An unprecedented number of Filipino boxers will be featured on the Top Rank Promotions fight card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 8 (December 9 in Manila).
Led by Manny Pacquiao who is determined to put an end to the controversies surrounding his three previous encounters with four-division Mexican champion Juan Manuel Marquez in an eagerly anticipated showdown, four other Filipino boxers will see action including undefeated Mercito "No Mercy" Gesta who will battle Mexico's Miguel Vazquez for his International Boxing Federation lightweight title.
Other Filipino fighters on the undercard are southpaw Michael Farenas, a protégé of former two-division world champion Gerry Penalosa who takes on undefeated Cuban star Yuriorkis Gamboa in a WBA super featherweight interim title fight, Philippine welterweight champion Dennis Laurente who clashes with American Kenny Abril over ten rounds and undefeated Dodie Boy Penalosa, Jr., son of the former two division world champion Dodie Boy Penalosa, Sr. whose opponent hasn't been named yet.
In a rare twist all five Filipinos are southpaws, which is somewhat of an edge that they seem to cultivate.
With five Filipinos on the card, it reflects the growing competitiveness of Filipino fighters on the international boxing scene and the reality that they are an attraction.
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It would also appear to indicate the powerful influence Pacquiao and his MP Promotions has over Bob Arum with whom they have a tacit agreement that any Filipino who fights on a Top Rank card where Pacquiao is featured especially, must go through Pacquiao's promotional outfit where the scheduling is handled by his adviser Michael Koncz who is himself close to Arum.
This is the reason why talented fighters from ALA Promotions can't get a slot on a Top Rank card with the sole exception being WBO super bantamweight champion Nonito "The Filipino Flash" Donaire who hasn't been featured on a Pacquiao card but headlines Top Rank fight cards banking on his own indisputable talent which, as of today, has him ranked No. 5 in the prestigious Ring Magazine pound for pound rankings.
No question, the biggest attraction next Saturday will be Pacquiao while Gesta's crack at a world title will surely draw considerable attention.
Farenas, Laurente and Dodie Boy Penalosa, Jr. may be considered essential ingredients to an attractive package that is expected to draw a sell-out crowd as indicated by ticket sales which have always done particularly well even if Pacquiao was the sole Filipino on the card.
In his last sparring session at the Wild Card Gym on Saturday, Pacquiao recovered convincingly from a somewhat lackluster showing on Thursday when observers noted he took too many punches from the rugged Frankie Gomez.
On Saturday, as he often does, Pacquiao turned things around in an exciting fashion. With one week to go before he takes on Marquez, strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza told us "Manny looks good, looks sharp and definitely looks ready to go."
With his charming wife Jinkee among the onlookers, Pacquiao got back at Gomez in a few torrid exchanges during four rounds of sparring before going another four rounds with one of the Roman twins.
In Ariza's studied view, Pacquiao "knows what he wants to do in his head. I'm sure he does. Go in there, target this guy (Marquez) , keep pushing, pushing, pressure, pressure. Don't let this guy think."
He recalled that legendary Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr. recently advised him that Pacquiao should return to being " a street fighter and let his hands go."
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He believes the problem with Manny is "he thinks too much and when he does some things he gives Marquez time. But when Manny loosens up and lets it go, Marquez looks lost. He didn't know what to do at times. That's Manny Pacquiao."
Chavez said, "You don't know what he's doing when he throws so many punches. You don't have time to figure and set up a counter punch because it's boom-boom-boom and its coming from everywhere."
Ariza quoted Chavez as telling him, "When Manny Pacquiao lets his hands go I don't believe there is anybody who can deal with that."
Meantime, fight fans and onlookers reported that Pacquiao was a smash hit as the Top Rank crew broadcast "live" on a seven stories tall screen in Times Square in New York City, an unprecedented training session of Pacquiao last Friday from the Wild Card Gym.
Although he has racked up an unbeaten streak against several Mexican fighters, "No Mercy" Gesta hasn't really faced a top-level fighter but is considered by his trainer and co-manager Vince Parra to be capable of winning the world title when he clashes with Mexican IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez.
The lanky Vazquez is rangy and awkward and seldom likes to engage which is something Parra says Gesta will force him to do by cutting off the ring and being aggressive from the opening bell.
He expects Gesta to use his power to dominate the fight and should he find an opportunity, go for a knockout.
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Parra told Yahoo! Philippines he couldn't have asked for more from Gesta in training. He said "he put in an effort like I've never seen since being involved with him in his last ten fights. I am extremely confident in our preparations. He has had great sparring, great focus and condition-wise he is in the best shape of his life."
One of his key sparring partners was undefeated Cuban Rances Barthelemy (17-0, 11 KO's) who is a 5'10" talent. Gesta is not going to have an easy time against Vazquez whose only two defeats were at the hands of reigning WBO welterweight champion Timothy " Desert Storm" Bradley and WBC light middleweight champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez both of which were ten round decision losses.
Despite the confidence of Gerry Penalosa, most fight pundits believe Farenas is out of his depth against the classy Cuban Gamboa although Gamboa's layoff of over one year could prove to be a plus for Farenas.
Laurente is a tough although plodding 35-year-old but his American opponent Abril doesn't have the most impressive of records at 13-5-1 with 7 knockouts which seems to favor the experienced Laurente who has a string of victories against such notable fighters as Rashad Holloway, a former sparring partner of Pacquiao, and Ayi Bruce of Ghana whom he beat by a 7th round TKO.
Penalosa, Jr. is a talented fighter with quick hands and reasonable power but at this point it's hard to assess his chances since his opponent is not yet known.
At least if nothing else, featuring five Filipino fighters on one card in Las Vegas sends a message that the country, thanks mainly to Manny Pacquiao, is a force to reckon with in the boxing capital of the world.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.