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Pinoy bids for world crown

- Joaquin M. Henson () - December 21, 2006 - 12:00am
It’ll be a dream come true for Benjie Sorolla of Bacolod City if he dethrones International Boxing Federation (IBF) minimumweight champion Muhammad Rachman in their 12-round title fight at the Indoor Tennis Senayan Stadium in Jakarta this Saturday.

Sorolla, 25, is dedicating the biggest bout of his eight-year pro career to his father Anano, a former amateur fighter who introduced him to the sport as a boy and died in 1993 of complications stemming from an infected tooth. His fondest wish is to win the world title for his late father.

If Sorolla beats Rachman, he’ll join World Boxing Foundation (WBF) welterweight champion Dondon Sultan as the only reigning Filipino world titleholders today. Superfeatherweight Manny Pacquiao is considered the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter but holds no belt at the moment.

Rachman, 33, won the IBF 105-pound title on a split decision over Daniel Reyes two years ago and is making his third defense after drawing with Fahlan Sakkreerin of Thailand and stopping Omar Soto. His record is 60-5-5, with 30 KOs, compared to Sorolla’s mark of 24-12-3, with 8 KOs. He hasn’t lost in his last 40 outings dating back to 1998.

No Filipino has ever beaten Rachman whose victims include Noel Tunacao, Jun Arlos, Steve Dimaisip, Ernesto Rubillar, Bert Batawang, Jerry Pahayahay, Lito Dangud and Sorolla himself.

Sorolla lost to Rachman on points in his first overseas outing in 2002. He waited four years for a rematch.

"I was very raw," said Sorolla in Filipino. "Rachman was already a veteran of 59 fights when we fought. It was my first trip abroad. I was nervous. I remember his left hook was strong but he never hurt me. I can take his punch. I’ve improved since then. I know what to do to beat him."

Sorolla said he’s going all out to win.

"My inspiration is Manny Pacquiao," said Sorolla who was only 11 when Rachman turned pro. "I saw what he did to (Erik) Morales in their last fight. That’s what I hope to do to Rachman. I did shadow boxing with five-pound weights in my hands to increase my power and I worked extra hours on the heavy bag. I‚m ready for him."

Sorolla left for Jakarta with manager Marty Elorde and trainer Sonny Sangalang last Monday.

"This is the biggest break in Benjie’s career," said Elorde. "I call him a reformed bad boy. Last year, he was jailed 10 days for starting a fight in my restaurant, resisting arrest and biting a policeman. That experience woke him up. He gave up drinking and late nights and concentrated on boxing."

Sorolla admitted to being intoxicated and involved in the brawl but denied biting a policeman.

The youngest of 13 children, Sorolla finished up to second year of high school in Bacolod. A brother Francisco was an amateur fighter but never turned pro. Four brothers and three sisters went to college. His mother Elsa, 63, lives in Cavite with a daughter. If he becomes a world champion and starts earning big bucks, Sorolla said he’d like to take care of his family.

Sorolla fought as an amateur in barangay fiestas before his brother Willie, who owns a radiator shop in Sucat, brought him to Elorde in 1996. He got off to a 7-0 start as a pro and has since held the World Boxing Organization Asia-Pacific and Intercontinental titles and the WBF International crown.

Elorde said Sorolla is the star in his stable of 17 fighters, including Philippine superbantamweight champion Alex Escaner and prospects Ryan Bito and John Ray Canete.

"Benjie has gone straight," said Elorde. "He’s different now. He’s taking his career more seriously. He’s lucky to get a second chance. He doesn’t want to let this opportunity go down the drain."

Sangalang’s late father Toti produced several Filipino world champions like Luisito Espinosa, Morris East and Erbito Salavarria. Sangalang hopes to be known as a maker of world champions, like his father, and Sorolla could be the first in his list.

ALEX ESCANER BENJIE BENJIE SOROLLA OF BACOLOD CITY BERT BATAWANG DANIEL REYES DONDON SULTAN ELORDE RACHMAN SOROLLA WORLD
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