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Knocked out! — Tapales, Donaire biggest losers


‘It’s unfortunate, but it happens. I tried to keep fighting to the end.’

PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of Viva Promotions Marlon Tapales (right) fails to become an undisputed champion after being stopped by Naoya Inoue barely a week before New Year’s Eve in their four-belt unification clash in Tokyo.

Philippine boxing scored a big knockout at the start of the year but wound up getting knocked out at the end of 2023.

In the first week of January, Melvin Jerusalem needed just a basic one-two combination — a jab and a right to the head of Masataka Taniguchi of Japan in the second round — to bag the World Boxing Organization mini-flyweight crown in Osaka.

It was a rousing 2023 kickoff for the country as more were lined up to vie for world titles in the months to come.

Pretty soon, the country suddenly had two world champions when, in April, Marlon Tapales stunned Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev to become a two-belt super-bantamweight king by posting a split decision at the Boeing Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Tapales’ conquest awarded him the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation belts and a chance to unify all four straps towards the end of the year.

A month later in Stockton, California, Vincent Astrolabio got the opportunity to become the third Filipino titleholder when he met Australian Jason Moloney for the vacant WBO bantamweight jewels.

Hopes were high that Astrolabio would mow down Moloney but the fighter from Down Under had a perfect gameplan to repulse the aggressive Filipino en route to a majority decision.

About two weeks later, Jerusalem made a mandatory defense against fast-rising Puerto Rican Oscar Collazo in Southern California.

Having arrived in the United States just 10 days before the fight, Jerusalem was forced to quit on his stool in the seventh round as he could no longer endure the punishment that was delivered by Collazo.

His late arrival proved to be costly as Jerusalem complained of difficulty getting sleep during his entire stay.

The devastating loss left the Philippines with just one reigning champion as the first half of the year was about to pass.

Jade Bornea, the former amateur standout who trained diligently alongside champions in Las Vegas, was now next in line and one who had more than what it takes to put a stop to the bleeding.

Ranged against the Argentine tough guy Fernando Martinez for the IBF super-flyweight title once held by Jerwin Ancajas from 1016 until 2022, Bornea was tipped to avenge Ancajas’ twin losses to the South American banger.

So in late June in Minneapolis, Bornea squared off with Martinez, confident that he would return to Sin City with Martinez’s head.

After battling tooth and nail in the first half, the tide turned in favor of Martinez, whose power punches caused a large welt on Bornea’s left cheek and eventually ravaged the Filipino’s right ear.

That ear injury proved to be crucial as Martinez kept hitting it until referee Charlie Fitch stopped the bloodbath 29 seconds into the 11thround.

“The first seven rounds were pretty even, but then I had the injury to my ear,” Bornea said. “It’s unfortunate, but it happens. I tried to keep fighting to the end.”

Martinez, owner of back-to-back wins on Ancajas, said it was his solid shots that did Bornea in.

“The inflammation was like nothing I have ever seen before. I hit him with a left and it popped, exploded. I even told the referee to be cautious, I think he’s really hurt. That’s when I just kept going at the ear and trying to finish this fight.”




The misfortunes continued as Regie Suganob dropped a 12-round unanimous decision to South African Siventhi Nontshinga in East London for the IBF light-fly plum in early July.

But there was a ray of hope when a five-division champion took the spotlight in Las Vegas later that month.

Nonito Donaire, regarded as the greatest Filipino boxer next to Manny Pacquiao, was tabbed to dispute the vacant World Boxing Council bantamweight championships against Alejandro Santiago of Mexico.

Though way past his prime, ringsiders were not at all convinced that the light-hitting Santiago would be enough to ruin Donaire’s plans.

But it did happen.

Santiago, who once held Ancajas to a draw in 2018, beat Donaire via a 12-round unanimous decision, a victory that reminded the Filipino-American that his time had finally come.

Just when it looked like it was not going to end, it was the exact case a month later when Garen Diagan was stopped by Jerusalem’s conqueror Collazo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the WBO 105-lb diadem.

By then, only one man was standing.

Barely a week before 2024, Tapales battled Naoya “Monster” Inoue, the WBC and WBO ruler, for the undisputed crown at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo.

Inoue proved too fast and too powerful for the southpaw from Lanao del Norte, who finally succumbed to all the power shots in the 10th stanza.

A win would have made Tapales an all-time great given that there had been no Filipino undisputed champion ever, an accolade not even the great Manny Pacquiao didn’t win during his legendary career.

When the final bell sounded, Philippine boxing was out on its feet.

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