Milan Melindo went from lost cause to champion
MANILA, Philippines – “I feel floating. I’ve been floating in the sky.”
That’s what Milan Melindo said on the phone Tuesday night while being driven from the Cebu City airport after arriving from Japan. When he’d left the Philippines, he had carried with him an interim title he had won in November and the baggage of two failed world title attempts in recent years. He returned with the full IBF junior flyweight championship after knocking Akira Yaegashi down three times in the first round.
“I feel my hand is hitting hard,” said Melindo, whose 12 knockouts in 35 previous wins against two defeats made no suggestions of the power he displayed Sunday against Yaegashi, a noble warrior whose tough fights have caught up to him in recent years.
“I was surprised because I only am using my ability to fight. I don’t aim to knock Yaegashi [out]. I just want to fight. I don’t think I can knock him down that round,” added the native of Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines.
Melindo, now 29, jumped four spots in the RING ratings at 108 pounds with the win, up to No. 4. But Melindo’s promoter, Michael Aldeguer, will tell you there was a time, after his losses to then-unified flyweight titleholder Juan Francisco Estrada in 2013, and then-IBF junior flyweight titleholder Javier Mendoza in 2015, when he wasn’t sure if Melindo still had the desire to compete at the championship level.
“He’s always had potential to make it big, to become world champion,” said Aldeguer, president of ALA Promotions. “I have to say that he also had some struggles personally. He has his own mindset that comes with it and he had to go through a lot with his first loss with Estrada.”
Aldeguer says there were times when Melindo didn’t show much interest in training, and it showed in his fights. There was the split decision over late replacement Victor Emanuel Olivo in 2015, which Aldeguer called “one of the worst performances he had.” Then there was the technical decision over Maximino Flores in which Melindo came in nearly five pounds overweight and struggled.
“He went through a lot of tests, a lot of mixed emotions where we ourselves had to question that,” said Aldeguer.
Aldeguer considered at one point allowing Melindo to fight Teeraphong Utaida for the interim belt in Thailand, where getting a fair shake in judging and officiating is a fight in itself. But he says he decided to invest in Melindo once again, had the fight moved to the Philippines and Melindo showed renewed dedication in the gym, which carried him to victory in the Utaida fight and then to the Yaegashi fight (for which he sparred 22 straight rounds on one day).
“I’m very confident because I asked Daddy God for this,” said Melindo. “This is the second time I asked God, I relied on God for everything. The first is November 26 against Sakkreerin (Utaida), and then this one. So God never failed me. It’s my motivation and inspiration. It builds my confidence.”
Aldeguer says he’s looking at options for mid-September or October for Melindo’s first defense, either in the Philippines or abroad.
Ideally he’d like a unification bout against one of the three Japanese fighters who hold the other titles: Kosei Tanaka (WBO), Daigo Higa (WBC) and Ryoichi Taguchi (WBA). But the greatest immediate threat to the title may be the one at home from Randy Petalcorin, the Filipino southpaw ranked fourth by the IBF and eighth by The Ring. The camp of the Davao City-born Petalcorin (26-2-1, 19 KOs) has called for the fight since 2015 and have doubled their efforts to get the fight, even to the point of saying they’ll petition the IBF to become the mandatory challenger.
“It’s all about the country now. We need more world champions. We haven’t yet been at the level where Mexico is. Once we reach 10 world champions, maybe that would be a possibility,” said Aldeguer about that matchup.
Melindo is also not in favor of fighting other Filipinos, but he insists he’d fight anyone he was told to by his handlers.
“I want to fight anyone. It depends to my promoter and my manager,” said Melindo. “I’m a boxer. I’m a fighter. I’m a warrior. No need to retreat. No surrender.”
Magsayo to face ex-title challenger Diaz on July 8
Unbeaten Filipino featherweight Mark Magsayo (16-0, 12 KOs) will face experienced veteran Daniel Diaz (23-7-2, 15 KOs) of Nicaragua in the main event of the Pinoy Pride 41 card which takes place July 8 at the IEC Convention Center in Cebu City. The card was announced Wednesday by ALA Promotions, and will see Magsayo take a step up in competition from recent opponents, particularly from Issa Nampepeche, whom Magsayo finished in two minutes on April 29.
Diaz, 12 years older at 33, challenged Koki Kameda for the WBA bantamweight title in 2011 but was stopped in the 11th round. He has lost whenever he’s stepped up in competition but did beat former title challenger Roberto Marroquin by split decision in 2013.
The rest of the card will feature junior featherweight Jeo Santisima (13-2, 11 KOs) against Goodluck Mrema (15-0, 7 KOs), an undefeated but untested Tanzanian who has not fought outside of his home country, while Albert Pagara (27-1, 18 KOs) continues his comeback from his KO loss to Cesar Juarez by facing the often-stopped Indonesian Waldo Sabu (12-7, 2 KOs).
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.