Lito Dante earned a shot at Koura’s belt by scoring a split 10-round decision over Naoya Haruguchi in Kagoshima last September.
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Perseverance pays off for Lito Dante
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2019 - 12:00am

Bohol journeyman Lito Dante had won only three of his last seven outings when he climbed the ring to face unbeaten Orient and Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura at the Osanbashi Hall in the Japanese fighter’s Yokohama hometown recently.

It was tough enough for a Filipino to win in Japan. It was tougher to beat an undefeated Japanese, gearing for a world title crack, in his hometown. Koura, 24, was heavily favored to repulse Dante, 29, in his fourth OPBF championship defense. Dante was older and more experienced but his record of 15-10-4, with 8 KOs, was hardly impressive. In contrast, Koura’s unblemished mark of 14-0, with 9 KOs, was an indication that he was a hot prospect for a world crown.

Dante earned a shot at Koura’s belt by scoring a split 10-round decision over Naoya Haruguchi in Kagoshima last September. All three Japanese judges saw Dante the winner by counts of 96-94 twice and 97-95. Dante had made his Japanese debut in 2016, holding Takumi Sakae to a fourth round technical draw in Kiyatkyushu. 

Dante turned pro in 2010 and from the onset, looked like he could never get the breaks. In his first six fights, he fought to three draws. Then, Dante lost to Raymond Tabugon by split decision and to Richard Barrios by majority verdict. But Dante persevered and finally, got an opportunity to travel in 2015. The trip was to South Africa, notorious for robbing Filipino boxers of victories, and Dante fell victim to Siyabonga Siyo on a unanimous 12-round decision for the vacant WBA International minimumweight diadem. Two years later, Dante returned to South Africa, this time to lose to Simpiwe Konkco, also on points, in an IBO minimumweight title bout. The scorecards weren’t close, 118-110 and 119-109 twice, so Dante clearly lost.

Against Koura, Dante wasn’t supposed to win. Koura was ranked No. 3 by the WBC and Asian Boxing said he took on the Filipino in a “stay busy defense.” But what transpired was a shocker before Koura’s hometown fans. From the opening bell, Dante put pressure on Koura who didn’t seem prepared to manage the Filipino’s aggressive style. At the end of four rounds, two judges had it even and one saw Dante on top. At the end of eight rounds, Dante was ahead in all three judges’ scorecards, 77-75 twice and 78-74. 

Koura knew he had to score a knockout to beat Dante entering the 12th round. He went all out but had nothing left to stem the tide. Dante continued his furious assault and as he pummeled Koura mercilessly, referee Tetsuya Iida stepped in to halt the carnage at 1:18 of the last round. At the time of the stoppage, judges Toshio Sugiyama, Yuji Fukichi and Michiaki Someya had it 107-102, all for Dante.

After all the heartaches and pain, Dante did the improbable. He dethroned the previously undefeated Koura in his hometown to book only his 16th win in 30 fights. The victory has catapulted Dante to No. 10 in the WBC ratings and No. 13 in the IBF.

Dante’s triumph was hardly played up in media because in the undercard, Filipino Renerio Arizala was rushed to the hospital for brain surgery after losing to Tsuyoshi Tameda by a sixth round stoppage. The media coverage was focused on Arizala and Dante’s upset win was virtually ignored.

Filipino matchmaker Art Monis said he knew sooner or later, Dante would break into the world ratings because of his discipline, attitude and hard work. Monis’ wife is Dante’s registered manager. Asked if Dante could become a world champion, Monis said anything is possible. “Sabi ko kay Dante, sipag lang baka may dumating na magandang offer,” said Monis. “Nasa world rated na siya, malay natin maka tsamba.” 

At ringside cheering for Dante against Koura was Jonathan Kaw who owns the Boxing Hybrid Evolution Fitness Club with branches in Katipunan, Banawe and Caloocan. Dante is one of Kaw’s trainers.

“I help boxers earn income while waiting for a fight and I try to equip them with vitamins and gear,” said Kaw. “I work out venues and sparring partners for the boxers without earning a centavo. It’s just my passion. My club is a fitness gym which caters to boxers. Lito is truly a humble boxer and went through the hardships of working hard labor before he became a titleholder. He works for me and I’m very proud of him as this guy is very humble.”

Kaw said he followed Dante’s journey all the way to the OPBF throne. “It was quite an experience tracking his way to the title,” he said. “I videoed his fight against Koura for his improvement and review. I saw the hardship which foreign promoters treat our local boxers, a bit unfair and some dirty tactics.” Despite the pitfalls and daunting odds, Dante came through with flying colors in a testament to the fighting spirit of the Filipino boxer.

BOXING LITO DANTE TSUBASA KOURA
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