ALA’s animal farm
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2013 - 12:00am

The ALA stable’s two world champions are named after animals. WBO minimumweight titlist Merlito Sabillo is the Tiger while WBO lightflyweight king Donnie Nietes is the Snake. They were let loose in the squared jungle at the Araneta Coliseum last Saturday night. Sabillo displayed a huge heart in barely retaining his crown via a split 12-round draw with No. 1 contender Carlos Buitrago and Nietes spewed venom in halting No. 14 contender Sammy Gutierrez in the third round.

Nietes was clearly the star of the show. He looked extremely sharp in dropping Gutierrez twice in the first round and flooring the Mexican challenger once more before referee Celestino Ruiz stopped the carnage with two seconds left in the third. Blood trickled down Gutierrez’ Aztec nose, a big target for Nietes’ left jab and right cross. Gutierrez never backed down from Nietes and his willingness to engage proved to be his undoing. Nietes cut him down to size with clinical precision like a surgeon performing surgery.

ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer said Nietes got the job done exactly the way he wanted it. “Donnie picked his punches and was clearly in a different class,” said Aldeguer. “He did what he wanted to do like Gutierrez couldn’t do anything to stop him. Every move was calculated. That’s what makes Donnie so special. He controlled the fight from the start. It’s about time he gets the recognition he deserves.”

Nietes was recently cited by The Ring Magazine as one of the world’s top 100 pound-for-pound fighters at No.     69. He’d never been cited before. Other Filipinos in the honor roll were No. 6 Manny Pacquiao, No. 10 Nonito Donaire, Jr., No. 35 Brian Viloria and No. 93 Johnriel Casimero.

Aldeguer said he spoke with Top Rank chairman Bob Arum and Zander Promotions’ Fernando Beltran during Donaire’s recent win over Vic Darchinyan in Corpus Christi, Texas, about Nietes’ rematch with No. 1 contender Moises Fuentes. They battled to a draw last March and since then, Fuentes has won three in a row.

“We’re looking at a neutral site and it could be either Macau on Feb. 22 or Singapore,” said Aldeguer. “If the rematch can’t be made, Donnie will do a voluntary defense. Down the road, we’re looking at unifying the lightflyweight championship. By 2015, Donnie should be ready to move up to flyweight and fight some of the big names at 112. Donnie’s finding it a little difficult now to stay at 108 so we expect him to jump after next year.”

As for Sabillo, Aldeguer said he’s not as polished as Buitrago, the unbeaten contender from Nicaragua, but nobody can question his fighting spirit. “Merlito is tough and fearless,” said Aldeguer. “He’s all heart. We never expected Buitrago to box the way he did. We know him to be a boxer-puncher who likes to come forward but against Merlito, he danced quite a bit, used his jab, countered and showed his proficiency as a technical fighter. Buitrago has been the No. 1 contender for four years. He has a solid reputation. We knew Merlito would have his hands full.”

But Aldeguer kept his faith in Sabillo. “He’s the type who never complains, he just goes out there to fight,” said Aldeguer. “He grew fighting in the streets for small change. His family was very poor and his parents could hardly make both ends meet, selling anything they could get their hands on from fish to whatever. It’s a life Merlito promised he would never go back to. Six months ago, his mother died. As the breadwinner, Merlito is driven by the thought that he’ll never go home without food on the table. He was a streetfighter with no experience in organized amateur competitions. All he knew was to brawl. That’s why he had difficulty fighting Buitrago who is a skilled boxer.”

With Sabillo, Aldeguer said he’s assured of a fighter who’ll give his all in every bout. “You can’t teach heart,” he said. “That’s what Merlito has. What he lacks in skills, he can learn in the gym. On the way to battle for the WBO title, Merlito slept nine hours in the Hong Kong airport and arrived two days before the fight in Colombia. We were afraid he would be tired and jet-lagged. When the bell rang, he went after his opponent (Luis de la Rosa) and scored an eighth round knockout. Against Buitrago, he was almost dropped in the ninth round. He was clearly hurt and later told me he was so groggy, he couldn’t see straight. But he never went down. That guy has guts.”

Buitrago didn’t cry foul like Fuentes did when his fight with Nietes was declared a draw. “I think the draw was right,” said Aldeguer. “Merlito was the aggressor but Buitrago was more precise. It was very close. The WBO hasn’t ordered a rematch and Buitrago isn’t protesting. I’d like Merlito to make a voluntary defense before facing Buitrago again in a rematch to settle the score.”

Aldeguer said among the undercard winners, flyweight Milan Melindo was the most impressive. “Milan looked good,” he said. “He’s ready for another title shot. Jason (Pagara) is in a tough division as a lightwelterweight. We’ll base him in San Diego and see how he does with some name opponents. Jimrex (Jaca) is an experienced fighter. We’ll also base him in San Diego and get him some fights to test how far he’ll go. He’s a spoiler and he might just land some big fights. A. J. (Banal) has talent and the skills but can he take a punch? Twice, he lost in world title fights here. I’m concerned about his threshold of pain. He could still become a world champion but he has to prove he can take a hit. He has to show the desire to win.”

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