Unlikely champ defies odds
() - December 26, 2001 - 12:00am
Dennis Laurente wasn’t supposed to beat undefeated Japanese prospect Yosuke Otsuka in their 12-round bout for the vacant Orient and Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) lightweight crown in Nagoya recently.

After all, Laurente was coming off back-to-back losses in Indonesia and Thailand. He’d never won overseas – which was probably why Otsuka’s handlers thought he was the perfect fall-guy.

But lo and behold, Laurente did the unexpected. The Magallanes, Agusan del Norte, fighter pounded out a unanimous decision over Otsuka to capture the OPBF crown. Laurente decked Otsuka in the 4th, 9th, and 12th rounds to raise his records to 16-2-2, with 10 knockouts.

Korean referee Wan Soo Yuh saw it 115-111, Takaomi Ito 117-112, and Edwin Sese 118-107, all for Laurente who joined bantamweight Jess Maca, superfeatherweight Tiger Ari, and welterweight Rev Santillan as the country’s reigning OPBF champions.

Laurente, 24, left for Japan with only trainer Mario Lumacad and Sese – no fanfare, no large entourage. Not that manager Johnny Elorde felt it was a waste of time to accompany his protégé. He would’ve gone if not for a commitment in Manila.

In fact, Elorde was so confident of Laurente’s chances that he offered Otsuka a purse of $3,000 to fight here. The Japanese camp countered with a bid of $3,500 for Laurente to face Otsuka in Nagoya instead. Elorde agreed, knowing Laurente wouldn’t let him down.

It was Elorde who spotted a diamond in the rough when Laurente walked into his Sucat gym, looking to spar, in 1998. Elorde watched Laurente in the ring and liked what he saw. He tapped Larry Enriquez as Laurente’s first trainer then tossed the job to Lumacad.

Laurente who idolizes undisputed lightheavyweight champion Roy Jones didn’t disappoint Elorde. He strung up 11 straight wins before outpointing veteran Francis Velasquez for the Philippine lightweight crown in August last year. After running out of local opposition, Laurente ventured overseas but lost a disputed decision to Ferdinand in Jakarta last February. Then came another setback on points to Prawet Singwangchai in Bangkok.

Despite the twin losses, Elorde wasn’t fazed. He knew it was just a matter of time before Laurente’s star would shine.

The eldest of five, Laurente finished only up to third year in high school. His father Avelino, who boxed six-rounders as a pro, works the soil in a 3-hectare coconut farm owned by an uncle, Marcelo, in Palompon, Leyte. His uncle, a carpenter, lives in Manila. His mother Alicia Kie operates a small canteen in the farm. A brother Pedrito, 19, is a budding superbantamweight in Elorde’s stable.

When he was 14, Laurente tried his luck in carnival fights, boxing for a paltry P15 prize. Later, he engaged in bigger fiesta bouts, pocketing P50 if he won and P40 if he lost. In 1994, Laurente turned pro and figured in several colorum matches. His Games and Amusements Board (GAB) record doesn’t show a fourth round knockout loss to Ramy Dumpa and a 10-round decision setback to Ulysses Puzon because both fights were unregistered.

In 1997, Laurente took a rest from boxing. He hung out with his barkada and earned P120 a day in a factory line making durian candy in Butuan City. Tired of doing practically nothing, Laurente joined his parents in Leyte and did some work in the farm until he went to Manila to live with his uncle.

A friend and pro boxer Aljun Corporal brought Laurente to Elorde in 1998.

Of his $3,500 purse for facing Otsuka, Laurente sent P10,000 to his parents and spent for a bike that he rides from the room he rents and shares with girlfriend Dyna Jane Janairo and their 7-month-old baby Leslie in the Fourth Estate village to the Elorde gym. He hopes to buy a tricycle and later, a house and lot from future earnings. He’d also like to wed Dyna Jane who works in a gift shop run by Elorde’s wife Liza.

Of course, Laurente dreams of becoming a world champion someday. Elorde says it’s not impossible. Winning the OPBF title is a stepping stone that should open up doors for Laurente, adds Elorde.

Hard work obviously paid off dividends for Laurente who punished himself sparring over 80 rounds with the likes of Tiger Ari, Rey Pelonia, and Renato Inal to train for Otsuka.

Laurente, who describes himself as more a boxer than a puncher, knows that practice makes perfect — that’s why he breaks his back in the gym, with or without a fight schedule. He wakes up at 5 in the morning, jogs 30 to 45 minutes at the Manila Memorial Park, works out in the gym, takes a rest, and returns to the gym for three hours in the afternoon. That’s the grind he undergoes six days a week.

Elorde says Laurente is no slouch – he’s not allergic to hard work. — Joaquin Henson

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