It did not come easy, but finally elevated to main event status last Saturday in ABS-CBN and ALA Boxing Promotions’ popular boxing show Pinoy Pride, super lightweight (140 pounds) contender Jason “El Niño” Pagara delivered the goods by hammering out a unanimous 12-round decision over Mexican Aaron “La Hoya” (The Jewel) Herrera.
Before an enthusiastic crowd at The Waterfront Hotel and Casino in Cebu City, Pagara floored Herrera in the second round, cut him up around the right eyebrow and survived some tense moments in the second half of the contest to emerge victorious and post his second successful defense of the World Boxing Organization (WBO) International super lightweight diadem.
Herrera, 25-2 with 17 knockouts, got off to an impressive start by keeping the power-punching Pagara at a safe distance with his pesky left jab. But as this writer pointed out in last week’s column, Herrera’s tendency to hesitate in throwing the right hand after throwing his left jab makes him vulnerable to left hooks. True enough, Pagara exploded with a huge left hook in the second round and buckled Herrera’s knees. As Herrera’s gloves touched the canvas during the sequence, referee Bruce McTavish correctly ruled a knockdown.
Pagara repeatedly wobbled Herrera in the succeeding rounds with wicked left hooks. Pagara, though, became so eager to score a riveting knockout that he primarily went for Herrera’s scalp instead of occasionally investing on body shots. Staying faithful to his left jab, Herrera mounted a comeback in the fifth stanza when he nailed Pagara with a textbook right straight. Herrera took the middle rounds as Pagara worked on getting his second wind.
The exciting battle ended with Pagara prevailing on points. Herrera put up a decent stand, but it was clear that Pagara’s firepower made the Mexican hesitant to mix it up at close range. Whenever Pagara darted in with a four-punch combination, Herrera, who was more comfortable boxing at a distance, lost his composure.
“Mahirap din siyang kalaban,” Pagara confessed to this writer in the post-fight interview. “Yung sa second round ng ma-knockdown ko siya, akala ko talaga hindi na siya tatayo. Pero (nung tumayo siya) sabi ni coach i-maintain ko lang ang stamina ko.”
Pagara raised his record to 31-2 with 19 knockouts and is likely to move up in the world rankings where he is already ranked No.4 by the WBO in the 140-pound division. Herein lies the problem as the weight class happens to be oozing with fistic talent. American Danny “Swift” Garcia (26-0, 16 knockouts) holds both the World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Council (WBC) titles while powerhouse puncher Lucas Matthysse (34-2, 32 knockouts) of Argentina is the WBC “interim” champ. The WBO lists Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez (55-6, 40 knockouts) its “super” champion and Denver native Mike “Mile High”Alvarado (34-1, 23 knockouts) its “interim” champion. Marquez is booked to challenge Timothy Bradley in October for the WBO welterweight (147 pounds) title and if he wins the fight look for Alvarado to either be promoted to regular champ or ordered to contest the vacant title opposite the next highest ranked contender in the WBO. The 32-year-old Alvarado, a wrestling star during his younger days, took up boxing late and remains unpolished. He will be the favorite in the event he ends up meeting Pagara, but it will be interesting to see how the American will react to the Filipino’s vicious right straight.
Outside Alvarado, the only other vulnerable 140-pound titleholder is International Boxing Federation champ Lamont Peterson of the United States, who was bamboozled in three rounds by Matthysse on May 18 in a non-title fight. Pagara though is expected to focus on the WBO belt.
As things stand, Pagara remains a work in progress. The kid totes a pair of dynamite fists but needs to work on spreading his offense and pacing himself. To his credit, Pagara is willing to go through the ropes as he gears up for tougher fights ahead. “Yung dapat ko pang i-improve yung speed at power. Maghihintay lang ako, darating lang yan (the world title shot),” quipped Pagara.
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