By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – While the focus – and rightly so – was on Manny Pacquiao and his exploits, a band of young boxers has made the year just about to end a historic one for Philippine professional boxing.
Perhaps never before in nearly half a century have Filipino boxers hogged the world stage in the fight-for-pay game as today when Pacquiao leads a contingent of world champions from these shores.
Flyweight Brian Viloria, bantamweight Nonito Donaire Jr., and light-flyweight Donnie Nietes are WBO world champions. Waiting in the wings for a title shot are super-flyweight Sylvester Lopez and flyweights Milan Melindo and Rocky Fuentes.
In its latest ratings, Ring Magazine, the Bible of Boxing, listed highly are potential world champions strawweights (105-pound limit) Denver Cuello (7) and Florante Condes (9) and Malcolm Tunacao, who is No. 8 bantamweight.
No less than President Benigno Aquino III has acknowledged the surge in national pride in the success of Filipino boxers.
In a message to Pacquiao after his win over Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez, Aquino said discipline and dedication, shown by boxers, is a proven blueprint for success in life and something everyone can emulate.
“As long as we persevere and remain focused on our dreams, there is nothing we can’t achieve,” Aquino said.
So, everything leads back to Pacquiao, who blazed the trail that other Filipino boxers now use as a pathway to success and world recognition.
His disputed majority decision win over Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in November in Las Vegas may have dimmed his luster a bit and triggered talks that he’s slipping, yet he’s still one of the world’s elite boxers.
He kept his WBO welterweight belt with that win for an impressive 54-2-3 record with 38 knockouts, but the question is what’s next? Is it Floyd Mayweather Jr. to settle finally in the ring who is the best pound-for pound boxer?
Or is it another bout with Marquez (53-6-1)? Or Erik Morales (52-7), Miguel Angel Cotto (37-2-0), or unbeaten in 28 fights, the American Timothy Bradley, who demolished Cuban Joel Casamayor in the undercard of that Pacquiao-Marquez fight?
As expected, talks have heated up for Pacquiao and Mayweather to meet in the ring, but the picture has become pretty confusing and uncertain with a new wrinkle thrown into the mix.
This week, a Las Vegas judge sentenced Mayweather to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to a reduced battery domestic violence charge and no contest to two harassment charges.
Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa also ordered Mayweather to pay a $2,500 fine, attend a year-long domestic violence class, perform 100 hours of community service and remain out of trouble for a year.
The 34-year-old boxer was accused of hitting his ex-girlfriend in front of their children in an incident at her home in September 2010.
Experts of the fight game say a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout could generate more than $200 million and earn each boxer in excess of $60 million, but now, that payday is up in the air.
Arum also told the Los Angeles Times that he’s pursuing the idea of building a 45,000-seat venue on the Las Vegas Strip near the Wynn and Venetian properties. Pacquiao fought Juan Manuel Marquez at the nearby MGM Grand in November.
In the meantime, Brian Viloria has created the most buzz among Filipino fighters not named Pacquiao, and is well on his way to achieving greatness himself.
A two-time light-flyweight champion, Viloria stopped Mexican Giovanni Segura with a devastating left hook with 29 seconds gone in the eighth round at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig on Dec. 11.
With his 30th win in 33 bouts (with 17 knockouts), Viloria, a former Olympian and dual U.S.-Filipino citizen, kept his WBO flyweight belt and grabbed recognition as one of the best in the 112-pound weight class. He’s ranked No. 2 flyweight by Ring Magazine.
“This is the sweetest victory,” Viloria, of Waipahu, Hawaii, said after the fight. “More than the (Ulises) Solis fight, more than the (Julio Cesar) Miranda fight.”
First to see action in 2012 is Donaire, ranked No. 4 pound-for-pound boxer by Ring Magazine after his decisive win over Omar Andres Narvaez in October at the Madison Square Garden in New York.
The 29-year old Donaire is lined up to fight former super bantamweight Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on Feb. 4 in the undercard of a Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. bout.
At stake is the WBO super bantamweight crown recently vacated by former champion Jorge Arce of Mexico.
“Nonito Donaire is one of the best fighters in boxing,” said ESPN’s Rafael. “Simply, I think this will be an action fight for as long as it lasts.”
Known as the “Filipino Flash,” Donaire, who has lost only once in 28 bouts with 18 victories by KOs, will meet an equally impressive opponent in Vasquez, son of Puerto Rican boxing great Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. His only loss in 23 fights (18 KO) was against Arce.
Donaire, who now fights out of California, is likely to move up to the higher weight super bantamweight class, where competition is expected to be stiffer.
Of the reigning Filipinos world champions, the least known is Nietes, the WBO light-flyweight titleholder, who is also ranked No. 6 by Ring Magazine.
The 29-year-old Nietes captured the crown with a unanimous decision over Mexican Ramon Garcia Hirales at the La Salle Coliseum in Bacolod City in October, following an impressive campaign in Mexico, where he won the WBO minimum weight title in August 2010.
Nicknamed “Ahas,” Nietes is one of an impressive cast of light-flyweights and flyweights who scored big wins this year and are ready to make a title run in 2012.
With a spotless 25-0-0 record, Milan Melindo, Ring Magazine’s No. 4 flyweight, appears to have the best prospect for a world title, although the weight division is quite crowded.
No. 5 on Ring’s ratings is Rocky Fuentes (29-6-2, 17 KOs), another hard-hitting fighter with world champion potential. In WBO’s December rankings, Froilan Saludar is rated No. 2, ahead of Melindo (3) and Fuentes (5).
Three other Filipinos are among the boxing body’s Top 15 – Jeffrey Cerna(11), Richie Mepranum (12) and Johnriel Casimero (15).
In the junior-flyweight and mini-flyweight categories, more Filipino boxers have put themselves in positions to become champions, underscoring what could easily be a “Golden Age” in Philippine professional boxing.
Boxing is one sport the Filipino has the talent and the physique to excel. The coming year is expected to be a smashing one for Pacquiao and his merry band of ring warriors.