How do you tame a dangerous ‘Tiger?’ Keeping him inside a cage is arguably a good move to suppress his roar.
Mexican Francisco Rodriguez, Jr. did just that when he recently challenged Filipino Merlito ‘Tiger’ Sabillo for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) minimum–weight (105 pounds) championship at the Arena Monterrey, Mexico. Facing an unbeaten and more experienced champion in Sabillo, Rodriguez came out with both guns blazing and did not relinquish control of the fight until the outcome was certain.
Fighting before his hometown fans, Rodriguez repeatedly went on hyper-drive on offense. He stuck close to Sabillo like an additional chest hair and kept the Filipino pinned along the corner where he unloaded one bomb after another. In the second round, while under duress along the ropes, Sabillo absorbed a wicked left hook from Rodriguez. Sabillo tried to scamper away but Rodriguez, in hot pursuit, nailed him with an overhand right. Sabillo fell face-first to the canvas and while he was able to beat the count, Rodriguez had already succeeded in setting the tone for the slugfest.
Sabillo never got to clear the cobwebs and find his rhythm. While he landed some nifty hooks in the 6th round that drew crimson from Rodriguez’s nose, his offense sputtered throughout the contest. In stark contrast, Rodriguez kept flailing away like the Energizer Bunny.
Sabillo’s left eye began to swell and bother his vision in the eighth stanza. The vision in his left eye blurry, Sabillo became a sucker for Rodriguez’s right hand. Rodriguez launched a ferocious assault in the 10th round that sent Sabillo reeling. Acting on the motion of trainer Edito Villamor, referee Eddie Claudio stopped the fight at the 1:50 mark of the round.
“Nakita ko na wala na talagang chance na manalo by decision or knock–out kaya hininto ko na lang kasi ayaw pa ni Merlito at gusto pa talaga niya lumaban hanggang matapos ang 12 rounds,” Villamor told this writer after the fight.
At age 20, Rodriguez became Mexico’s latest world boxing champion. The kid turned pro in October 2010 and won his first 6 paid contests before losing on points to Salvador Arias in May 2012. Five months before the Sabillo fight, Rodriguez was fed to Nicaraguan knockout artist Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was predictably stopped in seven rounds. To his credit, Rodriguez was still on his feet against Gonzalez when the referee stepped in and declared the controversial ending.
Rodriguez, 14-2 with 10 knock–outs, apparently learned from the mistakes he made in the Gonzalez fight and came out prepared against Sabillo. Criticized for being too cautious and defensive against Gonzalez, Rodriguez was teeming with hostility against Sabillo. He was all over Sabillo like sauce on spaghetti.
Sabillo suffered his first loss in 25 fights but offered no excuses. According to Villamor, there is a rematch clause which Sabillo may end up invoking. Should they cross paths again, Sabillo will have to work on some chinks in his armor. Sabillo’s tendency to lunge in with his head dangling and exposed made him suscep–tible to Rodriguez’s short hooks. Sabillo also has to address equilibrium issues as he often looked off-balanced whenever he threw a punch. Sabillo’s trajectory was off and he will have to work on properly planting his feet.
When the rematch happens, Sabillo will have to sport more than the eye of the tiger. He should back up each mighty roar with a catatonic claw.
* * *
For comments, the writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.