By Edwin G. Espejo
06 Jun 2008
It's a familiar storyline. A young kid growing up idolizing a world champion and striving hard to become one someday. Now, Richie Mepranum is taking that dream a few more steps closer.
On June 14, this 21-year old son of a former fisherman father and a rice cake vendor mother takes another shot at international recognition when he goes up against African Juma Seleman Fundi for the vacant World Boxing Organization oriental flyweight title.
The title may not mean so much to jaded boxing fans. Nonetheless, it is a fight Mepranum hopes to become his ticket to big money fights and to be mentioned in the same breadth as his idol, World Boxing Council super featherweight king Manny Pacquiao.
Like Manny Pacquiao, Richie is a southpaw. He too came from a family so impoverished his father Maximo says their hopes for better days are on the hands Richie. Richie, too, sees boxing as a way out of poverty.
The fourth son in a brood of six boys had to stop his studies, reaching only second year high school, to pursue his dreams of one day becoming a champion.
Mepranum turned professional in 2005 after amassing an impeccable amateur record that includes eight boxing gold medals, the last being the best in the flyweight division in the 2005 Palarong Pambansa in Iloilo City. After that gold-medal performance, he turned professional.
"I already lost track of the number of fights I had in my amateur days," Richie said in a pre-warm up interview inside the town gym in Maasim, Sarangani.
But he is quick to add that he already won 16 fights as a professional, marked only by a loss and a draw.
His manager and benefactor, Maasim mayor Aniceto Lopez Jr., however said both blemishes were controversial decisions. In 2006, he fought to a disputed draw against Efren Huesca in the undercard of the Pacquiao-Larios championship fight at the Araneta coliseum. Mayor Lopez, who was at the ringside, was fuming mad at the bum decision.
"Richie was clearly the winner," Lopez said.
His only loss came during his first, and so far, only bout abroad. That came via a controversial unanimous decision loss to Thailand's Denkaosan Kaovichit for the Pan Asian Boxing Association flyweight crown.
"I told my corner that I am already the champion after the final bell," he said. It was not meant to be. It was his opponent's hands that were raised after the fight. It was a bitter loss but it also strengthened his character and earned him the experience he needed.
Despite the disputed debacle, Mepranum proudly said that he made a good account of himself (still insisting he won). "Kaovichit was a good boxer. He once fought Eric Morel for the World Boxing Association flyweight crown losing by 11th round technical knockout. That was the only loss in the Thai's record," said his trainer-coach Art Advincula. Mayor Lopez said Richie has the traits and the makings of a champion.
"Very disciplined and he has no vices," the mayor said. Many American scouts have taken notice of Mepranum, according to Lopez.
Mepranum (L) battles ALA Gym's Rocky Fuentes at the Araneta Coliseum last year where he won by split decision.
Bobby Pacquiao awards a throphy to Mepranum in a recent fight in Maasim, Sarangani.
Mepranum is flanked by his manager Mayor Aniceto Lopez Jr.(left) and father Maxim.
American boxing manager Michael Koncz, who once served as sidekick to Pacquiao, reportedly wanted Mepranum brought to the US under his watch. But Mayor Lopez promptly declined the offer.
He said Richie needs more quality fights before the young kid embarks to a mission to win a world boxing crown.
A victory over Fundi could jumpstart his long journey to fame and glory.
Mepranum's biggest victory so far was an eight-round split decision victory over highly touted Rocky Fuentes, reigning Philippine flyweight champion (GAB version).
The victory proved Richie is for real and prompted others to take a second look at the shy boxer whose name, Mayor Lopez says, could be mistaken for a Thai or an Indonesian.
Richie may be unassuming but if he had his way, he would like to trade punches with crowd-pleaser and terrific Mexican boxer Jorge Arce, one of the best in the flyweight division in the world today.
Poverty was not the only motivation that pushed Richie to embark on a boxing career. At a tender age, his father already pushed all six of them to box instead of bumming around. It was Maximo's way of steering his kids away from vices. Soon, Richie was frequenting amateur cards put up by Mayor Lopez and in nearby towns during fiestas. He kept winning as a simonpure and was promptly taken into the stable of Lopez, an avid boxing aficionado.
"I used to accompany him during his amateur days. Now, I could no longer bear to see my son fight as a professional boxer," said Richie's father.
Of the six brothers, it was Richie who showed determination and the courage to pursue a career in boxing. "His elder brothers would cry whenever they got hit," Maximo said. Two of Richie's younger brothers, however, are following his son's footsteps at a tender age of 11 and 12 years old.
Today, Richie seldom stays at home. He only gets to briefly visit his parents during a lull in training. Mayor Lopez has put up a "bunkhouse" for both amateur and professional boxers under his stable.
"The local government partly finances their training and stipend. We get certain amount from their purses to augment their training and lodging expenses," Mayor Lopez said.
The mayor added that he has not taken a single centavo from his wards' purses for himself. Richie himself still lives a simple lifestyle. Whenever he wins, he would treat his friends and stable mates to dinner and snacks.
These days, his trainor-coach said they are working on strength and stamina to prepare Richie for bigger fights.
Richie's record may not be very impressive (only 7 knockout wins in 17 professional fights) but he packs power in both hands.
Richie's official GAB records show he has two losses but his coach said the other loss was courtesy of unscrupulous promoters who used Mepranum's name for another boxer in a fight in Thailand. That boxer lost.
Advincula could no longer recall the name of the promoter and the boxer who figured in that scam. It was investigated by the Games and Amusement Board and Richie and his manager was cleared over that mess.
While not flashy, his lateral movements and defense uncannily resemble Z Gorres fighting style and continues to wear that innocent smile even during the thick of his fight atop the ring.
Mayor Lopez said he will one day have to send Mepranum to the US to further hone up his skills. "I see a bright future in him," he said.
That would become a dream come true for Richie who said he would one day fight in Las Vegas and win a world boxing crown as did his idol, Manny Pacquiao.
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