Philippines, 29 May 2024
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World rated bantamweight Filipino fighter AJ ?Bazooka? Banal has so obviously improved his boxing skills, physical conditioning and mental attitude that many of his fans now wonder if a rematch with Panama's Rafael ?El Torito? Concepcion is really necessary.

Facing the unbeaten much taller heavy puncher Mexican Mario Briones (20-0-1, 16 KOs), Banal quickly displayed the necessary speed and ring-smart moves required to decisively control his foe, who is an owner of Latin American regional boxing titles.

Indeed, AJ?s victory last weekend over undefeated the tough Mexican Briones is clear indicator of the top fighting level that Banal has achieved as his performance in Bacolod was near flawless.

Near flawless because during the still early stages of the fight top referee Mr. Bruce McTavish correctly deducted a point from Banal for his non-intentional low blows on the Mexican.

Banal has never been a dirty fighter and was already beginning to control the combat. So how come low blows?

An explanation could be that during those early rounds Banal was still adjusting to the formidable height and style of his opponent Mario Briones, who is an extremely tall bantamweight, indeed the tallest fighter AJ has ever faced.

Those under the belt blows were not intentional. But in boxing a low blow is a low blow and must be penalized. Therefore, AJ's trainers should work on correcting this mistake as a single one point in a close fight could be decisive between defeat of glory.

Photos by Carlos Costa.

In addition, ?Bazooka? made good use of his southpaw fighting stance to carry on surprising attacks that landed on-target on the lanky Briones. And to top it, Banal did not wasted nor miss many punches. Nevertheless, the Mexican did not cease to be a dangerous man with the mission to blow away Banal with a KO punch. But the 22-year-old Bazooka Banal did not give that chance to the Mexican as the Filipino's defense, reflexes and focus were too sharp.

However, even with better boxing skills, jabs, speed and better fighting style from the distance, Banal did not back away from close quarters toe-to-toe war.

Most notably, during the last rounds with the fight practically won by points, Banal ventured into a blow-by-blow, mano-y-mano fist festival rumble with the Mexican showing guts and a true warrior's heart, a stance that excited the audience present at the Gym of the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod.

Also in these moments of short distance fight Banal prevailed.
Moreover, the old concerns of Banal's lack of stamina should not be on the discussion anymore.

Up to the last second of war, AJ displayed perfect physical conditioning and abundant resource of oxygen and energy in his system.

Despite his obvious disadvantage in reach and height, it was Banal?s jabs, right hooks and well performed accurate combinations the ones that kept scoring valuable points throughout the 12-rounds combat.

As a result, the judges's verdict was a well-deserved unanimous decision in favor of the Cebuano kid.

Though round 10 might have been the only round dropped by Banal. All others were boxing lessons to the kababayan of Erik Morales.

Banal?s defense was equally brilliant as Briones, the owner of good power punch, was never able to land power punches that could get the Filipino in trouble. As evidence, at the end of the combat the face of Banal was without signs of the intense 12 rounds while Briones face reflected the punishment received.

Overall, Briones showed strength, and willingness to catch the Filipino with a good blows so as to get the Asia-Pacific belt to Zacatecas. But his good boxing skills were no match for Cebuano.

Right before our eyes Banal has transformed himself from a "Bazooka" type of power fighter to a more complete boxer whose boxing technique keep on getting better.

That's why today Banal?s dramatic lost to Concepcion in 2008 seems now almost forgotten, just a part of the learning process, as thoughts and focus must be now in the future possibility of a world title shot.

To delight of his ever growing number of fans, Banal's good training, mental toughness and commitment to succeed in boxing are paying off so well that Bazooka Banal is becoming one of the most popular fighters in the Philippines.


AJ Banal (26-1-1, 19KO's) is currently the # 2 Bantamweight in the World.

While the # 1 rated bantamweight (118 lbs) is Thailand's 23-year-old Pungluang Sor Singyu (38-1, 26 KO's) who is the Asia-Pacific Youth champion. Pungluang destroyed Filipino Marvin Tampus just last August in Phetchaburi.

Philboxing was present at the Pungluang vs Tampus fight and witnessed a very good Pungluang, owner of a powerful jab and acceptable skills. But Pungluang is not as fast, crafty and smart as Cebu's AJ Banal.

Banal and Pungluang are about the same height.

The # 1 Pungluang is promoted and handled by the gentle Thai lady Ms. Pariyakorn of the the prestigious OneSongchai Boxing and Muay Thai Promotions in The Kingdom of Thailand.

The unified bantamweight world champion is Nonito Donaire Jr. (26-1, 18 KOs) who plans to move up to the super bantamweight division to face popular Mexican world champion veteran Jorge ?El Travieso? Arce (58-6-2, 45KO's) of Los Mochis, Sinaloa.

Banal is also the WBA # 5, WBC # 10 and IBF # 4

Should ?Bazooka?'s handlers opt to go back in time to face again old foe Rafael ?El Torito? Concepcion or plan for a future world title shot after Nonito Donaire moves up in class, AJ Banal seems to have on his side the boxing skills to win.

The Cebuano kid AJ ?Bazooka? Banal is now a top level dangerous bantamweight who has developed the calm, fighting ability and focus required to become a world champion.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Carlos Costa.

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