WHO IS BAZOOKA?
Fri, 16 Nov 2007
For the Banal family, life had been very hard. At age 10, AJ “Bazooka” Banal and his family could not even afford to give him fare for a tricycle (motorcycle-driven cab) ride to school. Food had been difficult to get by, so they found a mix of edible oil, soy sauce, and a pinch of salt a constant companion to satisfy their hunger. At a very young age, he wondered if there would ever come a time that they would get out from abject poverty.
“Because of our poverty,” recounted Banal, “I felt great unease if I could not earn any money I could bring home to help my parents support the family.” Poverty created in Banal a hungry spirit.
With mind resolved to help his parents make ends meet, he carried cargoes in the marketplace, drove a “trisikad” (bicycle-driven cab) in early dawn, sell “puto”(rice cake) and repacked and sold plastic bags to fishermen. All these were done to earn a meager income of 50 pesos ($1.00) to buy food for the day.
Banal started his career in boxing through the encouragement of his uncle Roselito Campaña, a former ALA boxer. Campaña would regularly pair children in their neighborhood for a round of boxing along the street in Ermita, a hardy barangay in Cebu City. He fought taller and bigger adversaries, and relished fighting and defeating them.
In 1998, Banal joined the ALA team as an amateur boxer. Boxing patron Antonio “ALA” Aldeguer, who had been very active in local boxing, got Banal to fight his first amateur bout in the “Batang Pinoy,” a grass-root program of the Philippine Boxing Commission. At 28-kg weight, he won his first Bronze medal with a cash prize of P 2,000.
In 1999, Banal entered the 4th grade as a full-fledged amateur boxer under the ALA team. The training was rigorous, and he started to grow into a sturdy hard-hitting pugilist. He worked for money very early in the morning, joined the class during the day, and trains at the ALA Gym after school in the afternoon.
The year closed with Banal winning a gold medal in a Cebu City amateur boxing tournament and was awarded as the Best Boxer of the Year. In 2000, he won a gold medal for the Visayan regional elimination and earned a slot to represent Cebu City in the Palarong Pambansa. At a very young age, AJ “Bazooka” Banal became a 2-time Palarong Pambansa gold medalist and a 3-time National Youth Boxing champion. He was the youngest National Boxing Champion in the ALA Gym.
Banal turned professional in 2005, while still a junior high school student. With the guidance of ALA and his own mental toughness and physical discipline, he turned into a human specimen that Aldeguer had wanted him to develop into—strong, sturdy, and skillful.
His first professional fight came on June 11, 2005 against Sonny Saguing, a less capable but cunning fighter who survived the skirmish with a draw and a big cut in Banal’s brow due to an unintentional head butt. He shed tears in great disappointment. From then on, history tells: AJ “Bazooka” Banal never lost a fight.
For two years, Banal campaigned at home and kept his record unblemished with outstanding wins over OPBF highly ranked Ali Rochmad and Angky angota of Indonesia and Kaurith 3K Battery of Thailand. Then, the day came when Golden Boy Promotions provided the young Bazooka with his greatest break ever.
And, the Filipino super flyweight warrior stepped out into the world boxing arena to wow the crowd at MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA when he stood his ground against Mexican Juan Alberto Rosas, and defeated him by unanimous decision in the De la Hoya-Mayweather main card on May 5.
The heat of his firepower took another blast in the World Cup on August 11 in Sacramento, California when he floored Jorge Cardenas of Mexico in 0:28 of the 3rd round. Cardenas was never in the fight as the explosive Bazooka pummeled the hapless Mexican from corner to corner until he dropped him for good.
His latest conquest was for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Youth super flyweight title. Mexican Pacific Coast super flyweight champion Esau Gaona failed in his bid to snatch the crown when Banal knocked him out 0:68 in the first round with a thunderous straight to the jaw.
“Papa (father) always reminded me,” Banal said. “Do not be afraid. He said that I should fight as if my life is on the line. Every time I climb in the ring, I could hear him repeat and repeat that in my head. That kept me focused on demolishing my opponents.”
His father’s dream is to see AJ Banal become a world champion. A dream that he never lived to see come true. But somewhere, somehow he will come to see it. “My dream is to make my father’s dream come true,” concluded Banal.
AJ “Bazooka” Banal, says two-time Trainer of the Year Freddie Roach, “is the best young prospect in the world.”
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