MANILA – For three years Jundy Maraon remained out of the ring and in limbo about what he would do with his life.
His hands were his livelihood, his ticket out of Sominot, Zamboanga del Sur, a small town of 16,000 people rated as one of the poorest in the Philippines by the National Statistics Coordination Board. Yet, after dropping Tanzanian Anthony Mathias four times and scoring a knockout in their 2009 bout, his hands began to betray him. Suffering from chronically injured knuckles on his left hand, he walked away from the sport.
In the meantime, he had a child and relocated to Cebu City, the boxing capital of the Philippines. That’s where he was when he received news that his father had died. It was Maraon’s father, who served as a barangay (village) captain in their province, who pushed him to pursue boxing, and it was his passing that pushed him to resurrect his career.
This Friday, Maraon (15-0-1, 12 knockouts) will climb into the ring for only the second time in four years when he faces Dominican Juan Carlos Payano (13-0, 7 KOs) at the South Mountain Arena in South Orange, N.J. in the main event of this week’s ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
The 12-round bout between unbeaten southpaws is billed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator, with the winner purportedly getting in line to face the long-reigning titleholder Koki Kameda.
Maraon, now 28, is co-managed by Manny Pinol and Nonito Donaire Sr., who also trains him out of his gym in San Leandro, Calif. Maraon came to Pinol’s stable in North Cotabato about five years ago, after struggling through the early years to find fights. Maraon’s uncle, whom Pinol remembers as Pastor Alonzo, brought Maraon to his attention.
“He moved in from Zamboanga about five years ago, was brought to us by his uncle,” remembers Pinol, who previously served as vice governor of North Cotabato. “He was not managed very well. So what we did, we made arrangements with his former manager.”
Pinol helped build Maraon’s record before arranging a deal with Top Rank in 2008 with the help of Manny Pacquiao to bring Maraon to the States.
Maraon trained alongside Pacquiao, but never had the chance to fight. Maraon returned home, and would fight just once in that year. Shortly after, as Pinol planned Maraon’s second trip to the States, Pinol hooked him up with Donaire Sr., who of course is the father of multiple-division titleholder Nonito Donaire Jr. Before sending Maraon off to train in the States, Pinol had a final piece of business to take care of.
“Before we sent him back to the U.S., I told him ‘You better marry your girlfriend because you will have problems later on.’ We arranged the marriage, although I was unable to attend. Nonito Sr. and I served as ninongs (godfathers).”
Maraon has lived in the Donaire family home for a year, waiting through a promotional contract with Gary Shaw Productions that produced just a single fight, a third-round stoppage of Ernie Marquez in September. Through the help of New Jersey-based manager Vincent Scolpino, Maraon is now signed with Greg Cohen Promotions, which steered Austin Trout’s career to world title success.
Maraon’s routine consists of running in the morning, then waiting for Donaire Sr. to return from his day job modifying cargo shipping containers before training at 5:00 in the evening. Bored at home, Maraon initially asked to join his trainer part-time.
“I took him to my work, but when he started working, he said ‘Kuya’ (big brother), your job is not easy.” Maraon lasted three weeks.
He has been far more resilient in his gym work, however, working to adjust his style from the come-forward approach reliant solely on his power to the more cerebral style popularized by Donaire’s son.
“Jundy’s style is just standing in front of his opponent, countering and knock his opponent out by power,” said Donaire. “But for me, I want him to be a technician. I told him that every time you throw punches you have to think, not just throwing it for nothing. He wants to learn those.”
Still, Maraon’s power is a major asset.
“He hits harder than Nonito,” said Donaire. “I even told him, ‘You hit harder than my son.’ I told him, ‘Just believe in yourself, you’re going to be a world champion.'”
After an acrimonious split with his son in 2009, Donaire contemplated leaving the sport behind for good. Training Maraon, as well as unbeaten light flyweight Joebert Alvarez, gives Donaire Sr. a bit of hope that he can one day raise another champion’s hand inside the ring. And perhaps, it also gives him purpose.
“I want to create another one (like Donaire Jr). Because it’s supposed to be I quit boxing after my son left me, I felt like I was distracted or something. Hopefully both of these guys become world champion.”
Looking at Payano, 29, Donaire Sr. likes his chances of inching one step closer to being in the winner’s circle once more.
“I saw the style of his opponent. For me, he’s a good fighter too but he doesn’t have the power that can beat Jundy. He throws combinations, but Jundy can throw harder combinations than what he’s doing. I have 100 percent that we’re going to knock this guy out. Especially if this guy is standing in front of Jundy, he’s not going to last.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.