PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN, January 15, 2004  (STAR) By Joey Villar - National fighters Florencio Ferrer, Francis Joven and Chris Camat pursued their Olympic dreams with victories Tuesday night to join four other Filipinos in the next round of the 22nd Asian Boxing Championship at the Puerto Princesa Coliseum here.

Drawing inspiration from emphatic wins by countrymen Harry Tañamor and Violtio Payla hours earlier, Ferrer, 19, smothered Yoshia Pujiono of Indonesia in a 33-11 decision while the Fil-Am Camat, 24, smashed Farminder of India via a 20-10 triumph.

Joven, for his part, had to toil hard as he needed a countback to edge Zuhair Khudhair of Iraq to join teammates Junard Ladon, Romeo Brin, Tañamor and Payla in the next round of this week-long meet which is staking 24 slots to this year’s Athens Olympics.

The 21-year-old Sorsogon native had to endure a hard-punching Khudhair in the first three rounds, recovered in time in the fourth and final round to lead by two points with barely a minute to go and almost blew it for a 22-all tie.

Khudhair and his number of supporters including American coach Maurice "Termite" Watkins were already raising their hands anticipating victory when the tournament barker announced that Joven had won after emerging with more punches thrown in a countback, 78-74.

Watkins and the Iraqis protested the result of tiebreak but later accepted the verdict and consoled Khudhair.

Ferrer’s next foe is Pakistan’s Ali Shah Asghar, a 22-4 winner over Imad Saeed of Iraq while Joven faces Sultani Basharmal of Afghanistan both scheduled tonight. Basharmal was the only pug in the welterweight division who drew a first round bye.

Camat, on the other hand, tackles Pakistan’s Ali Khan Ahmed, who stunned the former’s conqueror and 2003 Hanoi Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Somchai Chimlum of Thailand via a 33-23 decision the same night.

Also seeing action are Tañamor and Payla, who were both merciless in their initial bouts in the event held in this bustling port city. Tañamor fights China’s Zou Shiming, his conqueror in the World Championship last year in Thailand, while Payla clashes with North Korean Ihyon Kim, who survived the Kazakhstan juggernaut with a 25-22 trouncing of Kanat Abutalipov.

Two more RP fighters were to fight Wednesday night -- Ladon, 21, and veteran Romeo Brin, who shocked Hanoi SEAG gold medal winner Manus Boonjumnong of Thailand.

Ladon and Brin were to face Salom Kasanov of Tajikistan and Nursa Kazymzhanov of Kazakhstan, respectively.

The triple victories also erased the memory of a stinging 19-20 defeat by Sydney Olympics veteran Arlan Lerio to Almuz Assanov of the dreaded Kazakhstan squad, which is the favorite in this event organized by Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes with support from Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn and boxing chief Manny Lopez.

Rocked by the power-punching Assanov, Lerio found himself in a bind as he trailed by eight points after two rounds before fighting back to cut his deficit to four with a round remaining.

With no other resort but to go all out for a stoppage, Lerio pummeled the Kazakh fighter with body blows but failed to reverse the trend and bowed out of the contest.

"Sayang, kung may oras pa sana kahit 30 seconds lang baka nanalo pa si Arlan," said RP team coach George Caliwan. "Pero okay lang, pito naman ang nananalo sa atin."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved