MANILA, Philippines - Bantamweight prospect A. J. Banal momentarily let his guard down as referee Silvestre Abainza stepped in to break up a clinch and two-time world champion Luis Alberto Perez of Nicaragua took advantage to throw a vicious right cross that caused his disqualification at 1:47 of the seventh round in a bitter brawl at the Waterfront Hotel ballroom in Cebu City last Saturday night.
Banal, 21, dominated the action in the first five rounds then Perez, 32, began to show signs of life in the sixth, seizing the initiative as the Filipino slowed down. In the seventh, Perez stepped up his attack and a blistering body assault appeared to take the starch out of Banal.
It looked like Banal, dazed by a right straight, was on the way down when he grabbed Perez for dear life. As Abainza broke up the clinch, Perez unleashed a sucker punch that caught Banal flush on the face. Banal collapsed on the canvas. Abainza could’ve given Banal five minutes to recover but the fallen fighter was clearly unfit to continue.
“He couldn’t get up,” said Abainza. “He tried to but fell back. I could’ve counted to 10 and he wouldn’t have gotten up. I saw he had a big cut on his left eyebrow that was opened by a butt. So if I didn’t disqualify Perez, I think the fight would’ve been stopped anyway because of the cut. If I didn’t disqualify Perez, it would’ve gone to the scorecards and I would’ve deducted a point from Perez for the illegal blow and another point for the headbutt.”
At the end of six rounds, Banal was way ahead on the three judges’ scorecards. Salven Lagumbay and Noel Flores had it both, 59-55, and Edward Ligas, 60-54, for Banal.
“I thought Banal was in control in the first five rounds,” said Abainza. “Perez is like a diesel engine. He’s a slow starter. I could sense that Banal was beginning to fade in the sixth. Perez hit him with some solid shots to the body and head in the seventh. Banal was about to go down when he held on. As I broke them up, Perez suddenly threw a punch. Banal went down and I knew he wouldn’t get up. If the fight continued, I don’t know if he could’ve survived three more rounds because Perez was getting stronger.”
Abainza said he warned Perez once for using his elbow and repeatedly reminded both fighters to keep their punches up.
“You’ve got to give credit to Perez,” said Abainza, a WBA-licensed referee and judge. “He took everything Banal gave and kept coming in. But he threw an illegal blow. I don’t take sides. A week before the fight, I was in Tokyo and spoke to Nicaraguan boxing official Renzo Bagnariol. He told me Perez was coming off a long layoff but was determined to beat Banal.”
Abainza said in a rematch, Banal should be better prepared or else he’ll lose by knockout. The win raised Banal’s record to 23-1-1, with 18 KOs. Perez’ record dropped to 26-5, with 17 KOs.
“Banal should train like (Manny) Pacquiao,” said Abainza. “He needs tougher sparring. He has a tendency to fade in the late rounds like what happened when he lost to (Rafael) Concepcion. You can’t win a fight just by dominating the early rounds.”
Perez’ manager Marco Garcia Fonseco and trainer Luis Mendoza were up in arms after Abainza ruled the disqualification. But their protest fell on deaf ears. Perez paid a high price for his mistake – the same way Denver Cuello was robbed of a knockout win when he was disqualified for hitting Juan Hernandez after the Mexican hit the deck last May.
“It was a sad and disappointing way to win,” said ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer. “We trained A. J. to clinch and he showed maturity in not panicking after he got hit. A. J. clearly dominated the first five or six rounds. But Perez knew what to do. He waited until the sixth round to press the attack then went for the kill. Perez came to fight. He’s a strong and tough fighter. A. J. did a good job in the early rounds. The ending reminded me of what happened to Z Gorres when he dominated the first nine rounds then almost got knocked out in the last round.”
Aldeguer said Perez wants a rematch and Banal is ready to do it again.
“What’s next for A. J. is something we still have to talk about,” continued Aldeguer. “He’s up there in the ratings. There’s no question A. J. has the skills and talent. We just have to work on his staying power. If a title shot comes along, we’ll evaluate if he’s ready depending on the opponent. Can he take a punch? That’s something we need to find out. A rematch is a possibility.”
IBF bantamweight champion Yonnhy Perez of Colombia is due to stake his title against No. 3 Joseph Agbeko of Ghana on Dec. 11 in Mexico. Since the IBF lists no contender in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, the next fighter in the rankings after Agbeko is No. 4 Banal. The Filipino is also ranked No. 2 by the WBO, No. 4 by the WBA and No. 13 by the WBC. The WBO and WBC unified bantamweight champion is Mexico’s Fernando Montiel while the WBA titleholder is Anselmo Moreno of Panama.
Another ALA fighter Michael Domingo lost a majority 12-round decision to Vusi Malinga in an IBF bantamweight title eliminator in South Africa last weekend. Banal could also fight Malinga to determine the next challenger for the title.
In the Cebu undercard, welterweight Mark Jason Melligen floored Mexico’s Bladimir Hernandez twice en route to scoring a third round stoppage and lightwelterweight Jason Pagara halted Thailand’s Sapapeth Sor Sakaorat at 2:24 of the second round.
Joaquin Henson, Philippine Star