World Boxing Organization (WBO) minimum weight champion Merlito “Tiger” Sabillo is still a long way from joining the country’s elite list of gloved beak-busters, but he might just end up bumping off somebody in the list if the tenacity he showed in taming Colombian challenger Jorle Estrada at Pinoy Pride XXI becomes a permanent fixture in his arsenal.
Strutting his stuff at the glitzy Solaire Resort and Casino in Pasay City last Saturday, before a crowd that included celebrities from network giant ABS-CBN, Sabillo posted his first successful defense of the 105-pound championship with a ninth-round knockout of Estrada. Sabillo literally deflated Estrada with one crunching left to the breadbasket.
That Sabillo knocked the daylights out of Estrada with one punch made for only half of the story of the fight. Before Sabillo unloaded that cannonball of a body shot, the fight with Estrada was heading to snoozerville. Make no mistake, Sabillo came out smoking and rocked Estrada early on with nifty right jab-left straight combinations. The complexion of the fight, however, underwent a drastic change when Estrada took the bicycle out and started fighting like a Tour de France participant. In a wink of an eye, the fight degenerated into a cat-and-mouse chase.
Given Estrada’s abject refusal to stand up and fight, Sabillo had two options: allow Estrada to just prance around the ring or go after him like the devil chasing the last available soul on the planet. Picking the first option would have resulted in a safe, no-sweat victory. Zeroing in on the second meant taking risks and working hard for the money.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sabillo went all out for a knockout victory. In rounds six and seven, he bombarded Estrada with vicious body blows that could have toppled a condemned building. The body blows were meant to knock the wind out of Estrada and slow him down. Estrada kept running, but Sabillo relentlessly pursued him and did not stop reigning blows.
Sabillo finally caught up with Estrada in the ninth stanza. The champion unloaded one textbook left that landed smack on Estrada’s liver. Grimacing in pain,Estrada landed on the seat of his pants and spat out his mouthpiece. Referee Raul Caiz Jr. counted out Estrada at 1:09 of the round.
Sabillo raised his record to 23-0 with 12 knockouts. More than hurdling his first defense of the WBO diadem, Sabillo showed the true trait of a champion in the fight. Truth be told, Estrada was not expected to rock the boat, coming in with a lukewarm record of 17-6 with only 6 knockouts. Sabillo was supposed to make short work of the Colombian, but as fight progressed it appeared he was in for a long night. The quizzical (if not unimpressed) look from the audience instantly metamorphosed into a thunderous applause when “Tiger” Sabillo finally gored Estrada with that wicked body punch in the ninth round.
It would have been so easy for Sabillo to settle for a points victory and thereafter blame Estrada’s cowardice for the lackluster affair. But Sabillo was fully aware of the expectations and was determined to live up to them. He knew nobody will return to watch his fights if he fails to put away a guy he was supposed to embalm alive. And so dig in Sabillo did, rolling the dice and refusing to settle for anything less than a slam-bang victory.
The road to glitzy Solaire started in potholed streets for Sabillo, who earned his boxing spurs as street brawler. Finally fighting at a posh venue, Sabillo knew he had to come up with an equally royal performance. Sugar Ray Leonard once opined that for a fighter to earn a niche in the sport’s plateau, he must not wait for the spotlight to come to him and instead go after it. You can say Sabillo did just that with the way he snatched the Estrada fight from the gutter of boredom and gave it an explosive ending.
For now, we are holding on to this “Tiger.”
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