By Tracy Morin
Photos: Alma Montiel
The WBC festivities continued in Manila, Philippines on Sunday with a day packed full of seminars and meetings, a WBC Cares excursion and a six-bout fight card in the evening.
The day started with Malte Muller-Michaelis, WBC women’s championship committee chairman, reviewing ratings and mandatories for all female weight categories, from heavyweight to atomweight. Several of the champions were in attendance: Alicia Ashley (super bantamweight), Jelena Mrdjenovich (featherweight), Raja Amasheh (Diamond super flyweight); Franchon Crews Dezurn (super middleweight), Kenia Enriquez (Interim junior flyweight) and Fabiana Bytyqi (bantamweight). Melissa St. Vil, former WBC silver featherweight champion; Sulem Urbina, an up-and-coming flyweight; and Erica Farias, super lightweight, were also present for the session. The WBC, after hearing Enriquez’s plea for a match against Yesenia Gomez, have ordered that fight to take place.
As separate seminars for judges, referees and Muay Thai training raged on throughout the day, other speakers filled out the main morning session: Misty Williams described the WBC Youth program, designed to be a stepping stone for young fighters so they may ascend to rankings and eventually major titles—which Bytyqi herself took advantage of before nabbing the world championship. Brenda Andress, CEO of She Is, spoke about her worldwide organization’s mission to unite female athletes across all sports and to encourage better TV ratings and attendance, thereby encouraging equal pay. Trainer Dominik Junge and active champion Alicia Ashley, who now trains fighters in China, spoke about the differences in preparing men and women boxers for the fight game. And Christiane Manzur, WBC Cares chairperson and wife of WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, introduced a program for boxers in which they can sell WBC merchandise to help finance their fight careers and help support its charitable arm, WBC Cares.
Finally, Mo Noor, executive secretary of WBC Cares, discussed anti-doping and the WBC Clean Boxing Program. Though it’s agreed that random testing is the best way to determine the cleanliness of athletic participants, it is also very costly for the WBC, which funds the program for boxers who sign up to be tested randomly—anywhere, anytime. Still, Noor wants to make the program a bigger part of women’s boxing as well (some are already enrolled) and also noted that anyone can use its free online tool to check for banned substances on a regularly updated list.
After tackling these key subjects, attendees were treated to a more lighthearted interlude as some of the boxers in attendance took to the ring to demonstrate fundamental techniques, with Ashley making notes on proper basics for training. Afterward, Junge demonstrated his painstaking method of hand wrapping, perfected over 30 years as a trainer.
Following a brief lunch, a field trip to a WBC Cares partner filled the group with inspiration and admiration for those fighting against an altogether different type of opponent. The Tuloy sa Don Bosco Street Children Village, an orphanage in the Alabang region of Manila, offers a shining example of hope for young children and teens who would otherwise be subject to life on the streets: orphans, abuse victims, or those who have been abandoned or whose parents are imprisoned. Father Marciano “Rocky” G. Evangelista (sporting the perfect name for a boxing-oriented visit) oversees this incredible institution, which cares for 1,000 children with life-saving programs such as education, housing and job training. There was barely a dry eye in the group when the children welcomed the group with song and dance routines, all baring wide smiles as they find success in turning their lives around. The WBC donated a bevy of boxes with essential supplies like food and toiletries, and gave Evangelista a mini belt and medal for his tireless work (the kids, too, received numerous WBC goodies, including boxing glove keychains and patches).
At night, a six-bout card, dubbed “The Big Challenge,” thrilled the crowd gathered in Manila’s Philippine International Convention Center. The event blended male and female, Muay Thai and boxing, for a night of action. In the two opening Muay Thai contests, Rudsma Abubakar (11-3) fairly easily defeated Ruth Gambican (10-2) in a three-round fight, while Jason Vedana (19-4) and Danai Wasan (21-6) put on a hotly contested and often brutal display until the fight was stopped due to cuts in the fourth. Though Wasan was declared the winner by TKO as blood streamed from Vedana’s head, nose and eyebrow, each fighter found their share of success—and took plenty of punishment—over the truncated but action-packed bout.
The boxing portion opened with a six-round fight for the vacant WBC Asia female super flyweight title, between Carlean Rivas (6-6-4) and Gretel de Paz (5-4-1, 2 KO). De Paz started out busier in the first three rounds and seemed to stun Rivas in a dominant third, but Rivas showed she could take the punches and come firing back, coming on strong in the second half of the fight and landing clean punches during frequent trades that stirred the crowd. After the seesaw battle, judges declared the fight a majority draw.
Southpaw Xiang Li (5-2-1, 2 KO) simply didn’t find the target often or consistently enough to break down Jonathan Almacen (5-2-2, 1 KO) in a battle for the vacant WBC Continental Asia minumumweight title. Almacen’s superior footwork allowed him to slip away from punches—especially helpful after a head clash opened a cut over Almacen’s right eye in the first round. However, the cut never became a factor, even around the middle of the eight-rounder, when Li started to become bolder in his attack. Almacen ultimately carried more of the rounds and cruised to a unanimous victory, with scores of 77-74 (twice) and 78-73.
Women stepped back into the ring for the final fight before the main event, this time for the vacant WBC Asia female bantamweight title. Though Urvashi Singh (3-1, 3 KO) toted an undefeated record, she never could find her distance or rhythm against the more experienced, taller and rangier Phannaluk Kongsang (5-6-1, 2 KO), who showed calm and patience throughout. While Kongsang tended to throw in combinations (even though often catching only gloves), Singh struggled to close the distance and typically threw one punch at a time. Though the fight wasn’t grossly one-sided and Singh landed a few effective power shots, it was somewhat surprising that Urvashi got the nod on one scorecard—overruled by the other two judges, giving Kongsang the split decision win.
Finally, Wuzhati Nuerlang (11-2, 9 KO) and Azizbek Abdugofurov (11-0, 4 KO) squared off for the latter’s WBC Silver world super middleweight championship. Abdugofurov, following Golovkin’s lead with an initial-inspired nickname (AAA, or Triple A), worked very well at the outset, especially with punches often overlooked: intense body shots and uppercuts. Nuerlang started off much slower, starting to heat up toward the middle of the fight, but the power factor was clearly in Abdugofurov’s favor. However, Nuerlang, once he got going, gained momentum, culminating in rounds 8 through 10, when he suddenly became a come-forward bulldog, pinning Abdugofurov against the ropes and trying to tee off, just as Abdugofurov’s output had slowed. Abdugofurov made a bit of a comeback in the championship rounds, returning to the body work that had been so successful early on, and seemed to regain control as he moved his back off the ropes and back to center ring. Ultimately, Nuerlang had not done enough (in enough rounds) to score the win, with judges turning in scores of 117-111, 118-111 and 118-112, all for Abdugofurov.
After the final fight wrapped, convention attendees headed to dinner with live song and dance performances, followed by a karaoke and talent night. The convention concludes tomorrow, Monday, with an exclusive boat trip to Corrigido Island and a poolside luau party.