What if A Young Manny Pacquiao Did Not Bypass the Bantamweights (Part 2)
By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
Thu, 16 Jul 2020
Ayala (R) and Tapia, June 26, 1999 in Las Vegas.
Possibilities and Possible Title Opponents
Saddled by weight problems at flyweight, Manny Pacquiao after losing his world title by an upset stoppage to Medgoen Singsurat decided to move ten pounds up to the super bantamweight or junior featherweight division by mid 2000.
In the process, he bypassed two weight classes namely the super flyweight and the bantamweight with limits of 115 lbs and 118 lbs, respectively.
The super flyweight was definitely not an option as being just three pounds above the flyweight class, making the limit there would be as problematic for Manny. That precluded any possible meetings with champions there at around that time as Mark Johnson, Leo Gamez and In Jin Cho (conqueror of Gerry Peñalosa).
The bantamweight could have been an option as it is six pounds above where Manny last fought in which would suit his growing and maturing body for the meantime.
But any stint or stay had to be for a short period of time before Manny again encounter major weight problem. And had to be worthwhile, meaning a possible immediate shot at any of the world title there.
However, it had to be considered that Manny's reputation that was boosted by his title victory over Chatchai Sasakul in December 1998 was shattered by his September 1999 title defeat to Singsurat.
Hence, he had to earn a title shot by fighting against somebody with a name or through his then new promoter Murad Muhammad pulling some strings to immediately land a title fight for him.
As what actually happened, Manny fought and kayoed Reynante Jamili for the WBC international title in his super bantamweight debut in 2000 immediately creating a ripple.
To gain ranking and a title shot, Manny could have fought fellow Pinoy veteran Jess Maca for the OPBF and PABA titles long held by Maca. Maca also had recently fought and lost only by decision to Sahaprom.
But the latter option would have been the preferred avenue as at the time, Murad was an emerging big name promoter in the US and his wife, Miriam was connected with the WBO.
It was Murad who actually gave Manny his first big break after losing his flyweight title by pitting him against Lehlo Lebwaba for the IBF super bantamweight title in June 2001.
So Murad getting an immediate title shot for Manny at bantamweight against any of the then reigning champions namely Thai Veeraphol Sahaprom (WBC) and especially Americans Paulie Ayala (WBA) and Tim Austin (IBF) was a possibility.
He could have even lobbied for Manny to fight for the WBO title vacated by Johnny Tapia against Panamanian Mauricio Martinez through his wife, Miriam.
Possible Title Opponents
But first, let us have a brief review of the profiles of Manny's potential would have been title opponents.
Veerapol Sahaprom entered professional boxing in 1994 and challenged for a title for the first time in only his fourth fight as a professional, defeating fellow Thai fighter Daorung Chuvatana for the WBA super flyweight belt. However, Sahaprom lost his first defense against former WBC Super Flyweight Champion Nana Konadu at home, losing his title in only four months.
Three years after losing his WBA world title, Sahaprom got his second world title shot against WBC Bantamweight Champion Joichiro Tatsuyoshi on December 29, 1998. The fight took place in Osaka, Japan, and Sahaprom won by knockout in the 6th round, becoming world champion for the second time. Sahaprom fought Tatsuyoshi again in August, 1999, knocking him out in the 7th round for his second defense of the title.
Sahaprom defended his title 14 times from 1996 to 2005, winning numerous non-title fights in between. He also fought Japanese boxer Toshiaki Nishioka four times during his reign, retaining his title in every single fight. Sahaprom finally lost his title to Hozumi Hasegawa in a 12-round unanimous decision. He held the WBC Bantamweight Title for over six years.
At the beginning of 1998, Paulie Ayala was very close to a world championship bout. Fighting two more bouts, he received his first chance at a world title by becoming the mandatory contender for the WBC belt. Ayala then traveled to Japan to challenge WBC bantamweight champion Joichiro Tatsuyoshi on August 23. Ayala lost the fight by a sixth-round technical decision when the fight was stopped due to a cut. During the fight, an accidental clash of heads caused a cut and Ayala was docked 2 points. The fight was stopped in round seven due to the severity of the cut, sending the decision to the scorecards and thereby handing victory to Tatsuyoshi.
Unable to secure a rematch with Tatsuyoshi, Ayala nonetheless got his second chance at becoming a world champion, this time against WBA bantamweight champion Johnny Tapia. The fight took place in Las Vegas on June 26. Ayala handed Tapia his first career loss and became world champion by winning a twelve-round unanimous decision, in what turned out to be both Ayala's Showtime debut and The Ring magazine's Fight of the Year for 1999.
Ayala retained his title against WBA #1 contender Sithai Condo before the end of that year, earning The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year honours. In his second title defense, he defeated Johnny Bredahl via twelve-round decision. On October 7, 2000, Ayala and Tapia met in a rematch for the vacant IBA featherweight title, at a catchweight of 124 lbs. As with the first fight, this took place on Showtime. Due to Tapia being unable to make the bantamweight limit, Ayala's WBA bantamweight title was not at stake. Ayala defeated Tapia once again by a twelve-round unanimous decision, a result which was seen as controversial.
On March 30, 2001, Ayala recovered from a fourth-round knockdown to retain his WBA bantamweight title with a twelve-round decision against Hugo Dianzo in an ESPN telecast bout. He would later vacate his title to move up to the junior featherweight where he would win a minor world title against Bones Adams. He would later move to the featherweights where he would lose by decision to Erik Morales and by knockout to Marco Antonio Barrera.
A former amateur standout known as "Cincinnati Kid", Austin won the IBF Bantamweight title by halting Mbulelo Botile in 1997. He successfully defended his title against nine fighters, the most prominent was fellow American Arthur Johnson before losing to Rafael Marquez by an 8th-round technical knockout in 2003.
A knockout artist, Austin would lose only two fights in his entire pro career but both by knockout.
In 1995 Martínez successfully started his professional career. On September 4, 2000, he boxed against Lester Fuentes for the vacant WBO world title and won by 5th round knockout. He made only one defense of his belt against Esham Pickering before losing the title to Mexican boxer Cruz Carbajal. He lost 6 of his last 7 fights and ended up retiring in 2012.
How would have Manny fared had he fought any of them in a world title bout at bantamweight? We will discuss that in the concluding part of this feature series.
To be continued...
The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at email@example.com and by phone 09215309477.
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