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Unbeaten fighters could steal show

MANILA, Philippines - In a showdown between unbeaten fighters, WBO minimumweight champion Merlito Sabillo takes on Nicaraguan No. 1 challenger Carlos Buitrago and the consensus is the 12-round bout will steal the blockbuster Pinoy Pride show at the Araneta Coliseum tonight.

Sabillo, 29, and Buitrago, 21, are expected to slug it out like there’s no tomorrow. They’re both knockout specialists with a killer’s instinct, meaning the protagonists prefer to decide the outcome by themselves and not leave their fate to the judges.

For Sabillo, it’s a huge test. The Toboso, Negros Occidental, southpaw is making the second defense of the title, coming on the heels of repulsing Mexico’s Jorle Estrada via a ninth round stoppage at the Solaire Resort Hotel and Casino last July. He traveled to Colombia to capture the interim WBO 105-pound belt by stopping hometown Luis de la Rosa last March and was elevated to the throne when Moises Fuentes abdicated to invade the lightflyweight division.

“What makes Sabillo special is his positive attitude and relentless style,” said ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer. “I was told that WBO president Paco Valcarcel described him as a star in the making and remarked that he should reign long as a world champion as he could be the best minimumweight right now.” Sabillo has halted his last five opponents, two in the first round, to raise his unblemished record to 23-0, with 12 KOs.

Aldeguer said Sabillo will figure in a career-defining fight. “This can make or break Sabillo,” he said. “We believe Sabillo is a special fighter like (WBO lightflyweight champion) Donnie (Nietes) but this fight should answer questions.”

But Buitrago is no slouch either. He boasts a 27-0 record, with 16 KOs, six in the first round. If there’s anybody who can push Sabillo to the limit, it’s the top-ranked contender. Two of Buitrago’s victims are Eddy Castro who was once stopped by Nietes and Carlos Melo who was once outpointed by Milan Melindo. Nietes will defend his WBO title against Mexico’s Sammy Gutierrez while Melindo will battle Mexico’s Jose Alfredo (Torito) Rodriguez for the vacant WBO International flyweight throne in other Pinoy Pride bouts tonight.

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“Buitrago is a star in Nicaragua and comes to fight, never backs down,” said Aldeguer. “He’s a boxer-slugger and intelligent. The fight will be shown live in Nicaragua.” Referee for the bout is Jack Reiss of Valencia, California, with Joerg Milke of Germany, Takeshi Shimakawa of Japan and Levi Martinez of Texas as the neutral judges.

Aldeguer said assembling the Pinoy Pride card was a feat in itself, considering the bill features fighters from different countries. “It took us three months to put this event together,” he said. “The plan at first was to put it in Dubai but after receiving a lot of mail telling us that a double world title fight with five Latin fighters from different countries should be done in the Philippines to show the world that we can stage events of this magnitude. However, what made it more difficult in deciding to push through with it or not was the horrible earthquake that hit Cebu then after a few weeks, typhoon Yolanda came.”

Nietes’ defense is also an acid test particularly as he plans to move up in weight soon. A win over Gutierrez will pave the way for a rematch with Fuentes who held Nietes to a majority draw in Cebu City last March. Fuentes has won three in a row since the draw with Nietes.

“Gutierrez is a former WBC silver lightflyweight champion and will give Donnie the fight he needs as he steps up for much bigger fights next year,” said Aldeguer. Gutierrez, 27, holds a win over former WBO flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Miranda and has never lost to a Filipino, victimizing Roilo Golez in five and Renan Trongco in six. He hasn’t fought since bowing to nemesis and former world champion Raul Garcia in December last year.

“Donnie’s fight will mean everything to his career as next year, he will be on his seventh year as a world champion and may have the chance to break the record of the great Flash Elorde as the longest-reigning Filipino world champion ever.” Elorde ruled the junior lightweight division from March 1960 to June 1967 or seven years and three months. Nietes is threatening to eclipse the mark of longevity although he is bridging two weight divisions, capturing the WBO minimumweight crown in September 2007 and the WBO lightflyweight title in October 2011. His uninterrupted reign as world champion in two divisions has now lasted six years and two months. Manny Pacquiao’s longest reign as world champion in multiple divisions was from March 2008 to June 2012 or three years and nine months.

In other bouts tonight, A. J. Banal tangles with Dominican Republic featherweight Lucian Gonzalez in a tenner, Jason Pagara defends his WBO International lightwelterweight title against the Dominican Republic’s Vladimir Baez in a 12-rounder and Jimrex Jaca hopes to extend his winning streak to 11 fights against Indonesia’s Willem Reyk in a sixer.

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