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Gringo dedicates title fight to late dad


PhilBoxing.com




Over a year ago, WBC No. 9 minimumweight contender Melvin Jerusalem’s father Bienvenido died at the age of 47 in his sleep in Bukidnon. Jerusalem was in Cebu when it happened, training for a fight against Mark Anthony Florida in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental. He asked ALA Boxing CEO Tony Aldeguer for permission to take a leave and attend his father’s funeral. Aldeguer said he would reschedule the fight.

Jerusalem left for Bukidnon then called Aldeguer to confirm he would go on with the fight against Florida because that was his father’s wish. The bout went on as scheduled two weeks later and Jerusalem won by a technical knockout in the seventh round.

On Jan. 29, Jerusalem will challenge unbeaten WBC 105-pound champion Wanheng Menayothin in Phitsanulok, Thailand, in his first fight against a foreigner and his first overseas outing. He’s dedicating the fight to his father who used to earn a living as a single-motor driver picking up passengers for a fee of P10 to P20, depending on the destination.

“I’m fighting because of my father,” said Jerusalem in Pilipino. “He encouraged me to become a world champion to take care of our family. He was excited about my fight against Florida because it was my first 10-rounder and he planned to watch me. I don’t know what was the cause of his death. All I know is he died in his sleep.” Jerusalem is the third of six children. His older brother used to box but now he’s married and working at the Del Monte pineapple plantation with their mother Miraluna. Another brother Gilbert is set to turn pro.
****

Jerusalem said boxing wasn’t on his mind until his friends brought him to the gym to try his luck with coach Ronald Dalulu. “I was 13 years old,” he recalled. “Once I started boxing, I enjoyed it. My father said I could become a world champion.” Jerusalem logged over 100 amateur fights, capping his career with a silver at the Philippine National Games. He finished up to third year of high school and wound up with the ALA stable in Cebu.


Melvin Jerusalem (R) connects with a right against grizzled veteran Fabio Marfa during Jerusalem's last outing on Nov. 26, 2016 in Mandaue City.

“I’ve studied Wanheng’s style on video,” he said. “I’ve watched about 10 of his fights. I’m ready for him. He likes to come forward so if he does, I’ll be waiting to counter. I’ll fight him close. He’s not a jabber. Maybe, at the start, I’ll counter then later, I’ll move in. I know this is for the world title but I’m not putting pressure on myself. My mindset is this is just another fight I have to win. I’m not thinking about my first fight abroad or my first fight against a foreigner. My focus is to train hard so when the fight starts, I’m prepared to win. This fight is for my father.”

Jerusalem said he has a girlfriend Christine waiting in Bukidnon but they haven’t seen each other since July. He’s not even thinking about visiting her in Bukidnon after the fight. At the moment, the only thing on his mind is training for Wanheng.

“Melvin is very dedicated,” said Villamor. “He’s not thinking of anything except the fight. Maybe, after the fight, he’ll go home to visit his family and girlfriend. We’ll wait for what happens in the fight.”
****

Jerusalem said he looks up to ALA stablemates like Donnie Nietes, Milan Melindo and the Pagara brothers but his all-time idol is Japan’s WBO minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama. Villamor said Jerusalem treasures a picture he has with Takayama that was taken when the Japanese trained at the ALA Gym.

“Takayama is 5-2 like Melvin,” said Villamor. “What Melvin likes about Takayama is even if he’s small, he finds a way to beat bigger fighters. Melvin is like Takayama. They’re both in-and-out fighters. They’re very flexible only Melvin is awkward which I think is an advantage because you don’t know where his punches will come from. Melvin fights with a lot of heart.”

Jerusalem and Wanheng have fought three common opponents----Florante Condes, Jonathan Refugio and Crison Omayao. Jerusalem beat Condes via a majority eight-round decision while Wanheng won over the former IBF minimumweight ruler by a unanimous 12-round verdict. Refugio was floored once and lost to Jerusalem on points but was stopped by Wanheng in nine. Jerusalem halted Omayao with a body shot in the second round while Wanheng decisioned Omayao in 12. Based on their performance against common opponents, the fight could go either way.

Villamor said he’s watched the videos of Wanheng’s fights against Condes, Refugio and Omayao and he’s convinced Jerusalem has a 50-50 chance of scoring an upset over the Thai veteran. Jerusalem turned pro in 2014, seven years after Wanheng, and has logged only 11 fights to the Thai’s 44. Both are undefeated. Jerusalem has a KO rate of 64 percent compared to Wanheng’s 39 percent. The Thai is favored to win because of his experience and the hometown advantage. But Jerusalem is motivated, highly-skilled and stronger. “I’ll give it my all to win,” said the man called Gringo.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.


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