A BATTLE FOR LIFE-CHANGING TITLE BELTS
26 Jul 2013
MACAU – Winning a world championship would be the apex of achievement for most athletes. But for boxers, it has always meant something more. Most of them come from the dire depths of poverty. They spend their early lives as troubled youths or determined dreamers trying to escape the accident of their birth.
Juan Francisco Estrada came in as an underdog against Brian Viloria last April. The ‘Hawaiian Punch’ was the first ‘unified’ flyweight titlist in 47 years and had already beaten four of the best Mexican boxers in his weight range in succession.
But when the smoke cleared, it was ‘El Gallo’ who was holding the WBO and WBA belts. During the post-fight press conference, he declared that “I was a nobody before this fight. Now I am starting my real career.”
I got a chance to speak briefly with the defending champion last Thursday after the final press conference inside the Venetian Ballroom. The 23 year old smiled when I told him I remembered what he said after he won the titles; about how nobody knew who he was when he arrived in Macau, and now all the cameras were pointed at him.
“That is why I came back,” Estrada said.
“Winning a world title has changed my life in so many different ways,” he added, “The way people look at me, the way I get treated.”
When asked about his preparations for his Filipino challenger Milan Melindo, Estrada replied ,“I have gone through the same type of training but I added something special for Melindo, I will not say whether this will be a short or a long fight, you will see once we get on top of the ring.”
Melindo also realizes how winning this bout can transform his life. During the final press con he said that “When I first came here, I was just seated at the back, looking at the people seated in front and I told myself - I want to sit in front of everybody.”
The 25 year old known as ‘El Metodico’ goes into his first title challenge with the weight of expectations of an entire nation. He comes from the most popular gym and promotional company in the Philippines and this guarantees a lot of television and media mileage.
Juan Hernandez of Team Estrada said that they are aware of Melindo’s quality when he fought against Tommy Seran. “Melindo is not the type of fighter you want to face but he is the mandatory challenger, Estrada has fought here before. He came in like a freight train.”
They also have high hopes for the champion, “Estrada will be one of the best pound for pound fighters in the next few years.”
The Filipino community in Macau and the fight fans back home are counting on Melindo to take back the belts. Based on the comments made on my favorite social networking site, Melindo is expected to win by stoppage. The positive side of Melindo’s popularity is that he is used to fighting under pressure. But a world title fight is a totally different arena. He will have to transform what looks good on paper into a positive reality.
In his short speech last Wednesday night in a gathering of Filipinos here in Macau, Melindo said that “Estrada is not an easy opponent. He is a world champion, he beat a good champion, Brian Viloria. It will be a hard fight but I will fight for all Filipinos.Hindi ako lumalaban para sa sarili ko, hindi lang para sa pamilya ko, pero para sa lahat na mga Filipino.”
This fight promises to be a classic, not just between fighters with contrasting styles, but a battle between a champion who wants to hold on to something that means so much and a challenger that wants to have so much more.
PHOTO - Juan Estrada (left)and Milan Melindo pose after Thursday's presscon at the Venetian Ballroom
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