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Tapales faces unbeaten Japanese foe

Marlon Tapales

MANILA, Philippines – WBO bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales of Lanao del Norte hasn’t lost in three fights in Japan and intends to preserve his streak when he stakes his crown against unbeaten No. 12 contender Takuma Inoue at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo on Dec. 30. It will be Tapales’ first defense of the title he wrested from Thailand’s Pungluang Sor Singyu via an 11th round knockout in Ayutthaya last July.

Tapales, 24, said yesterday he’s been doing light workouts in the gym and jogging on the road to get ready for hard training under Fernando Ocon starting next month. He’s not fazed by Inoue’s unblemished record of 8-0, with 2 KOs. Last December, Tapales disposed of previously undefeated Shohei Omori in the second round in Kyoto so facing an unbeaten Japanese fighter in his backyard is nothing new. For Tapales, the key is preparation.

“I want it to be a happy new year,” Tapales said in Pilipino. “I don’t plan to lose to Inoue. I took my mother (Maria) to watch my fight against Pungluang so maybe for Inoue, I’ll bring my father (Emilio).” Tapales, the fifth of eight children, lives in Cebu with his parents and a 13-year-old brother, the youngest in the family. He bought their house along the highway from an uncle after pocketing a $37,000 purse from the Pungluang bout. Tapales said his family used to live in a remote barangay without electricity. The defense against Inoue will mean a $130,000 payday and Tapales plans to use a portion of the money to renovate the family’s new home.

Tapales said he has studied the 20-year-old Inoue’s style from reviewing his recent win over Froilan Saludar on YouTube. “I think Saludar got tired and didn’t throw enough punches,” he said. “Inoue doesn’t have too much power but he has style. He’s also aggressive. If you fight from a distance, he’ll come in. If you come in, he’ll fight from a distance. He has nice footwork and speed. But I don’t think I’ll have a problem with him if I come prepared. I’ve been lucky in Japan. I know I’ll win if I train hard.”

Against Pungluang, Tapales was floored twice by body shots in the fifth round but recovered to deck the Thai in the sixth then took him out with a left hook to the face in the 11th. “We drove eight hours by car to the venue,” he said. “My stomach was heavy. I still hadn’t digested my food. I went down from a body shot. I got up then went down again but on my own to rest. I thought it would be a 10-8 round even if I went down twice. I found out later it was a 10-7 round with two knockdowns. So I knew I had to knock him out to win. He was saved by the bell in the 10th so I went for the knockout in the 11th. He had nothing left. He was exhausted and hurt.”

Tapales said his mother, who was at ringside, walked to his corner and talked to him in between the fifth and sixth rounds. “I told my mother before the fight not to get nervous, to just stay quiet in her seat because it was her first time to travel abroad and first time to watch me in a big fight,” he said. “I was surprised when after I went down twice in the fifth round, she came up to me, reminding me to be focused and put up my defense. She told me to pray and make the sign of the cross.”

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Tapales said his mother spends a lot of time in church and is prayerful. His father attends to a small farmland that produces about 20 sacks of rice every harvest, a carabao, four cows and lots of goats and chickens. “I couldn’t bring my father to Thailand because he takes care of our small farmland and animals,” he said. “For my next fight, I plan to take my father and my mother will stay home.”

Tapales, one of four reigning Filipino world champions today (the others are WBO superbantamweight champion Nonito Donaire Jr., IBF flyweight champion Johnriel Casimero and IBF superflyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas), said a neighbor Julius Nabio in Lanao del Norte, where he was born, introduced him to boxing.

“I was in Grade 3 or 4 when I started fighting in fiestas,” he recalled. “I was about 10 or 12. I never made it to the national team, I never fought big amateur fights. When I was 16, I turned pro. I wasn’t a good student so when I was paid P1,800 for my first pro fight, I told myself why not concentrate on boxing as a living? I finished only up to third year of high school.” In his pro debut, Tapales knocked out Nestor Gamolo in the first round in Barangay Maranding, Lala, Lanao del Norte, in 2008. He now has a record of 29-2, with 12 KOs. Tapales is called the Maranding Nightmare.

Tapales’ only losses were a knockout to Brix Ray in Surigao City in 2009 and a majority decision to David Sanchez in Sonora, Mexico, in 2013. “I wasn’t prepared to fight Brix,” he said. “I trained alone because my first trainer Rey Paciones was with his wife who was giving birth. I thought the fight was cancelled when all of a sudden, I was told it would go on. I wasn’t ready. I went down twice in that fight. Against Sanchez, I had only three weeks of preparation with my trainer Juanito Ablaca. My training wasn’t enough and I lost a decision. Now I’m training with Fernando Ocon, who used to be my stablemate with Boss Wakee Salud, and Brix Flores.”

Tapales said his all-time idol is former WBC superflyweight and WBO bantamweight champion Gerry Peñalosa. “He was with me when I fought Omori in Japan,” said Tapales. “He’s my inspiration and he always gives me good advice.” It’s likely Peñalosa will join Tapales in Tokyo for the defense against Inoue.

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