A champion’s work is never done. While the new year has barely kicked in, the country’s top pugilists are already knee-deep in training as they look to stay entrenched on their respective throne.
The country currently has five world champions in WBA ‘regular’ welterweight (147 lbs.) champ Manny Pacquiao, WBA bantamweight (118 lbs.) king Nonito Donaire Jr., IBF junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) titlist Jerwin Ancajas and WBO counterpart Donnie Nietes, and WBO minimumweight (105 lbs.) champ Vic Saludar.
Of the five titlists, four were crowned only last year: Pacquiao, Donaire, Nietes and Saludar. When you consider the fact that Pacquiao (40), Donaire (36) and Nietes (36) are already in their dog years, you can only shake your head at the turtle-slow turnover of fistic talent.
Truth be told, Pacquiao, Donaire and Nietes are all fighting on borrowed time.
Pacquiao is booked to defend his WBA welterweight title on January 20 (Manila time) against American Adrien Broner. If he gets past Broner, Pacquiao may be headed for a rematch against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Pacquiao has also expressed interest in meeting the winner of the March 16 IBF welterweight title showdown between Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia. The 147-pound division is seething with talented boxers and Pacquiao, 3-2 in his last 5 fights, will be hard-pressed to keep up with the competition. Pacquiao has made known his plan to fight for three more years, but it is clear that this is tied to his political plans.
Donaire (39-5, 25 knockouts) barely resuscitated his career last year. He lost to Carl Frampton in April but captured the “super” version of the WBA bantamweight title with a stoppage win over the untested Ryan Burnett in November. Donaire’s victory earned him a spot in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) bantamweight tourney. Donaire’s next fight is against WBO counterpart Zolani Tete, but the fight may be in jeopardy because the WBSS is reportedly having financial issues. Donaire is 2-4 in his last four fights and it is doubtful he’ll survive the year owing to the competition in the 118-pound division.
Nietes became the 18th pro boxer in history to win a fourth division title when he decisioned Kazuto Ioka in December for the WBO junior bantamweight crown. Nietes’ crafty counterpunching approach has propelled him to a 15-year, 35-fight unbeaten streak, but he will be tested this year.
Nietes is eyeing two fights and is calling out WBC junior bantamweight king Srisaket Rungvisai and former pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez. Rungvisai (47-4, 41 knockouts) offers a porous defense and barely escaped defeat against Iran Diaz in October, but his punching power and size will test Nietes. Gonzalez, whose aura of invincibility was shattered by Rungvisai in 2017, hit the comeback road on September 15 with a first-round knockout of a washed-up Moises Fuentes. Gonzalez (47-2, 39 knockouts) is small for a junior bantamweight but remains the marquee name Nietes covets.
Ancajas (30-1, 2 draws with 20 knockouts) is thus far the country’s most consistent champion, having occupied the junior bantamweight throne since September 2016. Ancajas has made six defenses in the last two years, but he tapered off a little in 2018, scoring only one knockout (vs. Jamie Conlan) while going the distance in defenses against Jonas Sultan and Alejandro Barrios. Despite being heavily favored, Ancajas was held to a draw by Barrios in their September scuffle.
Ancajas is still seeking a unification fight with Rungvisai this year, but a move up to the bantamweight division is also in the books. A fight between Ancajas and WBA ‘regular’ bantamweight champ Naoya Inoue figures to be a big-money showdown.
Saludar (18-3, 10 knockouts) came out of nowhere to win the WBO minimumweight title in July with a decision over Japanese Ryuya Yamanaka. It was Saludar’s second shot at the title after he was knocked out in six rounds by then WBO champ Kosei Tanaka in December 2015. Saludar is a boxer with above-average power, but it remains to be seen he will survive the year. Saludar, a former amateur standout, virtually disappeared after beating Yamanaka.
You can already sense who will stay and go as far as our incumbent champions are concerned. It thus becomes imperative for up and coming stars like Jhack Tepora (interim WBA featherweight champion) and Reymart Gaballo (interim WBA bantamweight champ) to step up their bids to become full-fledged world champions. Veterans Pacquiao, Donaire and Nietes can only hold the fort for so long; the young guns will have to join the fray.