Melindo put himself through hell to prepare for Yaegashi title fight
MANILA, Philippines – Ahead of his third shot at a world title, Milan Melindo turned his training up a notch to prove something to himself more than anyone else.
At the ALA Gym in Cebu City three weeks ago, Melindo challenged himself to spar 22 straight rounds against seven or eight different partners coming in and out of the ring. Among the fighters who joined were former title challenger Rocky Fuentes and rising fighter Jonas Sultan, plus a handful of amateurs he says to adjust to their speed.
Melindo (35-2, 12 knockouts) said he wanted to hammer into his brain that he could fight at a high pace against IBF junior flyweight champ Akira Yaegashi, whom he faces this coming Sunday at Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo, Japan. After that, twelve rounds might seem like a warm-up.
“I sparred 22 rounds at that time because I need a lot of confidence that I can manage my skills for up to 12 rounds,” says the 29-year-old Melindo of Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. “I needed those 22 rounds because my opponent is a brawler, he always comes forward punching so I need a lot of stamina and I need to know I can take the punches also.”
Melindo has never been short on guts, as is to be expected of someone who started boxing at the age of six, fighting older boys without headgear or mouthpieces for five pesos a bout so he could put a smile on his dad’s face.
What he’s been short on at times is size, like when he stunned Juan Francisco Estrada early in his 2013 challenge for the unified flyweight titles but couldn’t match punch-for-punch with the larger Estrada as the rounds progressed, and he barely made it to the final bell after an eleventh round knockdown.
He also was short on luck when dropped down in weight and challenged Javier Mendoza for the IBF 108-pound title, only to lose on a technical decision in six rounds after a head clash caused a cut on Mendoza’s eye.
His two fights after the Mendoza fight – a split decision against late replacement Victor Emanuel Olivo and a technical decision over Maximino Flores where he came in nearly five pounds overweight – made promoter Michael Aldeguer of ALA Promotions question where Melindo’s head was at.
But after Melindo outworked Thailand’s Teeraphong Utaida in November to win the interim IBF title, Aldeguer has seen an adjustment in Melindo’s attitude.
“Milan has straightened it out. He had a good showing last November and he proved that he’s still very hungry,” said ALA president Aldeguer of Melindo, who is rated six spots behind Yaegashi at 108 pounds by THE RING at number two.
“He didn’t even go back to his family last Christmas because he wanted to stay focused because he knew that the fight with Yaegashi was going to be on the horizon already.”
While Melindo has been through some tough fights, the 34-year-old Yaegashi (25-5, 13 KOs) has had his share of wars too. He’s faced champions Eagle Kyowa, Kazuto Ioka, Edgar Sosa and Pornsawan Porpramook in his twelve-year career, and was stopped in back-to-back fights by Roman Gonzalez and Pedro Guevara in 2014. Yaegashi sustained a torn rotator cuff in a tougher-than-expected fight against Jose Martin Tecuapetla last year, which led to Melindo fighting for an interim title. His willingness to exchange punches means Melindo will get his chances to land punches.
“It’s advantage to me because I will not chase him because he will go with me, he will get inside. That is advantage to him also because he is a brawler so he needs to be close to me,” said Melindo before boarding his flight to Japan on Monday. “Maybe I can use the Ioka style, always jabbing and then counterpunching and body punches, which are his weakness. If we have only one strategy, we will lose. But if he can take the punch, maybe I will change the style.”
Trainer Edito Villamor, who was joined by co-trainers Edmund Villamor and Michael Domingo, is optimistic that Melindo will make good on this opportunity. “We hope that Milan can deliver our game plan during the actual fight without any pressure on his mind,” said Villamor.
The fight will air on a slight delay in Melindo’s home country of the Philippines, at 8 p.m. on Sunday on ABS-CBN Sports and Action. He hopes what his countrymen see is the culmination of his lumps and bruises, his falls and revivals, resulting in a long-awaited title victory.
“It’s not only important for me but also for my country and my stablemates and to sir ALA my manager. It’s important for me to make them proud, to all ALA fighters that they can build confidence also if I win this fight,” said Melindo.
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]. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.