PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN, January 13, 2004  (STAR) By Joey Villar - Junard Ladon kicked off the country’s bid in the Asian Boxing Championships with a big victory over Jassim Meshal of Iraq last night as he scored a third round RSC (Referee Stopped Contest) victory before a cheering crowd at the Puerto Princesa Coliseum here.

Ladon, a 21-year-old Bago City native whose biggest win was a gold medal in a tournament in Goa, India last year, staggered Meshal three times in the first round with solid right straights, held his ground in the second then clinched the victory after the Iraqi fighter hurt his right wrist with 48 seconds left in the third.

"Magandang simula," said Nolito Velasco, one of the coaches of the host squad who also mentored Ladon in the powerhouse Navy team that topped last year’s National Open staged in this bustling port city.

"Hopefully maging inspiration ito ng mga bata," added Velasco.

The event was ushered in with elaborate opening rites last night.

"It is both an honor and privileged to become part of a significant boxing event like this one where the best of Asia compete for Olympic slots," said Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes.

Meawhhile, Harry Tañamor, the brightest prospect in the RP team, starts his own bid for a crack at an elusive Olympic gold medal when he takes on Faizal Altanak of Kuwait tonight.

Also drawing lesser-fancied opponents were flyweight Violito Payla, lightweight Florencio Ferrer, welterweight Francis Joven and Fil-Am light middleweight Chris Camat.

Payla is pitted against Holapatiphone Nhothinh of Laos; Ferrer takes on Yoshua Pujiono of Indonesia; Joven faces Zuhair Khudhair of Iraq; and Camat collides with an Indian foe.

Unlike Tañamor, a silver medalist in the 2002 Busan Asiad and the lone gold medal winner in the sport in last year’s Hanoi Southeast Asian Games, veteran Olympians Arlan Lerio (bantam) and Romeo Brin (light welter) and Maraon Golez (middle) face formidable rivals.

Lerio, who saw action in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, tackles Almuz Assanov, one of the fancied bets of powerhouse Kazakhstan, which won two of the four gold medals pocketed by Asian countries in the last Olympics in Sydney.

Brin, a late replacement to Mark Jason Melligen, clashes with Hanoi SEAG gold medalist Manus Boonjumnong of Thailand while Golez tangles with Nodir Gulamov of equally-strong Uzbekistan. Millegen pulled out due to fever.

Of the nine local pugs, only Ladon, Brin and Golez are seeing action at presstime last night with the rest scheduled to fight tonight.

Others who graced the event were Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, Rep. Abraham Mitra (Second District), Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) president Manny Lopez and Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), the world’s governing body in boxing, top honcho Anwar Chowdhry.

BOXING NOTES: The national media got into a brief chat with Thailand’s Cuban coach Juan Bautista Fontanills after yesterday’s drawing of lots in the event’s main billeting area The Legend Hotel. Fontanills, who has been coaching the Thais for seven years now that netted a pair of Olympic gold medals, said he has with him a proud eight-man squad that included Hanoi SEAG gold medal winners Somjit Jongjohor (fly), Sutthisak Samaksaman (feather), Pichai Sayota (welter) and Boonjumnong. "We hope to bring as many Olympic slots as we can," said the 50-year-old Cuban. Fontanills observed that Asian countries has improved a lot as evidenced in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where Asia bagged four golds. Kazakhstan, which fielded in boxers in all 11 weight categories, has won two of those with Uzbekistan and Thailand winning the other two. He said the teams to beat are Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Philippines. When asked who among the Filipinos has the strongest chance of gaining Olympic slots, Fontanills said: "The Philippines has one good boxer in the 48-kilogram class." He was referring, of course, toTañamor.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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