A Fistic tete-a-tete

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Ed C. Tolentino

Bantamweight prospect ‘King’ Arthur Villanueva figures to have his hands full when he takes on this weekend former world champion Zolani ‘Last Born’ Tete of South Africa in a fight billed as a World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight title eliminator.

The scheduled 12-rounder, set to take place on April 22 at the Leicester Arena in the United Kingdom, will feature the top 2 contenders in the WBO’s bantamweight (118 lbs.) division. Villanueva and Tete are ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, and the winner of their clash is expected to book a shot at the regular WBO world crown. By some twist, the incumbent WBO champion is a Filipino, Marlon Tapales (29-2, 12 knockouts), who is slated to defend the crown on the same weekend opposite Japanese challenger Shohei Omori.

A victory by Villanueva and Tapales will set up a rare all-Filipino rumble for a world title. Then again, it will not come easy as Tete has what it takes to act out the role of spoiler.

A native of Eastern Cape, South Africa, the 29-year-old Tete is a lanky (5’9”) southpaw who has won his last eight fights, including against former world champions Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. and Paul Butler. Overall, Tete has amassed a pro record of 24-3 with 20 knockouts, his last defeat coming in 2012 by way a razor-close split decision to Roberto Sosa. Tete’s only knockout loss came in 2010 when he bowed in five rounds to countryman Moruti Mthalane, the same guy who gave Nonito Donaire a tough fight in 2008.

Tete won the International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) title in 2014 with a decision win over Teiru Kinoshita and made one successful defense before inexplicably vacating the crown in 2015 after refusing to fight then mandatory challenger McJoe Arroyo.

Style-wise, Tete is well-schooled in the rudiments of boxing. He is lightning-quick with the right jab-left straight combination. Tete knows how to properly use the ring space and plants his feet well to unload his sizzling combinations. Tete’s arsenal of weapons includes a surreptitious left uppercut, delivered as his foe lunges in, and an occasional, tricky right hook that follows his stinging right jab.

Villanueva, 28, holds a record of 30-1 with 16 knockouts and has won his last three fights since dropping a technical decision to Arroyo in July 2015. In his last outing, September 2016, Villanueva registered an impressive, one-punch knockout of Mexican Juan Jimenez. In Tete, Villanueva is facing his most accomplished, and arguably most skilled, adversary and he will have to bring nothing less than his A-game.

Villanueva is making his first ring appearance in the United Kingdom whereas Tete’s last two fights have been held in the said country. Moreover, Tete is undefeated against Filipino fighters, having previously defeated local boys Rexon Flores, Richard Garcia, Eduard Penerio and Jether Oliva. Villanueva looks to avenge his countrymen when he takes a crack at Tete this weekend.

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

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