Filipino bantamweights Marlon Tapales and Arthur Villanueva saw action the other week with the future of their boxing careers somehow intertwined. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as anticipated.
Villanueva made the long trip to the United Kingdom on April 22 to take on African Zolani Tete in a fight initially billed as a WBO title eliminator. A title eliminator simply means that whoever wins the fight gets a shot at the regular world title. At the time, the reigning WBO bantamweight (118 lbs.) champion was Marlon Tapales, who was booked to defend the crown on April 23 against Japanese Shohei Omori in Osaka, Japan. A victory by Villanueva, coupled by a similar win by Tapales, would have set the course for an all-Filipino showdown for a world boxing championship. For the record, the last time two Filipinos squared off for the world title was November 30, 1938, when Little Dado (Eleuterio Zapanta in real life) decisioned Small Montana (Benjamin Gan) in Oakland, California, to earn recognition as world flyweight champion.
Alas, things took a different turn. Tapales failed to meet the 118-pound bantamweight limit and was stripped of the title on the day Villanueva stepped into the ring opposite Tete. The WBO declared its bantamweight title vacant, and while Tapales was allowed to proceed with the fight against Omori it was under the condition that only Omori can be crowned champion if he wins. The WBO title remains vacant in the event of a Tapales victory.
Upon hearing news of Tapales’ fate, WBO officials changed the Villanueva-Tete fight from a title eliminator to a fight for the WBO interim bantamweight title. As the term “interim” suggests, the winner of the Villanueva-Tete fight will be looked upon as a temporary holder of the WBO belt. But here’s the catch: A loss by Omori will result in the promotion of the “interim” champion to regular world champion.
Villanueva thus found himself in a position to pick up the WBO belt stripped from Tapales. Unfortunately, the slick Tete outboxed Villanueva, knocking him down in the 11th round en route to a lopsided decision win. A day later, in Japan, Tapales kept Omori from claiming the regular belt by scoring a pulsating 11th round knockout win. It was nonetheless an empty victory for Tapales, as he went home sans the WBO bantamweight title.
Shortly after the result of the Tapales-Omori fight was confirmed, the WBO, as expected, promoted Tete from interim to regular WBO bantamweight champion. Tete, who briefly held the junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) crown some two years ago, won his second world title and emerged as the luckiest fighter in the title rigodon created by Tapales’ dethronement at the weigh-in.
In the end, Villanueva (30-2, 16 knockouts) lost his No.1 ranking and is back to square one. Tapales improved his record to 30-2 with 13 knockouts but failed to keep the WBO title after failing to make the weight. If there is any positive that can be squeezed out of this dire development, it’s the fact that it could have been much worse if both Villanueva and Tapales were knocked out. Hope springs eternal and both men figure to contend for the world title again down the road.
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