KO Nation: Filipino power
Gerry Penalosa undoubtedly is proud of Nonito Donaire and Brian Viloria, both of whom scored impressive victories in his native Philippines on Saturday night.
However, you have to wonder whether watching the young Filipino-Americans advance their careers makes the 36-year-old veteran wish he were 10 years younger.
Before Manny Pacquiao burst onto the world stage with his 2003 victory over Marco Antonio Barrera and eventually fought his way to the top of the pound-for-pound rankings, Penalosa was the best all-around fighter the Philippines had produced in recent years.
The former two-division titleholder was arguably the best junior bantamweight in the world in the late 1990s and early part of the decade — or B.P. (Before Pacquiao), as far as Filipino fighters are concerned.
Before Pacquiao, it was difficult for talented fighters from the Philippines to build a reputation outside of Asia — even if they were willing to relocate and fight in the U.S., as Penalosa was during his prime.
In those days, the only way Penalosa could make good money was by fighting in Japan or South Korea, where he dropped four razor-thin decisions in title bouts against Masamori Tokuyama and In-Joo Cho.
It's different now. Pacquiao's rise to the top of the sport has sparked a renaissance in Filipino boxing. His popularity has created Filipino boxing fans around the world and opened up the U.S. as a major market for talented fighters from the Philippines.
Penalosa, who will challenge WBO 122-pound beltholder Juan Manuel Lopez in Puerto Rico this Saturday, has taken advantage of the doors Pacquiao has opened.
However, even if he upsets Lopez, he won't be able to capitalize on the Pacquiao era the way 26-year-old Donaire and 28-year-old Viloria will if they continue their winning ways.
It looks as if the two power-punching Pinoys have come of age at just the right time — the peak of Pacquiao's popularity. Filipino fight fans are absolutely crazy about Pacquiao, who has fanned their national pride to the point that they're eager to find other Filipino ring warriors to root for.
Donaire and Viloria proved that they are worthy of fan followings Saturday night (Sunday afternoon in the Philippines).
Donaire (21-1, 14 knockouts) looked sensational dominating Raul Martinez to a fourth-round stoppage in the main event of the Top Rank-promoted card at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila.
Donaire, defending his IBF flyweight title, dropped the undefeated Texan twice in the first round. The first knockdown was produced by a left uppercut; the second was courtesy of a right cross.
Martinez (24-1, 14 KOs) got up from both knockdowns and tried to pressure his way back into the fight, but Donaire's lateral movement, hand-eye coordination, speed, punching power and accuracy was too much for him to contend with.
Donaire rocked Martinez with a series of rights before flooring him with a right cross to the back of the head in the second round. The Philippines-born Californian used his height and reach wisely, staying just out of reach while pot-shoting Martinez with an assortment of power punches.
After a left uppercut took Martinez's legs out from under him in the fourth round, dropping the proud Mexican-American for the fourth time, referee Pete Podgorski mercifully stepped in to halt the bout.
“I knew if I hit him (clean), I would hurt him,” Donaire said after the fight, which was televised on network television in the Philippines and available on pay-per-view in the U.S. “(Martinez) sits on his punches, he's right there (to be hit).”
Despite Donaire's considerable height and reach advantages, few predicted that he would physically punish Martinez in the manner that he did. Donaire appeared to recapture the form he exhibited when he knocked out Vic Darchinyan two years ago.
If Top Rank President Bob Arum has his way, Donaire will test his speed and power at bantamweight against the winner of the upcoming Fernando Montiel-Eric Morel WBO 118-pound title match in his very next fight.
“I will definitely go to junior bantamweight or bantamweight in my next fight,” Donaire said. “I didn't feel like my legs were under me after making flyweight (112 pounds).”
Martinez certainly felt the power in those legs.
If Donaire can carry his speed and power to the 115- or 118-pound division, Pacquiao won't be the only pound-for-pound-rated Filipino for long.
For now, Donaire is the best flyweight in the world.
Viloria, who knocked out Ulises Solis in the 11th round of a rousing battle for the Mexican's IBF 108-pound title, has established himself as the second best junior flyweight in the world, right below RING champ Ivan Calderon.
Viloria (25-2, 15 KOs), a former titleholder who is now on a six-bout win streak, was more aggressive than usual, taking the fight to Solis in the early part of each round and often buzzing or rocking the longtime belt holder with one-two combinations and counter hooks.
However, every time it appeared that Viloria would overwhelm Solis with his superior speed and power, the skilled veteran would punch his way back into the fight with body shots (many of which landed on or below Viloria's beltline) and well-timed overhand rights.
Solis (28-2, 20 KOs), who had defended the IBF title eight times coming into Saturday's bout, showed impressive resilience, dogged determination and a consistent offense that may have won some of the middle rounds while Viloria was fighting in spurts.
At the end of the eighth round, Solis landed a hook followed by a right hand that staggered Viloria back into the ropes. The Hawaii native of Filipino descent had to grab onto the top ring rope to keep his balance, but the scare seemed to awaken the lion within.
Viloria started the ninth and 10th rounds fast, belting Solis with one-two combinations and unlike the middle rounds, he didn't take his foot off the gas pedal once he had Solis backing up.
Viloria repeatedly stunned Solis with right hands at the start of the 11th to set up a perfect right cross that caught the Mexican veteran flush and instantly crumpled him to the canvas, where referee Vic McTavish counted him out.
The dramatic victory redeemed Viloria's reputation in the eyes of many hardcore fans and members of the boxing media who had written him off after his lackluster title loss to Edgar Sosa in 2007.
“It was my last chance,” Viloria admitted during his post-fight interview. “I had to stay focused and I had to let my punches go.”
He did, and he delivered in spectacular fashion against a quality opponent, just as Donaire did in the main event.
Their next bouts will likely come against even more formidable opposition.
Arum says Viloria's next fight could be against Calderon. A victory over the undefeated boxing master from Puerto Rico could earn Viloria a place on pound-for-pound lists.
If Donaire and Viloria continue to perform the way they did in Manila, they may soon carry the torch for Filipino fans A.P (After Pacquiao).
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]