexican Moises Fuentes. The lanky Fuentes battled Nietes to a spirited majority draw when they first met in Cebu in March. Fuentes gave up the WBO minimumweight belt (the one Sabillo now holds) to remain in the 108-pound division and stay in the hunt for the WBO light flyweight diadem. One thing about Fuentes, he is definitely more talented and durable than Gutierrez.
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