If all goes according to expectations, Denver “The Excitement” Cuello will be crowned today as the country’s newest world boxing champion. The odds are heavily stacked in favor of the Filipino challenger as he goes up against World Boxing Council (WBC) minimumweight (105 pounds) champion Xiong Zhao Zhong of China at the World Trade Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
If Cuello prevails, he will join Donnie “Ahas” Nietes (WBO light flyweight), Johnriel Casimero (IBF light flyweight) and Merlito “Tiger” Sabillo (WBO minimumweight) in the list of incumbent and legitimate Filipino world boxing titlists. Edrin Dapudong captured the International Boxing Organization (IBO) super flyweight (115 pounds) title on June 15 with a sizzling first-round knockout of South African Gideon Buthelezi, but in terms of prestige and public acceptance the IBO is nowhere close to the World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Organization (WBO).
The belt Cuello is gunning for—the WBC strap—ranks among the most prestigious in the world. Founded in February 1963, the WBC ranks second only to the WBA (founded in 1921) in terms of history and longevity. The WBC created the minimumweight (or strawweight as it is also known) title in 1987 and Japanese Hiroki Ioka became its first claimant following his decision win over Thailand’s Mai Thornburifarm.
From 1987 to the present, a total of thirteen pugilists have been crowned champion in the WBC’s 105-pound division. The greatest fighter to hold the WBC minimum weight hardware is Mexican Ricardo “Finito” Lopez, who held the belt from 1990 until 1999. Lopez was never beaten as 105-pound king and only vacated the throne to move up to a higher weight class. Thailand native Den Junlaphan, popularly known as Eagle Kyowa in Japan, is the only boxer to enjoy two reigns as WBC minimumweight champ.
Believe it or not, no Filipino has ever won the WBC’s version of the minimumweight championship. In his nine years as WBC champ, the legendary Lopez dominated Filipinos Pretty Boy Lucas, Manny Melchor, Andy Tabanas and the hard-punching Edito “Ala” Villamor. Mandaue City native Rodel Mayol fought for the WBC crown in May 2006 but was decisively beaten on points by Kyowa.
Cuello, 33-4 with 21 knockouts, has been waiting for his shot at the WBC crown for the last two years. Last year, he was on a collision course with then champion Kazuto Ioka, but the Japanese opted to vacate the belt rather than defend against Cuello. As the No.1 ranked contender of the WBC, Cuello was supposed to take on the No.2 contender at the time for the vacant WBC belt, but the Filipino was convinced by WBC President Jose Sulaiman to step aside and give Zhong a shot at becoming China’s first world boxing champion. On November 24, 2012, Zhong decisioned Mexican Javier Martinez Resendiz in 12 rounds to claim the title.
Zhong, 20-4, 11 knockouts, tried to delay the showdown with Cuello, but to no avail as Cuello’s manager Aljoe Jaro went as far as threatening the WBC with a lawsuit. “Sabik na sabik na talaga si Denver,” Jaro told this writer. “Dalawang taon na siyang nagtitiis at naghihintay. Uncrowned champion na nga ang tawag kay Denver.”
A native of Kunming, China, the 30-year-old Zhong entered pro boxing in 2006 after being convinced by one of his cousins to lace on the gloves. Zhong went unbeaten in his first twelve fights (with one draw) before dropping a 12-round unanimous decision loss to Filipino Julius Alcos in November 2008. In May 2009, Zhong fought for the WBC flyweight (112 pounds) title but was outpointed by Japanese Daisuke Naito. Zhong was campaigning in the light flyweight (108 pounds) class when he decided to go down in weight and challenge Resendiz for the WBC minimumweight diadem.
Zhong has never fought an opponent cut in the mould of Cuello and for this reason the defending champion has been installed as the underdog. Then again, the political tensions between China and the Philippines aside, Zhong is determined to keep the WBC title in his territory.
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