Philippines, 02 Mar 2021
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Five PHL pugs gun for final slots today

Eumir Felix Marcial aims for a final slot in today's SEA Games action.

It’s a day of reckoning for five Philippine boxers who will enter the ring at the PICC Forum to battle in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games semifinals this afternoon, hoping for a win to fight for the gold.

Two of the five boxers are in the women’s division. Lightflyweight Josie Gabuco takes on Vietnam’s Trinh Thi Diem Kieu while bantamweight Aira Villegas faces Thailand’s Techasuep Nilawan. In the men’s division, lightflyweight Carlo Paalam engages Malaysia’s Mohammad Fuad Mohammad Redzuan, bantamweight Ian Clark Bautista tests Thailand’s Chatchai Butdee and middleweight Eumir Marcial meets Malaysia’s Che Azmi Mohammad Aswan.

Each semifinalist is assured of a bronze medal but the window is open for a chance to go for gold. For the Philippines, the goal is to collect as many golds as possible from the 13 events in boxing to add to the total harvest in the race for the overall championship in the 11-nation conclave. Of the 10 countries participating in boxing, only the Philippines has entries in all 13 events as a privilege of the host nation. The limit of entries for the other countries is 10.

Gabuco, 32, beat Thailand’s Raksat Chuthailandmat, 4-1, last Wednesday to advance to the semis. Raksat defeated Gabuco on a third round stoppage at the 2014 China Open so the four-time SEA Games gold medalist’s win was particularly sweet. Gabuco, the 2012 world champion, has been on a roll this year, winning gold at the Strandja Memorial Tournament in Bulgaria, the Asian Championships in Bangkok and the Indian Open in Guwahati.

Trinh, 28, set up the showdown with Gabuco by outpointing Laos’ Chantilath Daomayuly, 5-0 last Wednesday. This year, Trinh took the bronze medal at the World Military Games in Wuhan and captured the gold at the Vietnamese Women’s Championships.

ABAP president Ricky Vargas said Gabuco was under the weather in beating Raksat. “She nursed a fever the night before and fought sick with cough and a running nose,” he said. “I asked her not to fight as I didn’t want her to get hurt or embarrassed. She cried at the thought of being asked not to fight. Josie gave it her all and won. I sent her back to the hotel right after so she can rest. The fight against Raksat was her toughest. She’ll continue fighting.”

Villegas, 24, trounced Laos’ Vongphachan Vilayphone, 5-0, last Wednesday to book her spot in the semis. She’s up against Nilawan who was moved down from featherweight to avoid a collision with Filipina world champion Nesthy Petecio. Nilawan, 26, won the gold at the Box-Am Women’s Tournament in Spain and finished second at the Asian Championships in Bangkok. It’s likely the winner of the bout will move on to clinch the gold.

Bautista, 25, drew a bye in the opening round and will be severely challenged by Butdee, a 2012 Olympian and three-time SEA Games gold medalist. Butdee, 34, was a picture of excellence in crushing Indonesia’s Jill Mandagie last Wednesday and is picked to win his fourth gold. A win over Butdee will virtually guarantee Bautista the gold.

Marcial, 24, shouldn’t find it difficult to hurdle Aswan. He’s coming off a silver finish at the World Championships in Yekaterinburg, Russia and his confidence is sky-high. Aswan, 21, is the reigning Malaysian National Cup and Golden Gloves champion. He has never fought outside Southeast Asia and the lack of experience will be a factor. Both fighters drew byes in the first round. Marcial, a hard-hitting southpaw, is expected to bag the gold with only five fighters in the 75 kg division and no Thai participant.

Thailand Boxing Association president Pichai Chunhavajira has predicted a haul of at least five gold medals with Cuban coach Juan Fontanills. Butdee is one of Thailand’s gold prospects. Fontanills was Thailand’s coach at the 1994 and 1998 Asian Games and the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He was responsible for featherweight Somluck Kamsing and flyweight Winjun Ponlid becoming Olympic gold medalists.

Fontanills isn’t the only Cuban coach in the SEA Games. Rolando Castellano, 46, is with the Cambodian team. He retired from boxing at 21 because of an eye injury and has lived in Cambodia since 2010. Barbaro Fernandez, 54, is in his second tour of duty with Indonesia and was once the Iranian team coach. The Philippines used to work with Cuban coaches Raul Fernandez, Juan Enrique Steyners Tissert, Dagoberto Rojas Scott, Honorato Espinosa and Pedro Pacheco. Now, the Philippine team has an Australian coaching consultant Don Abnett.

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

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