Over the weekend, at Jurado Hall inside the Philippine Marine base in Taguig, something rare unfolded before the eyes of many local boxing fans. For the first time in 94 years, the country hosted a high-stakes bout that had two Filipino pugilists slug it out to become world champion.
Pedro Taduran fought Samuel Salva for the vacant IBF minimumweight championship last Saturday, September 7 in the headliner of MP Promotions’ second installment of the Manny Pacquiao Championship Boxing series. While several diehard fans are skeptical over the narrative of two homegrown talents facing each other for a world title, the scintillating championship showdown lived up to what was promised.
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Salva’s hunger to get the belt was clear from the get-go, bringing Taduran to his knees for the count with a counter right straight. However, the latter was unperturbed and remained pesky in the next two rounds, turning the tide in his favor. Taduran’s relentless attacks paid dividends in the third round as Salva began to fade midway through as his 22-year-old opponent from Libon, Albay pounded away.
Desperate to turn back Taduran, Salva drew a one-point deduction from referee Danrex Tapdasan for an intentional head butt in the fourth period. Agitated by his foe's foul move, Taduran continued his assault on Salva, firing combination after combination until the conclusion of the round.
Gasping for air, Salva was unable to answer the bell for the fifth round, forcing Tapdasan to call it off and award the technical knockout victory to Taduran. Moreover, he had to be attended to by medical personnel who stretchered him out of the venue.
This was Taduran’s second try to bring home a world title; he came up short in his attempt to get the WBC minimumweight strap, losing to undefeated Thai Wanheng Menayothin in August 2018. “This has always been my dream—to become a world champion in boxing," says Taduran, who improved his professional record to 14-2 with 11 knockouts. "Now, I can finally call myself one. The feeling is surreal. I am just so happy right now."
On the other hand, Salva suffered the first loss of his young boxing career, blemishing his record to 17-1 with 10 knockouts.
With his remarkable routing of Salva, Taduran became the 43rd Filipino boxer to ever win a world championship, joining the likes of Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire, Jerwin Ancajas, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, and Pancho Villa.
The Valenzuela-based Bicolano's achievement is even more historic as his win is the first of its kind in almost a century. The last time a world title duel featured two Filipinos on home soil was in May 1925, when Villa defended his flyweight belt against Clever Sencio at Wallace Field, known today as Luneta Park.
Breaking the mold
Boxing in the country has been on life support for a long time, with many local promoters struggling to fill big venues in Metro Manila. In addition, media coverage of Filipino boxers aside from Pacquiao has been inconsistent.
This results to an unfortunate downturn in business, leading to a drop in the number of registered professional boxers. Events are left to being hosted at low-cost locations like open basketball courts and function halls that can only accommodate around 800 people.
MP Promotions president Sean Gibbons believes that there should be a sudden change in philosophy to address the diminishing luster of local boxing—one of which is by pitting the best Filipinos against each other in the ring.
“The Philippines is considered as one of the greatest and largest boxing hubs in the world, and it houses many talented fighters. It’s high time for us to nourish the scene by having the best fight the best,” he says. “The title fight between Taduran and Salva is the first real fight here in the Philippines. As you have seen, it has lived up to the promise of a great fight. It has broken the mold. Styles make fights, and these two guys came to fight."
Many followers of the sport have been resistant to seeing their favorites battle one another; many have grown accustomed to the Filipino pride that is espoused when fighters like Pacquiao take on foreign competitors. But before the fistic sensation from General Santos City rose to prominence and became boxing’s only eight-division world champion, he had to trade leather with compatriots like Rustico Torrecampo, Melvin Magramo, Reynante Jamili, and Arnel Barotillo.
Meanwhile, countries such as Mexico, Japan, and the United Kingdom take pride of their domestic rivalries, earning whopping digits in terms of ticket and pay-per-view sales.
Holding more quality fights between Pinoys might increase competitiveness and give fans in different regions a new reason to cheer. And, as Gibbons also points out, it can help identify who our real prospects are, reducing the number of Filipino boxers being sent to mismatches overseas. “It happens across the world. It isn’t a new idea that people should stand against it," he says. "Hopefully, we can get every promoter in the country on board in thrusting Philippine boxing into greater heights.”
In 2018, there were two all-Filipino world title matches held in the United States: Jerwin Ancajas defeated Jonas Sultan to keep his IBF junior bantamweight crown. A few months later, Donnie Nietes battled Aston Palicte to an anticlimactic draw for the WBO’s version of the 115-pound belt.
Gibbons might see local rivalries as a step in the right direction, but veteran boxing analyst Ed Tolentino begs to differ, arguing that the Philippines only has a handful of champions and contenders.
“It is unfortunate that two Pinoys were booked to eliminate each other. If we are like Mexico or the United States, where prospects abound, it will not be an issue," Tolentino reasons.
He says one way to avoid such bouts is to let the Filipino boxers go for other sanctioning bodies. “There are still the WBA, WBC, and WBO to choose from. They can campaign there and take one of the titles. If it’s really inevitable, they should figure in a unification fight. I prefer two Pinoy champs in a unification battle,” he says.
But for boxing world titleholder Ancajas, he welcomed the development and does not mind if he has to duke it out with another Filipino in the future. “I defended my title against a fellow Filipino last year. Before I became a champion, I needed to fight many Filipinos in the lower ranks in order to be in this position. It’s no problem for me. It’s also good for the sport,” he asserts.
Gibbons thinks it would take a lot before he gets public acceptance for what he is trying to do, but he remains optimistic about the future of Philippine boxing.
“Everything we do here at MP Promotions is unprecedented and unheard of. This event, featuring guys like Taduran and Salva as the main fight, is historic," he says. "We will continue to break new ground here in the Philippines.
Photographs by Richard Esguerra