MANILA, Philippines – Froilan Saludar's shy personality belies his in-ring ability. When answering questions about the three national titles he won as a member of the Philippine amateur team or his one-punch knockouts of experienced journeymen Liempetch Sor Veerapol and Jecker Buhawe, his expression looks almost embarrassed.
Saludar's reaction is likely due to a cultural clash, where discussing one's own achievements is frowned upon, similar to how Joe Louis downplayed his victories in segregated America.
Saludar's personality may not be one that grabs your attention, but the 25-year-old from Palomolok, South Cotabato, Philippines has earned himself a spot on the short lists of rising Filipino boxing talents over the past year.
His biggest obstacles haven't been in the ring, however. Managerial and promotional issues at home had halted his momentum in 2012 as his previous management struggled to finance his bouts.
A year would pass from his learning experience fight with Mexican journeyman Jose Tirado in September 2012 and his next pro bout after he split with his manager/trainer Joven Jimenez.
For a year Saludar sat at home, training sporadically as he awaited a phone call from someone who could put his once promising career back on track. Some had dismissed him, believing he would fall in the long line of young boxing prodigies to squander their talent.
Saludar wouldn't allow that to happen, though.
“I cannot think to quit boxing because it's in my body,” said Saluar (19-0-1, 12 knockouts). “My dream has always been to fight on the world stage.”
That dream is about to come true for Saludar as he prepares to face former Puerto Rican Olympian McWilliams Arroyo on Thursday, June 19 at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. The fight will headline a Golden Boy Live! card, which airs live on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
The winner of the 12-round bout will become the number one and mandatory contender for IBF flyweight titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand. IBF president Daryl Peoples confirmed to RingTV.com that the 34-year-old Ruenroeng (13-0, 5 KOs) would have 30 days to negotiate with the winner after the conclusion of the fight before a purse bid would be ordered.
But before Saludar can think that far ahead, he must first contend with Arroyo, whose twin brother McJoe Arroyo recently staked his claim in the division this past weekend with an 11th-round stoppage of former titleholder Hernan Marquez.
Arroyo (14-1, 12 KOs) won gold at the 2009 World Amateur Boxing Championships and represented Puerto Rico at the 2008 Games but hasn't fought since March of 2013. His lone defeat came in his fourth bout, when a second-round knockdown caused a unanimous decision loss against Takashi Okada.
To prepare for the bout, Saludar has joined the stable of Filipino trainer Jhun Agrabio, who is most noted for leading Marvin Sonsona to the WBO junior bantamweight title in 2009.
“At first we worked on the left jab, then moving his head,” said Agrabio, who trained alongside former WBC junior lightweight champion Rolando Navarette during the '80s. Agrabio concedes that Saludar had a lot of work to do in conditioning initially.
“The first week here, I saw it in his face that he wanted to quit but I knew he had a big heart,” said Agrabio. “He didn’t surrender. After the first week I spoke to him and said that he needed to do this hard training because this coming fight is very big.”
Saludar agrees that he needed to work on maximizing his height and setting up his powerful right hands with jabs, but feels confident that he can outbox a fighter whose stock in trade are his boxing skills.
“Arroyo is a tough fighter and a good fighter, we have big respect for this guy but we studied what to do with the fight,” said Saludar, before allowing himself one show of confidence.
“I feel very good about this fight.”
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia