Eye on the ‘Tiger’



Amid the dark clouds that hover above the Philippine boxing landscape these days, World Boxing Organization (WBO) minimumweight champion Merlito “Tiger” Sabillo Jr. hopes to provide a silver lining on July 13 when he makes his first defense of the 105-pound championship against Colombian challenger Jorle Estrada at the Solaire Hotel and Casino in Pasay City.

The undefeated Sabillo (21-0, 11 knockouts) is one of three remaining Filipino world boxing champions, the others being WBO junior flyweight (108 pounds) king Donnie Nietes and International Boxing Federation (IBF) counterpart John Riel Casimero. The country actually greeted the year with five world champions, but flyweight (112 pounds) titlist Brian Viloria and super bantamweight (122 pounds) champ Nonito Donaire Jr. have since bitten the dust. Nietes came close to being dethroned in March, narrowly keeping the WBO hardware with a 12-round majority draw against Mexican Moises Fuentes.

It was Fuentes’ decision to move up in weight and challenge Nietes which paved the way for Sabillo’s ascension to the 105-pound throne. The lanky and talented Fuentes was cleaning up the 105-pound division when he decided to take a hiatus as WBO minimumweight champ and zero in on a second world title against Nietes. The WBO immediately acted on the vacuum Fuentes’ departure created by tapping Sabillo and Colombian Luis De la Rosa for the interim WBO minimumweight belt. Sabillo willingly travelled to Colombia on March 9 and made the most of the opportunity by stopping De la Rosa in eight rounds for the interim crown.

A month after beating De la Rosa, Sabillo was promoted to regular world minimumweight champion by the WBO after it became clear that Fuentes was no longer going to return to the 105-pound class. As of this writing, Fuentes is eyeing a rematch with Nietes at 108 pounds.

With Fuentes out of the way, Sabillo is now out to fortify his hold on the WBO crown. A native of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Sabillo was leaning on becoming a technician when the boxing bug bit him. Believe it or not, Sabillo was already 24 years old when he entered pro boxing in 2008 with a four-round decision over Powell Balaba.

Despite the short learning curve, Sabillo proved to be a fast learner. He captured the vacant Philippine minimumweight title in August 2010 with a 12-round thumping of Jetly Purisima. After two successful defenses of the local crown, Sabillo collared the vacant Orient Pacific Boxing Federation minimumweight title with a 12-round decision over Rodel Tejares in October 2011. From the oriental level, Sabillo made the leapfrog to the world stage by beating De la Rosa for the WBO crown.

The showdown with De la Rosa featured toe-to-toe action, with Sabillo taking a truckload of punishment in the early rounds. But Sabillo refused to give in and came roaring back in the eighth round when he deposited De la Rosa to the canvas with a big right hand. De la Rosa barely beat the count and Sabillo wasted no time in throwing an avalanche of punches. A huge straight left sent De la Rosa crashing to the canvas again and forced a stoppage at the 2:52 mark of the round. The Colombian crowd gave Sabillo a standing ovation for his show of bravado.

Sabillo, 29, is the heavy favorite to prevail over challenger Estrada. The 24-year-old Estrada, 16-6 with 5 knockouts, is ranked No. 6 by the WBO but offers a very limited arsenal. The Colombian is a bit timid on offense although he has won his last three fights. Sabillo is a pressure fighter who owns a good right jab, a bone-jarring right uppercut and howitzer left straight. Sabillo is on a roll, having won his last four fights within the distance. There are still a lot of loopholes in Sabillo’s defense though, as he tends to reckless lunge in and leave himself vulnerable to counterpunches.

Sabillo’s showdown with Estrada will serve as the main event for ABS-CBN and ALA Boxing Promotions’ Pinoy Pride XXI and you can say the Filipino Tiger is bent on making his coming-out party a roaring success.

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For comments, the writer can be reached at atty_eduardo@yahoo.com.


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