(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - The Philippines steamrolled to a rousing 5-1 win over Mexico to claim the $500,000 trophy in Golden Boy’s “Copa Mundial de Boxeo” (World Cup of Boxing) before roaring Filipino and Mexican fans at the Arco Arena in Sacramento last Saturday night (yesterday morning, Manila).

Five Filipino fighters posted impressive victories before previously unbeaten Rey (Boom Boom) Bautista was stopped by WBO super bantamweight champion Daniel Ponce de Leon at 2:30 of the first round in the main event that was Mexico’s saving grace.

President Arroyo led the nation yesterday in celebrating the victory of local boxers and called them “symbols of Filipino excellence and persistence.”

“They (the Filipino boxers) serve as role models for our youth while inspiring the rest of us to work hard for a more united and triumphant future,” she said

Former world champion Gerry Peñalosa turned back the hands of time by becoming the oldest Filipino fighter to win a world title at 35 in the first of two main bouts. Behind on points, he knocked out WBO bantamweight champion Jhonny Gonzalez with a single left hook to the ribs at 2:45 of the seventh round.

Davao City’s Diosdado Gabi got the Philippines off to a rousing start by pounding out a unanimous eight-round decision over Jose Angel Beranza as the three judges turned in identical 80-72 shutouts. Then, Sultan Kudarat’s Michael Domingo defied the odds in dealing hot prospect Miguel Roman his first-ever loss via a unanimous six-round verdict on a shutout, 60-54, in the three scorecards.

Teenage sensation A. J. Banal made it three in a row, knocking out Jorge Cardenas at 0:28 of the third round. A right hook to the face sent Cardenas flat on his back, his right foot curled in as he fell. Cardenas was on all fours, crawling on the canvas, as he struggled to beat referee Jack Reiss’ count but couldn’t stand up because of a twisted right ankle. He was carried out of the ring on a stretcher. The win raised Banal’s record to 14-0-1, with 11 KOs.

Z Gorres posted the fourth win for the Philippines, halting former WBC lightflyweight titlist Eric Ortiz at 2:15 of the eighth round to capture the IBF Intercontinental super flyweight crown. Gorres survived Ortiz’ dirty tricks and used his polished boxing skills to make the Mexican look like a bumbling novice. Referee Raul Caiz Sr. stopped the bout on the ringside physician’s advice as Ortiz bled from a deep cut over his left eye and was hampered by an egg-like lump on the right side of his forehead.

Gorres, a southpaw, repeatedly peppered Ortiz’ face with jarring right jab-left straight combinations and never gave the veteran a chance to turn it into a brawl. He masterfully circled around Ortiz, throwing punches from long range, and gave him a neat boxing lesson.

“It wasn’t a hard fight,” said Gorres in an overseas phone call. “I knew I could beat him right from the first round. An accidental head butt caused the lump but I made it a target so it got bigger. He tried to make me angry and get away from my fight plan by wrestling me down, butting, holding and doing other things. But I just stuck to what I had to do.”

Then Peñalosa, the San Carlos native, pulled off his stirring win over Gonzales who crumpled to the floor in pain after absorbing one solid body punch from Peñalosa. He became the oldest Filipino champ to claim a world crown.

Flash Elorde was 32 when he lost the world junior lightweight crown in 1966 and Dado Marino, a Hawaiian of Filipino descent, was 33 when he took the world flyweight title in 1950. Peñalosa turned 35 last Tuesday and celebrated his birthday by annexing his second world crown 10 years after capturing his first. Gonzalez was only seven years old when Peñalosa made his pro debut in 1989.

Peñalosa said he was bothered by Gonzalez’ long reach and couldn’t find the range until an opportunity to mix it up came late in the seventh round. Gonzalez, dictating the tempo from a distance, got careless as Peñalosa dug a vicious left hook to the side of the body in a furious exchange. A few seconds lapsed before Gonzalez crumpled to the canvas in a delayed reaction. Referee Pat Russell counted out the champion as he grimaced in pain.

Bautista, 21, threw caution to the wind and against trainer Freddie Roach’s advice, stood toe-to-toe with Ponce de Leon from the onset. A southpaw, the heavily-tattooed Ponce de Leon seized the opportunity to engage and dropped Bautista with a left to the face. Bautista, glassy-eyed and rubbery-legged, got up but ran into a torrent of blows as he fell once more near the ropes, prompting referee Jon Schorle to step in.

“I’m sorry,” said Bautista in the dressing room. “I failed to bring honor to our country. I did my best. I proved I’m not afraid to fight a world champion. I’m thankful to those who are still standing by me despite this loss. I knew I could knock him out but he got me first. I’m still young. I’ll learn from this and come back.”

Bautista’s manager Michael Aldeguer said doctors ruled out sending the fighter to the hospital for a CT-Scan. The consolation was the quick ending meant no brutal punishment for Bautista.

“Boom Boom got hit with a good shot,” said Aldeguer. “He’s very disappointed. He cried when he spoke to his parents, who are in Bohol, on the phone. Ponce de Leon turned out to be stronger than we expected. The plan was for Boom Boom to box him in the early rounds. Gerry even reminded him just before he entered the ring, not to stand in front of Ponce de Leon but I guess, emotions got into the picture. Maybe, it was Boom Boom’s immaturity.”

Aldeguer said Bautista, as the team’s anchor, was eager to score a big win and went for a knockout.

“Boom Boom came to fight,” continued Aldeguer. “He wanted this fight. He was ready. But it’s not the end of the world. I told him great champions come back from a loss. I think it’s better to lose early in your career than late.”

Aldeguer said he couldn’t ask anything more from the six Filipinos who gave it their all in the World Cup. As part of the team, Bautista is also coming home a winner on Wednesday.

Aldeguer’s father Tony, who owns the ALA boxing stable, said winning the dual meet proved the Filipino boxer, properly trained, is at par with the best in the world.

“What an honor for the Philippines,” said Aldeguer. “It was sad that Boom Boom lost but the World Cup is now ours. Nobody gave Domingo a chance to win. And Gerry surprised everyone by knocking out Gonzalez with one punch. I’m so happy for Gerry. He deserves his second world title.”

Aldeguer said either Peñalosa or Bautista had to win, otherwise claiming the World Cup on a 4-2 count would’ve been a hollow victory. In the end, it was the veteran who came through and delivered the biggest win in the Philippines’ 5-1 triumph. – With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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