Category Archives: ALA Boxing

Aldeguer looks ahead to 2017 and beyond

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Michael Aldeguer (center) receiving the award in the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards with (from left) Jun Migallen, John Pages, Manny Pacquiao, Jingo Quijano and Raffy Osumo

Pinoy Pride has become too big a show for the true boxing fans in the provinces, said Michael Pastrano Aldeguer, the president and CEO of ALA Promotions.

That’s quite a revelation. Having concluded its 39th edition last November, the “Pinoy Pride” brand has become synonymous with tremendous success. Why mess with it?

But Michael Aldeguer — the first Asian promoter to organize boxing events in the U.S. — is realistic and forthright.

“Pinoy Pride will be for the bigger fights in the bigger cities around the world,” he said.

Ever since the ALA gym was founded by Antonio Lopez Aldeguer in 1985 — whose mission then and now continues to be training aspiring boxers, including the out-of-school youth, to become the best that they can be (including becoming world champions) — the ALA group has continued to evolve and prosper.

NEW FOR 2017. “We are looking to launch different events all over the country and abroad,” Michael Aldeguer said. “We will continue to provide an avenue for prospects all over Philippines and the world as we are working on bringing back the smaller events to connect more to the fans.”

There’ll expand a new feature called “Fists of the Future,” which they launched in San Mateo, California last July. It will continue under the “ALA Stars on Tour” brand.

“It will be smaller than Pinoy Pride and will be held in smaller cities around the Philippines and the U.S.,” he said. “We saw the potential of growing our U.S. events in the coming years; but the plan for 2017 is to go more to the provinces around the Philippines as there are a lot of talents that need to be showcased.”

ALA Boxing’s “IDOL” will also remain. “IDOL will be our grassroots program that will provide young fighters an avenue to fight and develop their potential,” Aldeguer said. “The TV show Pinoy Pride is consistently one of the top Sunday shows. This proves that our market is growing. Filipinos will always have a healthy appetite for boxing. As long as ALA Promotions and ABS-CBN continue to do its part, Phil. boxing will soar.”

To Michael Aldeguer, today is the best era for boxing.

“Manny (Pacquiao) is back as world champion and looking great,” he said. “Philippine boxing has four world champions and one interim world champion. It could have been six if Donnie Nietes didn’t vacate his title to move up in weight but he will be fighting for a world title this year.”

MMA FOR ALA? “ALA Promotions is officially ALA Sports Promotions International, Inc. (ASPI),” Aldeguer said. “We’re not an exclusive promoter of boxing, however focused we are to the sport. It will always be our top priority but this does not mean we are not open to expanding and supporting other fields. I believe the upsurge of MMA helps people appreciate the athletes and sports, in general, including boxing, therefore raising awareness leading to the respect that these unique professionals deserve.”

INSPIRATION. “Boxing is a part of the life of every Filipino since the time of Pancho Villa to Flash Elorde to Manny Pacquiao,” he said. “From the beginning, it has been ALA Boxing’s commitment to help sustain and grow the sport as a means of helping underprivileged kids achieve their dreams. While it’s true that not all who go into boxing succeed the way Pacquiao and Nietes have, ALA Boxing believes that there is a future for the sport.”

Aldeguer spoke about the beginnings of both Pacman and Ahas.

“We can draw inspiration from their stories. Boxing has helped improve their lives and their families. Pacquiao left home and turned to boxing at the young age of 14 because of poverty. Nietes came to Cebu to work as a janitor for ALA Gym before he turned to boxing,” he said.

“We hope to continue working towards supporting the stability and growth of boxing. We can do this by creating more avenues for both the new and experienced fighters; this will bring their dreams closer to reality and build a stronger future for Philippine boxing.”

Michael Aldeguer looks back at 2016

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Of the three sons of Antonio and Lou Aldeguer, it’s the middle child Michael who took after his dad in pursuing a life that’s dedicated to sports.

As president of ALA Promotions, Michael has been an aggressor. If he were a boxer, he’s not a counterpuncher but one who’s offense-minded, always moving forward, jabbing and attacking. To date, ALA Promotions is now on its 39th edition of the Pinoy Pride series.

I’ve known Michael since we were in high school. He studied in Sacred Heart and I dribbled as CIS point guard and we faced each other many times on the parquet floor. As the year ended last week, I asked Michael to revisit 2016 and to look forward to 2017 (Part 2 will appear on Sunday).

“The year 2016 was a successful year for ALA Promotions,” said Michael. “We partnered with the biggest promoters in the industry, Top Rank and Mexico’s Zanfer, and worked with a new sponsor, Tecate.”

While tracing its roots in Cebu and contuining their tradition of holding promotions at home (in April, it was an overflowing crowd at the Cebu City Sports Center and, last Nov., at the Cebu Coliseum), the ALA brand has gone international. Michael is proudest of the impact the fighters have accomplished in America.

“We staged more shows that our fellow Filipinos, especially those abroad, could be proud of,” he said, citing the partnership with TV giant ABS-CBN and TFC (including their top-rated Sunday show) as essential to the growth of Phil. boxing.

I asked Michael about his appraisal of the ALA fighters.

“In boxing, it’s always difficult to assess a fighter,” he said. “Evaluating the opponent’s caliber is just as important as looking at each fight’s outcome.”

That’s true. In any sport, it’s easy to look good when your opponent is weak; but when you’re up against the best in the world, the scorecard changes.

The best example is Albert Pagara. Prior to fighting Cesar Juarez, the WBO #1, he was undefeated in 26 fights and could have continued this no-loss streak by taking the easier route.

“He could have fought a lower level opponent but you will never know if a fighter is ready or not until they are tested,” said Michael, of Pagara’s 8th round KO loss in California last July. “It was a good performance for Albert but he got hit. It’s all part of a learning process, to see if a fighter can come back after a knock out loss.”

The ALA boxing gym has dozens of fighters. Michael talked about two of the most promising.

Jeo Santisima, only 20, hails from Masbate. He entered the ring four times in 2016 and knocked-out every one of this opponents, including former Phil. super bantamweight champ Jerry Nardo and former Phil. superfly and bantamweight champ Marco Demecillo.

“Santisima concluded this year’s performance with yet another sensational win over multi-international champion Rex Wao last Nov. in Pinoy Pride 39,” said Michael. 

“Santino” is his nickname and Michael says that he has shown two of the most important factors in becoming a star and a world champion — “great power and heart” — and believes Santisima is one of the hardest punchers in Philippine boxing today.

He also cited the undefeated WBO International Featherweight champ Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo. Against veteran and world title challenger Chris “The Hitman” Avalos last April at the CCSC, the 21-year-old from Bohol wowed the 25,000 fans in attendance.

“Magsayo’s performance this year secured him the No. 1 spot in Mark Butcher’s ‘Five rising Asia stars of boxing to watch in 2017,’ released online via Asia Times,” said Michael. “Butcher called the fight a ‘bona fide Fight of The Year contender’ and stated that Magsayo ‘gatecrashed the world rankings with that stirring victory and illustrated he has the heart and spirit to overcome adversity.’”

Santino and Magnifico will have a busy 2017, said Michael, adding, “We will build them up and will work with different fighters from other stables all over the Philippines and abroad to support the steadfast growth of Philippine boxing.”

ALA: From Cebu to the world

Thirty years since the inception of the ALA Boxing Gym in Alang-Alang, Mandaue City by its founder Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, whose initials bear the company’s name, it has staged promotion after promotion on Philippine soil, produced world champions like Gerry Peñalosa and Malcolm Tuñacao, became the pride of Cebu with “Pinoy Pride,” as it traveled to the Middle East and, amidst the 450,000-strong Filipino residents there, staged two spectacles named “Duel in Dubai.”

Six weeks from now, it’s another continent. ALA Sports Promotions Internaitional, Inc., codenamed ALASPI, is landing in America — the first time that a company from Asia is promoting a boxing show on American soil.

The date is October 17 and, like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which labels its promotions by numbers (it’s UFC 191: Johnson vs. Dodson 2 this weekend), the ALA group does the same: it’s Pinoy Pride XXXIII. For short, that’s PP33.

The main attraction is ALA’s star attraction: Donnie “Ahas” Nietes, the longest-reigning Filipino world boxing champion.

“Donnie Nietes’s opponent is Juan Alejo of Mexico,” said Michael Aldeguer, the President/CEO of ALASPI.

Alejo is world rated No. 8 in the Light Flyweight division. And while a No. 8-ranked fighter looks already-beaten against Nietes, consider this credential of Alejo: He hasn’t lost a bout since Dec, 2009, sporting a 21-fight winning streak. But, like the 36 others who’ve bowed to Nietes (who hasn’t been beaten since 2004), the Mexican will have difficulty against the Murcia-born world champion.

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Donnie Nietes with Michael and Tony Aldeguer

“The public wants to see Nietes fight a Mexican because of the rivalry between the Phils. and Mexico,” said Michael. “You can never take a Mexican fighter for granted.”

The Oct. 17 event is called “Filipinos contras Latinos” as there will be others from Latin countries. In the undercard will be the Pagara brothers Jason and Albert and ALA’s top bet, Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo. They will be joined by other Pinoy fighters based in the U.S and the venue is the 8,000-seater Stub Hub Center in Carson, Los Angeles.

The American invasion is not the only dream of father and son, Tony and Michael Aldeguer. They’ve set their vision to conquer the world through this sport that’s called “The Sweet Science.”

“The 10-year plan is to build ALA Boxing in the U.S. the way we did it in the Phils. The plan is to draw Fil-Ams to fight and train under the ALA banner. We hope to have an office and a gym in the coming years as next year we are looking to do more events every quarter in California and it should grow as the years come. That’s for the U.S.,” said Michael.

For Europe, the first target is London in 2017 or 2018. “Boxing has become big in Europe with some world champs and we plan to build something there,” he said. “Not to mention the thousands of Filipinos living in Europe.”

With the Middle East, since ALA has already staged two successful events in Dubai, the goal is to promote in Doha and in Saudi Arabia. Of the latter, it is acknowledged as the largest hirer of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), with nearly two million Filipinos residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“From 2020-25, we hope to do Canada, Japan, Singapore and Australia, where a lot of Filipinos are,” said Michael. “The thrust is to grow the sport and connecting it closer to the heart of the Filipinos around the world as it is only in boxing we can excel and be respected around the world. Once we achieve that, the business side of things will come as the fan base becomes bigger. Naturally, more international promoters, advertisers and networks would want to work with us which will help us achieve our goal to be in an equal playing field.”

The target is for ALA to conquer America next month and the rest of the world in the coming decade.

“Gone are the days when international advertisers, TV networks and promoters just think of ALA Sports Promotions International Inc. (ALASPI) as based only in the Philippines,” said Michael.

ALA’s dream: A Filipino-owned company based all over the world.

Michael Aldeguer: ALA invades USA

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(Michael Aldeguer with California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster)

No promotional boxing outfit from Asia had ever secured a U.S. license before. Many have tried but all have failed. Until now.

It took Michael P. Aldeguer years and years of shuttling back and forth California and Cebu; thousands of dollars of phone bills and innumerable hours on the phone; hundreds of emails exchanged until finally.. Yes.

“It was difficult and painstaking,” admitted Michael, a friend whom I’ve known since high school when we competed in basketball. “At first, we felt it couldn’t be done as no one in Asia had done it before but we had focus and perseverance in finding ways to make it happen.”

The Aldeguers have always been persevering and successful, be it in business or in sport. In boxing, having conquered Cebu and Manila and, just recently, Dubai, it was clear that the next major hurdle was the American market — a huge, huge market for Pinoy boxing, given that there are over four million Filipinos residing in America. Nearly half of all Filipinos, if my research is correct, reside in California. Thus, next month’s October 17 promotion of ALA Boxing is ideally situated in the 8,000-seater Stub Hub Center in Carson, Los Angeles.

Michael Aldeguer credits his company’s securing of the U.S. boxing license not solely on himself — although he is the CEO.

“The credibility of the name ‘ALA’ helped a lot in putting us in the map,” he said. Ever mindful of how they started, he pays tribute to his father, Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, who, thirty years ago in 1985, founded and started the ALA Gym.

“It was because of my dad’s love and passion for the sport — and mainly because he wanted to help poor kids out of poverty,” said Michael. “The tradition and history dad has built through the fighters and trainers made the difference. The ALA Boxing group wouldn’t be where we are now without my father who is still the Chairman.”

Michael also gives credit to ABS-CBN, in particular to Gabby and Raffy Lopez, the owners of the TV giant, for believing in their vision and plans. He cites one other ABS-CBN top official, Peter Musngi, the VP for Sports (and also the voice of ABS-CBN and now the consultant for sports), for bringing their plans to Gabby and making things happen. “Without ABS-CBN,” says Michael, “we wouldn’t be here.”

The ALA Sports Promotions International Inc. (ALASPI) — the full name of the company — has a clear direction, thanks to their CEO.

“We have a strong foundation in our organization and the employees follow the culture,” he added. “There is a path they need to follow to carry the tradition and values we expect at ALA. If they don’t, then we take them out and replace the positions with the right people to ensure that they carry the values in the organization for the future.”

Finally, in our Q & A via email, Michael complimented one sector for helping promote boxing.

“The last but certainly not the least is the Cebu media,” he said. “The Cebu media has helped our organization the past years to be recognized, at first, nationally, then in Asia, and now the world.”

The goal of being in Ameica is what Mr. Aldeguer has always sought after. “You have to be in the U.S. to be taken seriously in the boxing world,” he said, citing the great Manny Pacquiao as the leader in promoting Philippine boxing.

“Donnie Nietes, Nonito Donaire and Brian Villoria have also carried the torch,” he said. “And they will soon pass it on to the new stars of the sport. It is for this reason that we worked hard in getting a U.S. license so our future stars don’t have to rely on American promoters and TV networks to be able to fight in the US. We can show the world too that not only do we have great Filipino fighters but we have a capable promotional company and TV network.”

As to making Cebu known worldwide, thanks to ‘Pinoy Pride’ and ALA Boxing, Michael says: “During our international interviews or write-ups, we always use ‘Cebu-based ALA Promotions.’ We are so proud to be a Cebu-based company and it is our pride to be Cebuano.”

Donnie Nietes is the pride of the Pinoys

An overflow crowd flocked to the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino last weekend. Each “Pinoy Pride” series of ALA Promotions always elicits a jampacked audience — but last Saturday teemed with even more fans and excitement. It was hot. Seated up on-stage, I saw ALA — Tony Aldeguer — fanning himself. The reason: Cebuanos overheated and swarmed the ballroom to witness Donnie Nietes win his 10th straight against a Mexican. Ahas, the slithery-snake-of-a-champion, was to reward the spectators with Historic Win No. 34.

Judging from their physiques alone (as they entered the ring), it was obvious who was the world champ. Carlos Velarde, youthful at 24 and carrying both a boyish grin and some unneeded fat plastered around his body — he was a neophyte. Skills-wise, the Mexican was shoddy; his strategy was to hug and embrace.

The ending was anti-climactic. The crowd longed for a flurry of uppercuts punctuated by a falling Velarde. But a knockout wasn’t meant to be. In the end, Velarde was “saved” by the accidental head-butt. With his face bloodied, it was the perfect excuse for him to quit.

RECORD. Ronnie Nathanielsz best explains Donnie’s win in his Philboxing.com article: “With the win Nietes reached a high-water-mark in his career by remaining undefeated for 7 years, 1 month and 15 days as he chases the record of 7 years and 3 months established by the great Hall-of-Famer, the late Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde who reigned as world junior lightweight champion for seven years and three months… This means that the 32 year old Nietes will surpass the longtime record of Elorde on January 1, 2015 which will significantly be on the eve of Elorde’s death in the early hours of January 2 signifying that from the ashes of one all-time Filipino great another champion in Nietes, arises.”

MILAN. I’m not sure why but Milan Melindo looked unimpressive. Yes, his diminutive opponent clearly lost the bout but Milan’s victory did not excite the crowd. Several moments during the 12-round encounter, you could hear awkward silence. Were some starting to fall asleep? The firepower and attack-mode were absent. Michael Rama, when I sat with the mayor at the lobby minutes after the event, was shaking his head at his wobbly performance.

CROWD. It’s hard to please the Cebuanos! This was the conclusion arrived at by my seat-mate, Atty. Jingo Quijano. After we witnessed two prolonged battles lasting a dozen rounds each between Pagara-Hilares and Melindo-Suarez, the audience felt bored. They wanted a knockout. You could hear their “disappointment” at Pagara and Melindo, despite the wins. But here’s the funny point: the crowd complains when a visitor gets KO’d in the early rounds — saying that the ALA officials always bring lousy boxers. But they also complain when the bouts are long.

VERBAL CONFRONTATION. An interesting occurrence happened after the Melindo bout. The manager of the Mexican boxers confronted ALA Promotions CEO Michael P. Aldeguer. He complained. A large, mestizo man wearing the Mexican red jacket, it looked like he was ready for a brawl — against Michael. He signaled with his fingers the number “2.” I wasn’t sure what he was saying, if it was “Your (ALA) boxer won only two rounds!” or if it was “You stole two victories from us!” But his voice grew louder until the security personnel intervened. Michael, always sporting a cool demeanor, shrugged off the outburst. But the man kept on shouting. MPA approached to pacify him but he wanted none of it. Finally, the hot-tempered Mexican was moved aside and the tension was diffused. Imagine if he pushed or threw a punch.

PACQUIAO. After Nietes, it’s now the turn of an even more illustrious Pinoy boxer to do his part: win this Sunday. Back-to-back weekends of boxing. To the fan of this sport of jabs and uppercuts, it’s a treat. After Manny’s expected win, here’s hoping for that eventual Manny-Money mega-fight.

History will be made this Saturday

In boxing, everybody says they’ll knockout their opponent. Right? Haven’t you noticed this? Fighters brag and showboat. “I am prepared to give a knockout,” said the visitor. But, as we know and unless there’s a draw, at fight’s end there’ll only be one winner.

Donnie Nietes will be the lone man standing inside the stage this weekend, raising his Murcia-bred arms towards the Waterfront Hotel ceiling, blood dripping, sweat raining, applause from his fellow Cebuanos deafening the ballroom.

His opponent: A Mexican named Velarde but not first-named Mike. He’s Carlos and his 26-wins, 3-loss record will become four defeats before midnight. I’m not saying that Nietes is invincible. Unlike basketball that requires 48 minutes or volleyball where each set must reach 25 points, boxing is spine-chilling: You may dominate the entire fight but, in one careless moment, that incoming stab can plunk you to sleep. Remember Marquez’s wallop on Manny?

Let’s wish this doesn’t happen to Ahas. Having witnessed numerous Nietes fights, I think the 32-year-old is too crafty and too clever to be careless — and thus, we anticipate that he’ll break the nearly-half-a-century-old record of Flash Elorde as the longest-reigning Filipino world champ.

(Read the two articles I wrote about Donnie last April 24 and April 28.)

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My hope this Saturday — in a night loaded with A-list boxers from ALA Promotions that includes AJ Banal, Albert Pagara, Milan Melindo and Mark Magsayo — is this: That Carlos Velarde put up a tough stand. We’ve witnessed many Waterfront Hotel sorties that finish in a few seconds. We want a quarrel, an altercation, a pummel-versus-jab encounter, a clash and scuffle — with Nietes smiling in the end.

Ahas to break Flash record at home

While the boxing world’s focus is in Dubai for the Pinoy Pride 27, one world champion has been patiently waiting. Rumors have circulated that after the Middle East promotion this Friday, Donnie Nietes will return to Dubai to fight his title bout there.

“We have not announced it yet but you can write about it,” said ALA Promotions CEO/President Michael Aldeguer in our email exchange earlier this week. “Right now, we are thinking of holding it in the Philippines tentatively on Nov. 15 either in Manila, Cebu or Bacolod.”

So, there. It won’t be in America or in Dubai — but here at home. And rightfully so. “People from all walks of life have been asking me, ‘Why hold it abroad when this is a historic fight? When a lot of boxing fans and enthusiasts would want to witness Donnie break the seven-year reign of the great Flash Elorde?’”

Correct. As you know, Gabrial “Flash” Elorde, who hails from Bogo, Cebu and was the youngest of 15 children, holds the record of longest-reigning Filipino world champ. His Wikipedia entry reads: “He (Elorde) won the world super featherweight title on March 16, 1960 by knocking out the defending world champion Harold Gomes in seven rounds. That night, Elorde ended the country’s 20-year world championship drought. The crowd estimated to be around 30,000, inside the newly built Araneta Coliseum… He defended the crown 10 times until June 15, 1967 where he lost a majority decision to Yoshiaki Numata of Japan. This made him the longest reigning world junior lightweight champion ever (seven years and three months).”

Donnie Nietes? The 32-year-old former utility man of the ALA Gym, Nietes won the WBO Minimumweight title here at the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug in Sept. 30, 2007. End of next month, it will be exactly seven years. En route, he’s won 11 more times and drawn once. If Donnie wins this November, Ahas breaks the record of Flash.

Manila, Cebu or Bacolod? “We are thinking of holding it in Manila because of the significance of the event,” said Aldeguer. “The huge venue (in Manila) will match the enormity of the bout and the impact to Philippine boxing.”

As for the home-court advantage here, added Aldeguer, “Cebu could be considered too because it is the Boxing Mecca of the Philippines and it is where Pinoy Pride, now the highest rating show on Sundays for the 15th straight time, was launched. We would also be proud to stage it in Cebu for the Cebuano Boxing fans and the media who helped us where we are now. After all, Cebu is where we truly started and took off. ALA Promotions and Pinoy Pride wouldn’t have achieved what we did and have now without everyone’s support.”

The City of Smiles is another possibility. “Donnie is from Murcia, Negros Occidental,” said Aldeguer, “what better way to mark this important moment in history than have it happen before the very crowd that has been loyally following the growth of their own boxing hero and where Champion Donnie Nietes started?”

Michael Aldeguer: ALA flies to Dubai

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Over 450,000 Filipinos reside in Dubai. Working in the fields of construction, retail, I.T., tourism, medicine, architecture and more, our fellow Filipinos comprise a huge population in Dubai. With this backdrop, the Antonio Lopez Aldeguer Promotions has decided to launch its first-ever international event at the most populous city of the United Arab Emirates.

“The Middle East is one of the areas where we get the highest ratings every time we stage Pinoy Pride Events,” said ALA Promotions CEO/President Michael Pastrano Aldeguer.

The foresight of the Aldeguer father-and-son tandem of Tony and Michael is bold: After organizing dozens of promotions on Philippine soil, it’s time to fly elsewhere and go global. “Our vision has always been to bring boxing closer to the Filipinos,” said Michael, “and to showcase the talents of Filipino fighters to the world.”

If older brother Jay promotes our country via the Islands Group locally (Islands Souvenirs, Islands Stay Hotels and more), it’s younger brother Michael who’s showcasing Pinoy talents abroad, via boxing.

Next Friday on the 5th of September, it’s the 27th edition of Pinoy Pride called “Duel in Dubai.” The venue is the Dubai World Trade Center and three of ALA Boxing’s top names are ready to brawl: Boom-Boom Bautista fights Jose Martinez of Mexico; Arthur Villanueva tackles Henry Maldonado of Nicaragua; and, in the main event, it’s Genesis Servania vs. the former two-time world title challenger from Mexico, Jose Cabrera.

As far back as five years ago, the ALA Promotions group had planned to go international. With the Middle East, said Michael, it’s “one of the biggest continents with a great number of Filipinos and one of the regions that we first looked at.” He added: “Considering the program’s ratings there, we feel that Dubai, distinctively being known for world-class events, is the perfect first international venue for Pinoy Pride.”

Dubai owns the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa with 163 floors) and the world’s largest airport. They hope to be the sports capital of our planet. Tomorrow, August 29, the One Fighting Championship (One FC) will showcase Ana Julaton and several other mixed-martial fighters in Dubai’s top MMA event called “One FC: Reign of Champions.” The Friday after, it’s Pinoy Pride in what will be an inaugural: the first time that the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF) will have sanctioned championship fights in Dubai.

Michael Aldeguer credits their TV partnerships with ABS-CBN and TFC-Middle East as important. Yet, he admits that it wasn’t easy coordinating the entire promotion. “The planning has proven to be challenging,” he said. “It’s a different story organizing (an event) in another place, let alone a country as huge as Dubai with an equally huge population of boxing fans. There have been numerous teleconferences, emails, and overseas calls just to put everything together.”

With the Bacolod-bred Villanueva and Servania, “they are both 100% prepared,” said Michael. “They have been training very hard, as both have tough opponents. Being their first in Dubai, Servania and Villanueva aim to give impressive results to the boxing fans that will be watching them live and through the worldwide telecast.”

On the TV telecast, I got this message from SkyCable top official Ronnie Pacio: “Watch Pinoy Pride 27 ‘Duel in Dubai’ LIVE & Commercial FREE via SKYCable Pay-Per-View in Standard and High Definition on Sep 5 11pm Phil Time for Php199 ONLY! Visit us or call 421-1818.”

I asked Michael about Rey Bautista. “Boom Boom is doing great,” he said. “He’s determined to win and give a good show. He hopes to let the Dubai crowd witness the same power he had in his first fight in the country last 2010. Right now, Boom Boom is more dedicated to his training compared to the last few years and we hope he’ll show the world what he trained so hard for on September 5th.”

From Cebu to Dubai, we take pride in the Pinoy.

Nietes: The Pride of PP-XXV

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A dozen years ago, when Donnie Nietes arrived in Cebu from Negros Occidental, he was only 19. He had studied elementary in the town of Murcia, 20 minutes away from Bacolod — the city where he finished high school in Brgy. Granada.

“My uncle Adin Nietes was then the chief cook at the ALA Boxing Gym,” said Donnie. “I was a young boy from Negros who loved boxing. I asked my uncle if I could work in Cebu.”

His first job: a janitor. “I worked as a utility boy,” he said. But, while mopping floors and throwing the garbage kept him busy the whole day, his eyes were fixed on another prize: boxing. “My ambition was to become a boxer,” Donnie said. On his spare hours, he trained. Gradually, this diminutive teenager who spoke Ilonggo became the gym’s hardest-worker.

Today, Donnie Nietes is the personification of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s adage: “Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”

When we met last Tuesday for lunch, Donnie was groovy and dapper. He wore a striped long-sleeves polo shirt that folded near his elbows. The color: purple. Same with his shoes; a trendy brand called “DC” worn by skateboarders. Color: purple. On his left wrist was a giant-size watch by G-Shock. His face was clean-shaven except for the goatee.

Nietes today is a world champ in hip and fashion. “Everything we learned from Sir ALA,” he said, including tips on “how to look like a world champ.”

Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, whose ALA gym was started 28 years ago, has nurtured his fighters not just in the art of punching — but in bigger arena of life. “He’s not only our manager but he’s a father to us,” Donnie said. “He provides guidance and advises us on all matters including money, our attitudes and even what clothes to wear.”

But one question Mr. Aldeguer often asks Donnie, why purple? “I like the color,” said Donnie, laughing. What’s no laughing matter is this: Nietes will be ready for Moises Fuentes when their rematch unfolds two Saturdays from now at the SM MOA Arena.

Part of Donnie’s focused training is staying at the ALA gym for two months prior to fight day. Because while Nietes has owned a house through his earnings and resided there for years, he has to sleep at the ALA gym quarters.

“The fighters have to be completely focused,” said ALA gym trainer Edmund Villamor, who joined us for lunch. “There’s an 8 p.m. daily curfew and the guards won’t let anyone out. Everyone has to stay-in and they only go home Saturday night and come back Sunday.”

Nietes is taking the May 10 bout seriously, even if it takes time away from his partner, Mary Joy Cayao, and their two daughters, aged two years old and four months.

The stakes are high. Nietes ruled the WBO minimum weight (105 lbs.) division when he defeated Pornsawan Porpramook in Sept. 30, 2007. “I consider that victory, my first world title, to be the most memorable of my career,” Donnie told me. We had lunch at the Cebu I.T. Park and he pointed to the actual venue — the Waterfront Hotel — which was just a few hundred of meters away.

He defended the world title from 2007 until 2011. He then moved up in weight to win the Light Flyweight class, defeating Ramon Garcia Hirales in October 2011 in front of his fellow Ilonggos inside the La Salle Coliseum. We witnessed that historic bout in Bacolod.

From Sept. 2007 until now, he’s been world champ — and is just months away from breaking the seven-year record (1960 – ’67) of the great Gabriel “Flash” Elorde.

Donnie — who’ll turn 32 this May 13 — still has many years of boxing ahead. He plans to move up in weight soon.

This early, he’s looking to the future. He’s a businessman. Two years ago, he opened a rice-and-feeds store in Mansilingan, Bacolod. “My parents, Josue and Renelia, manage the store,” he said. He might also open a Cebu eatery in partnership with some friends. And, looking ahead, he will help train future champions. But, for now, it’s Pinoy Pride XXV.

Lunch with Donnie Nietes

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The WBO world boxing champion likes to bike. He owns four types of folding bikes. One that’s 16 inches (the wheel); he has two more, 20 and 26 inches. But his favorite: a very small 10-inch (wheel) folding bike. “We bike from Cebu City,” he said, “all the way south to Barili then up north to Tabuelan.”

Donnie Liboon Nietes is an extraordinary athlete. If you’re the best 108-pound boxer on Earth, you have to be.

Apart from four folding bikes, Donnie also owns a mountain-bike. He pedals often, usually during off-season, and is a member of the BTFC. “That’s the Bike and Talk Friendship Club,” he said. “We’re a group of over 100 members. On Sundays, we do long rides.” Why does he enjoy it? “Biking is an excellent cardio workout. Going uphill is tough.”

Donnie and I had lunch last Tuesday. He was accompanied by ALA gym coach Edmund Villamor. We met at our family-owned Mooon Cafe at the Cebu I.T. Park. Dining at the Mexican-inspired restaurant, Donnie will be facing a Mexican this May 10 at the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena. It’s a rematch against Moises Fuentes.

Hailing from Murcia, Negros Occidental, Donnie and I often spoke in Ilonggo. For 75 minutes, we exchanged lots of stories.

Donnie’s a huge Michael Jordan fan. Today, he follows the Miami Heat and is eagerly awaiting the three-peat in the NBA Finals.

Volleyball? Check. “I often watch inter-barangay tournaments,” said Donnie, who used to play volleyball when he was in elementary.

He also swims. Here’s a funny story: Back when he was a little boy in Murcia, their house was a few steps away from the river. Donnie learned swimming this way: His dad Josue would throw him to the water! He had to scramble to survive. Donnie was only six years old then. “I cried and cried because the water was deep,” he said. But, he proudly said, I learned to swim!

FOOD. I asked him about his weight. “This morning, I was 116 lbs.,” he said. “A day before the weigh-in, I’ll be just two pounds over. I’m right on track with the 108 lbs. limit.”

Edmund Villamor explained that “making weight” is one of the toughest challenges of a boxer. At the ALA Boxing Gym, the target is a gradual weight reduction of two pounds per week.

Talking about food, we ordered. Donnie scanned the menu. Pasta? Fish? Chicken? I offered.

“I’ll have beef,” he said. The world champ ordered Steak A La Pobre. “With plenty of garlic,” he said. He cleaned the plate with a cupful of garlic rice.

Nietes needed the protein. Hours after our lunch, he would be engaged in the final and toughest sparring session of his training: a 12-rounder at 3 p.m. last Tuesday against four boxers who’d alternate fighting him per three rounds. Two of those sparring mates at the ALA Boxing Gym in Cabancalan were Johnriel Casimero and Milan Melindo.

SNAKE. We talked about his nickname, “Ahas” (snake). He pulled out his huge Sony phone. Browsing through the photos, he showed me two pictures of him standing in his living room. Shirtless, the boxer wore boxers and, on his neck was draped a white and yellow Burmese Python.

“His name is Don,” said Donnie of his snake. “When I bought him four years ago, he was only this small,” showing me his pinkie finger. Don was then one foot long. Now, he’s about 12 feet long and growing. “I bought him for P6,000.”

Donnie brings Don to his fights in Cebu and Bacolod. But not in Manila, he said, complaining about the hassle. Prior to Don, he owned a Philippine python. But Donnie confessed, “I’ll never hold a cobra!”

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RITUALS. Unlike Bradley who doesn’t shower for a week prior to the fight or Marquez who drinks his urine, Donnie doesn’t have any crazy habits. “I pray,” he said. Before arriving at the fight arena, he spends time in prayer. “I’ve been religious since birth,” he told me of his Christian belief. To relax, he loves to lie on his “duyan” (hammock) and listen to Christian songs from Chris Tomlin and Don Moen.

Aftershocks inside Waterfront

servania.wins.131026.01.500wFuture world champ Azukal Servania (all photos by Dong Secuya)

In all my years of watching the ALA (Antonio Lopez Aldeguer) Promotions fights, I’ve never arrived home earlier. A little past 10:20 p.m. last Saturday, I was inside our bedroom, cuddled beside Maria Jasmin Mendez Pages.

Knockout after KO after knockout. Of the eight fights scheduled, we missed watching only two bouts. Of those two, the Japanese invader Kazuma Ejiri KOed Don Amaparado while Elmo Traya won over Gabby Siempo in a unanimous decision — the night’s only bout that reached the full distance. And that was a four-rounder.

Seven of the eight bouts were KOs. That’s an 87.50 percent knockout score.

Bunny, my dad, and Tommy, my daughter’s Swedish tennis coach, and I arrived at the venue by 7:30. The “Chiwawa” from Bais — Richard Barrios — stepped inside the ring against Rocky Incepido. KO! “Magnifico” (Mark Magsayo) against Hagibis Quiñones. KO! Those were all-Filipino contests. Now, entering the Philippines-vs.-Foreigners sequence, you’d think the sessions would last longer. Wrong.

“He looks like a cook from Bangkok!” I overheard one spectator, commenting on Khunkiri Wor Wisaruth, who lost — knocked-cold, of course — against Mark Bernaldez. The Thai, though he lasted five rounds, hardly punched until his face dripped with blood and the referee waived his arms for a stoppage. TKO!

Seated on the 10th row, we had a magnificent view. Sure, TV is relaxing and comfortable and nothing beats the upclose footages and multi-view replays — but nothing, too, beats the suspense and adrenaline rush of a live watch.

After Thai food was served and gobbled-up by the Pinoy, Indonesian cuisine was next. Lande Olin looked funny. He sported long braided hair and wore multi-colored shorts. Did he just come from Boracay? He looked like Bob Marley reincarnated. After 64 seconds in Rd. 2, Bob Marley was floored. He looked like a comedic act that elicited more laughs than claps.

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Finally, the two main events: Edgar “Chololo” Martinez from Mexico promised to recreate an earthquake inside Waterfront Hotel. Well, his Richter power measured not 7.2 but 0.072; weak and fragile. To start with, his frame was not slender or light — it was skeletal. Cholokoy ni si Chololo! He was absolutely no match compared to the dapper and suave King Arthur Villanueva, who improved his spotless record to 24 wins in 24 performances. The contest was declared a no-contest inside the first round — I can’t even remember the time because it happened too quickly.

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Next, we waited for 30 minutes. I guess the main fighters did not expect to be called so early. King Arthur’s win finished by 8:55. Very early. While waiting, I spent the time chatting with Chris Aldeguer, who was seated beside the super-talented athlete-couple Mendel and Lohriz Lopez.

“The Revenge” turned out to be “The Rout.” In simpler words, the destruction of Genesis Servania over Rafael Concepcion was swift and merciless. You saw it on TV. The perfect ending to a perfect evening of almost perfect knockouts, sugar melted the spicy chili pepper.

Azukal mauled El Torito. With quick, responsive feet and even quicker and more explosive fists, the undefeated 22-year-old Bacolodnon won his 23rd straight bout by handily defeating the old-looking, weary-looking, mauled-too-many-times Concepcion.

After Concepcion’s fall on the canvas, it was Dr. Rene Bonsubre, a fellow sports columnist, who climbed the stage to attend to the unconscious Panamanian. Lying on the floor with eyes open but his body stiff and not moving, Dr. Rene stood up and waved for the oxygen and paramedics to help. He stood again and asked that they speed up. Seconds later, “The Bull” (“El Torito”), though bulldozed, was okay and responsive.

Thirty minutes after, Jasmin was shocked to see me home so early. “All knockouts!” I explained, glad that we won and the bouts finished early.

“Were our fighters that good or were the opponents not good at all?” Hmmm. Good question. I paused for a moment and replied, “Both.”

Michael Aldeguer on Azukal, King Arthur

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Typing on his iPad from the U.S. where, as he said, “I’m working on our California promoter’s license,” the president of ALA Promotions, Michael P. Aldeguer, offered these words in our Q & A yesterday:

ON SATURDAY: It will be a tough fight as Concepcion is a very experienced fighter as he has fought the best. He is very well known in the Philippines after he knocked out AJ Banal in 2008. We believe that the only way to know if the fighter is for real is if he goes through fights like this. we think that Servania has it. He needs to learn to deal with adversity asthis will be his biggest test not just inside the ring but the pressure that goes with it outside as it will be his first time to be in the main event of a big card against a known and tough fighter like Concepcion, this will be a make or break fight for him and a must see fight for all the fans.

SERVANIA: We believe that Servania has the potential to be a World Champion and to be one of the best from the next generation of Filipino fighters , he was featured in the october issue of ring magazine as the most promising prospect in the world so it proves a point that he can be for real as the boxing experts around the world have taken notice.

WHY AZUKAL? He was named Azukal because of the sugar in Bacolod and Servania was known to be a sweet punching machine in his younger days as the pride of Bacolod in his amateur days.

VILLANUEVA: King Arthur Villanueva is a fighter everyone should watch out for, if you wanna know about heart, this guy is all that, he is now ranked #2 in the world by the WBO, He and Servania should be World Champions someday.

NEW BIG NAMES IN PP22: Yes this is what Pinoy Pride is all about, to show the world that the Philippines has so much talent and all they need is to be given a chance to be recognized, the world should know that the Philippines has what it takes to be a powerhouse in the boxing world after the Pacquiao era.

NOV. 30 EVENT. This is the biggest event ALA Promotions has produced as there are not only two World title fights but it will have the five main event fighters of Pinoy Pride in one card. Nietes, Sabillo, Melindo, Pagara and Banal .. All against Latino fighters, the title is Pinoy Pride 23: Filipinos contra Latinos, it will be held at the smart Araneta Coliseum. The last Double world title event was Donaire and Villoria.

2014 PLANS: The plan is to do international events in Dubai and the US, we were suppose to do the Dubai in November but the advertisers , TV and fans felt it was best to stage it in the Philippines to show the world that we can hold a boxing event of this magnitude, they also claim that Nov 30 is close to December so a lot of OFW’s will be coming home for Christmas.

BAUTISTA: Boom Boom wants to comeback on a higher weight division, we knew he will be back coz he needed a break and to assess what he wants, we all forget that at 19 Boom Boom was part of the biggest pay per view of all time the Mayweather vs Dela hoya so the expectations were just too much for a young boy who was not allowed to grow. When he lost to ponce de Leon in 1 round, people never gave him a chance, He went through a lot of injuries not just minor but major ones, he also had weight problems, we think at 130lbs he will be stronger whenever he decided to comeback next year.

Bye-bye, Boom Boom

Last December, it was Pacquiao. Last April 6, it was Viloria. The other weekend, it was Donaire. And, last Sunday, it was Boom Boom. Thus far, of world champs and of world-champ-wannabees, it’s been loss after loss for the Pinoys.

We know boxing — like chess or fencing — is one-on-one. Of the two gladiators inside the ring, excluding the unwated “tie” (tabla), one will win, another will lose.

Bautista? The winner of his first 23 fights, we thought Candijay, Bohol would produce its first ever world titlist in Rey. But, no. After that Marquez-on-Pacquiao-like knockout by Daniel Ponce de Leon in August of 2007, the sound of Boom Boom’s punches hasn’t been Boom-bastic.

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Should he or shouldn’t he? This “retirement” question has been answered.

Boom Boom is still young. He’ll turn 27 on June 19. His record has been impressive: After a 23-0 start, he loses to De Leon but recovers to win his next three bouts. After another loss (to Heriberto Ruiz), he rises once more to win eight straight prior to last Sunday’s fall in Davao.

Overall, his record of 34 wins (25 via knockout) and three losses (a 92 percent win-loss percentage) is sterling.

Still, a loss is a loss. And, it seems, this adage holds true for Bautista: “You’re only as good as your last performance.”

Michael Pastrano Aldeguer, the president of ALA Promotions, has spoken: “We may have seen the last of ‘Boom-Boom’ Bautista. Why should he be punished more? There’s no point. Even if he had won the fight I would still tell him to retire.”

Concern. Empathy. Good health.

ALA, the Father, Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, the man who started the most respected boxing stable in the Philippines back in 1985 — he considers his boxers like his children. I’ve known him for over two decades. I’ve known Michael since high school. The primary concern of father-and-son is — always, always — good health.

The last thing they want is another Z Gorres incident. (Weeks after Z had recovered from that near-fatal experience in 2009, Mr. Aldeguer told me that those were some of the most harrowing moments of his life.)

With Boom Boom, as Michael explains: What for? Boxing, let’s remember, is no gymnastics or ballet. Boxing is a brutal, rib-breaking, jaw-collapsing, mind-bleeding sport.

Prior to last Sunday, Boom Boom planned to be a world champion. Now, he has succumbed to these words said by Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Still, there’s no shame in retirement for Boom Boom. His legacy is implanted in our Cebuano minds. He is one of the most famous — and entertaining — boxers that Cebu has cultivated. Donnie Nietes is the WBO Light Flyweight world champ but, if you ask any passerby from Colon to Waterfront Hotel who they recognize more, the answer comes in two resounding words: Boom Boom.

You’ve inspired many. You’ve excited many. Time to hang up the gloves, Rey.

JUDGING. I’m glad Bautista “lost.” By glad, I mean I’m happy that two judges correctly saw the fight and fairly awarded the win to Jose Ramirez of Mexico. I saw the replay on ABS-CBN and nobody would doubt the loss of Bautista. Kudos to Salven Lagumbay and Danrex Tapdasan for scoring the fight, 114-111. Imagine the ruckus inside the University of Southeastern Philippines gym if Boom Boom won?

MACAU. Is it true that Pacman will fight this October? In Macau? If so, this is the perfect chance for us to watch.

Las Vegas, Nevada is a million and six meters away from Mactan. Not Macau. There are direct flights from Manila. Or, a short 2.5 hour trip from MCIAA to Hong Kong and a quick one-hour fast-craft trek to Macau… then it’s “Ready to rumble….”

This might be Manny’s last fight. Seven years older than Boom Boom and twice a loser in his last two fights, Pacman will retire soon. If it’s in the Las Vegas of Asia, let’s go!

Pinoy Pride 18, Xterra Tri and the PAL Interclub

Is this week the biggest ever in Cebu sports? Yes. It started last week when the PAL Interclub tournament teed-off at the manicured lawns of Alta Vista. It continued with Day Two of the Seniors Division at the Club Filipino in Danao. That tournament invited 800 players nationwide to our Cebu shores. That’s golf.

Two mornings ago, we had one of the most sought-after races: the SM2SM Run. Over 4,000 pairs of running legs participated. Millions were spent by SM and thousands of pesos will go to charity. That’s running.

Tomorrow, the Championship Division of the PAL Interclub commences. Our Cebu Country Club team — Bayani, Andre, LJ, Marko, Gen, Jovi, Eric, Mark, Montito and Carl — will, on home turf and as a band of 10, attempt to repeat as champions. As I’ve written here last Sunday, the PAL Interclub is not only the biggest golf outing in our Philippine islands, it’s also 66 years rich in history and brings “golf tourism” to Cebu.

What else is happening? This Saturday, it’s the 18th edition of the Pinoy Pride Series and it’s dubbed “World Champion vs. World Champion.” That’s because Donnie Nietes, the Murcia, Negros-raised Cebuano is fighting Moises Fuentes of Mexico on March 2. It’s Nietes’ WBO (light flyweight) belt against Fuentes’ WBO (minimum weight) belt.

Having observed Nietes doing sparring seven afternoons ago at the ALA gym in Mandaue, I’m here to report the sad news for the Mexican contingent, including the visiting Marco Antonio Barrera: good luck, enjoy the battle while it lasts because you’re going to lose.

Donnie Nietes is in terrific shape. When we spoke in Ilonggo (while he was wrapping his knuckles with white tape), he knew the enormity of this moment: he’s not fighting in MOA Arena or anywhere else abroad, he’s fighting in our “mini Las Vegas” called the Waterfront Hotel.

“This event is historic,” said ALA Promotions President Michael Aldeguer. “For the first time in Cebu, two world champions will be fighting each other.”

Perfect. “Ahas” stars in the Year of the Snake. In the undercard, Genesis Servania, who is the WBO Asia-Pacific super bantamweight champion, will entertain the crowd. What’s outstanding about “Azukal,” as he’s nicknamed, is this: He won 19 times with six KOs and has never lost a bout. Jimrex “The Executioner” Jaca, carrying an impressive 36-win, 20-KO record, we’ll also watch. That’s boxing.

Is that all? Nope. One more: The Vaseline Xterra Off-Road Triathlon Championship Weekend. Now on its third year in Liloan, Cebu, this swim-bike-run event is different from the Ironman. Because while the IM70.3 is in Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort — and where bikers use Cervelo road bikes worth P700,000 and the runners are “spoiled,” running on smooth asphalt — in Xterra, it’s the opposite. It’s dirty. It’s rocky. It’s risky. It’s muddy.

Xterra uses the mountain-bike — and I tried the 17.5-km. route last weekend. Scary! Last year, I joined the Xterra Lite and found the bike route scenic. For this weekend — a completely different route but still in Liloan — it’s more technical and dangerous. You traverse through areas beside a cliff. After reaching the highest peak at 185 meters, you descend on a single-track, non-paved, sharp-rock-filled narrow road. Too many times, I went down my bike and walked. Not wanting to fall and get bloodied, in possibly 20 percent of the way, I walked.

Ken Salimbangon, Onek Priagula, Bernard Palermo joined the “elite” triathletes like Joseph Miller, Tenggoy Colmenares and Jomer Lim in trekking the mountainous terrain. The view from the top of Consolacion? Amazing. We took photos. We even stopped for a “buko break,” drinking fresh coconut milk and “carbo-loading” on buko meat. I love mountain-biking. I love maneuvering past the cobbled stones. I love the shaded, nature-filled route. This is Xterra — and it’s happening this Saturday and Sunday.

This week, our mantra is… Sports: It’s more fun in Cebu!

Inside Antonio Lopez Aldeguer’s Gym

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The country’s most respected and best-managed boxing facility is not found in GenSan or in Quezon City or in Bacolod, it’s right here in Cabancalan, Mandaue.

Last Tuesday, I visited the ALA Gym. Wow. Superstar after superstar I saw. Jimrex Jaca sparred. Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista wore jogging pants and intently watched the hostilities. Genesis Servania sweated. Michael Domingo was there — no longer a fighter but a trainor.

I went to visit Donnie Nietes. Humble and always sporting a charismatic smile, Donnie proclaimed himself super-fit (“wala problema gyud,” he said) for next Saturday’s duel at the Waterfront Hotel.

“I was not my best shape in Bacolod,” he told me, in Bisaya, referring to his controversial win in October 2011 at the La Salle Bacolod Gym. This time, Donnie is much more confident. As we spoke, he wrapped his fists with white tape. He wore all-black, from foot to head: Asics boxing shoes, leggings, shorts and a shirt plus a head gear that was black.

We spoke in Ilonggo. Nietes hails from Murcia, a town 10 kms. from Bacolod. His snake? “Ara didto sa kwarto (It’s in the room),” he said, referring to his good-luck pet snake, Don II.

The ALA Gym, found behind the sprawling Aldeguer compound that houses their multitude of businesses (The Islands Group, included), was abuzz with excitement two afternoons ago. They house a track oval for running. A full-size basketball court. Mirrors adorn the walls while various weights of dumbells are ready for use. There are two boxing rings, side by side.

Because the Pinoy Pride XVIII is just nine days away, a who’s-who of Pinoy boxers was present last Tuesday. There were about 50 boxers, including several Japanese. Punching bags, too many to count, stood still, ready for pounding.

Above, hanging, were dozens of banners of the ALA Promotions events. In full color, the various Aldeguer boxers were celebrated. Each photo had their family name printed underneath.

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Minutes after I arrived together with Tommy Frederiksen, the Swedish tennis coach of my daughter Jana, The Godfather himself arrived.

Each Monday to Saturday afternoon for the past 28 years since his gym started in 1985, Tony Aldeguer himself is there to supervise their training. He wore shorts and running shoes. And when the sparring started, instead of just sitting down to watch, he climbed the NordicTrack stationary bicycle (which had a plastic sign at the side which said, “For ALA Use Only”). He himself was there to work out. Pedaling, observing, shouting comments to Donnie and to Edito Villamor — all these ALA was doing in his second, every-afternoon home.

“We’re letting Donnie spar against a taller, bigger opponent,” said “Tito Bidoy,” as I call him. This way, Donnie gets used to the Mexican, Moises Fuentes, that he’ll face next weekend.

Donnie sparred for four rounds with Ralph Lulu. They didn’t seem to hold back; they were going all out. This was Donnie’s second-to-the-last sparring session; he spars his final four rounds today. “Donnie might not be spectacular but he’s powerful and very effective,” Aldeguer tells me.

Ilonggos. I’m not sure if it’s because Mr. Aldeguer himself comes from Iloilo but his gym is filled with Ilonggos — many from Bacolod and Negros. “They’re very talented,” ALA says.

After Nietes’ session, guess who came on board? It’s a sight that we’ll not see anywhere, even in Las Vegas.

Milan Melindo versus John Riel Casimero! Milan is scheduled for an April 6 bout (undercard of Brian Vilora) in Macau while the world champ Casimero is headed for Panama next month.

Their sparring? I don’t know if a) they both hated each, or b) they wanted to put-up a great show for the audience, or c) they’re just ultra-competitive and want to always give their best… but it was a spectacle. They were out to flatten each other.

Shirtless with spiky light brown hair, Casimero (wearing adidas running shoes) was offensive. Seated beside Coach Tommy, we were, literally, at ring-side (beside the ropes) and could feel the power of the punches and the absorbing pain they’d inflict. Milan himself did not relax: he punched uppercuts and wanted to KO his fellow Pinoy.

And that’s only the sparring. I can’t wait for March 2.

Michael Aldeguer: ALA to invade the US, Europe

The president of ALA Promotions was my former high school basketball opponent. Trim and fit, he jogs five times each week in Cempark (“I make my business decisions when I run,” he says). The son of Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, he has followed his dad’s passion for the “Sweet Science.” Here’s my Q & A with MPA…

ALA GYM AND ALA PROMOTIONS, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? ALA GYM is an organization that scouts, trains and manages fighters while ALA Promotions Inc. is a promotional firm that stages international boxing events and showcases the Filipino fighters and other fighters worldwide. The goal is to be a global promotional giant just like Top Rank in the US and Zanfer of Mexico.

For ALA Promotions, we had a successful 2012 except for the Genaro Garcia issue, as the TV ratings consistently reached new heights never seen before, overtaking the popular showbiz shows (consistently in the #1 position in daytime TV every time Pinoy Pride is aired). The key moments last year were the two events in Manila: the June event in Resorts World and the first boxing event in the SM MOA Arena in October. They gathered respectable crowds, more than what we expected. It was the first time in Manila in years that ticket prices for a boxing event were sold that much. The most expensive tickets were the first to be sold out.

For ALA gym, it was a successful year except for the Banal loss. Donnie held on to his crown and is now the longest-reigning Filipino world champion and could be the second longest Filipino world champ in history next to flash Elorde. Boom Boom had his best year injury-free. Milan made a name for himself with wins against named opponents. Jason Pagara had a sweet revenge in knocking out Rosbel Montoya; the rise of Genesis Servania in knocking-out former world champ Genaro Garcia in Manila and Rocky Fuentes winning and defending his OPBF title in Japan.

PLANS FOR 2013/2014: To stage more events, bigger fights with bigger name opponents. We have been working in bringing the Pinoy Pride series to the US. Hopefully, it will happen late this year in San Diego, CA and in the Middle East. In 2015, we are looking at staging events in Europe. Also, we did over 70 shows last year and are looking at over 100 events this year. Our TV partner ABS-CBN and sponsor Asia Brewery Corp. want more shows.

DONNIE. The Nietes vs Fuentes will be the start this year as Moises Fuentes is the WBO 105lb World Champion and will go up in weight to challenge Nietes. In his last fight, Fuentes knocked out Puerto Rican legend Ivan Calderon. This could be the toughest fight for Donnie. We hope to stage the fight here in March but the negotiations have not been easy with Zanfer, the biggest promoter in Mexico who handles Juan Manuel Marquez. They want the fight in Mexico. With Marquez’s win, Mexico Boxing is at its peak which means they have the power now.

TOUR. The ALA Stars Provincial tour was conceptualized to give chances to different provinces all over the country to watch international boxing live and to see their idols in flesh not just in TV, it is also our way of thanking the fans for making “Pinoy Pride” a top rating TV show

AJ BANAL. He’s one fighter who has been in the microscope since he was 16 when GoldenBoy signed him up and at 17 he fought in the undercard of the biggest fight in history Mayweather vs Dela Hoya since then the expectations were higher not allowing Banal to grow into his own. At 19, he fought for a world title and lost in front of his hometown fans, which was a traumatic experience for him,after four years we all thought he got over it but again it turned out to be the same thing all over again. Banal is only 24 and is still young, its up to Banal if he can comeback or not, Just like Villoria, he was knocked out by Carlos Tamara 3 yrs ago and is back now at his best at 32 yrs old.

WHO TO WATCH. Milan Melindo should have a title shot this year and we hope to get some big names for him. Genesis Servania needs a break out fight, Jason Pagara has shown Maturity, Rocky Fuentes and Jimrex Jaca is ready for a title shot.

POTENTIAL. Young fighters Prince Albert Pagara and Melvin Gumban from the ALA gym but we also have potential young stars fighting under ALA Promotions but from different stables.. Undefeated Arthur Villanueva and Merlito Sabillo, Lorenzo Villanueva, Marlon Tapales with more young fighters joining us soon.

UFC? I am not so familiar with UFC and MMA but I know its gaining ground. Still, I believe boxing will always be what it is because of its history and tradition. No question UFC has a brilliant promoter in Dana White but boxing has Bob Arum. The problem with boxing is politics. Take Golden Boy and Top Rank, they refuse to make the big fights because they can’t work together. It destroys the sport.

PACMAN. Manny will have to evaluate himself if he can focus on boxing 100%; if not, he should retire. It’s a demanding sport. Marquez knocked Manny out because he was 100% focused and Manny was not. Manny still has it as he was winning until he got careless and walked into the punch. It’s best for Manny to fight a tune-up first before a rematch with Marquez. He should go back to his strength training and conditioning which he didn’t do in his last fight.

The Parkinson’s disease report was unfair to Manny as the doctor did not even personally check him. Manny knows his body more than anyone but I agree with Bob Arum: have further tests in the US.

NBA? Miami Heat will win again. My best player: Lebron James.

Pacman-Marquez 4: Who’s interested?

PUERTO PRINCESA–It’s our first time in Palawan, the home of the longest navigable underground river in the world. We arrived last Friday. While Typhoon Ofel left Cebu and it was sunny in Mactan, the skies darkened upon arrival in Puerto Princesa. It rained the entire Friday. Yesterday was the opposite: clear blue skies engulfed this island of blue seas.

I’m accompanied by three girls — Jasmin, our daughter Jana, and top junior netter Sally Mae “Em-Em” Siso. We’re here for the national championships of the Palawan Pawnshop Junior Tennis — a Group 2 major event that has brought together 220 entries from all over the archipelago.

Last Friday, we had dinner at La Terrasse with Roland So. No, he’s not the husband of Michelle — he’s the former No. 1 player who’s also here as a tennis parent. With his wife Tina, he brought along three of their six children: Camille, Mia and Mariel.

Perfectly-timed during the semestral break, we’re here not just for tennis but also to visit some of the country’s most famous tourist spots: the underground river, the fireflies sanctuary, Honda Bay, the crocodile farm… (Since we’re stuck in Puerto P., we can’t visit the other prominent yet faraway sites: Coron, El Nido, Tubbataha Reef.)

We’re most excited, of course, with trekking the 8.2-km. underground river that is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as (thanks to the online votes of the internet-savvy Pinoys) one of the world’s “New 7 Wonders of Nature.”

A bit of scary news, though. Upon arrival here, we were told of a disease. The name: “Come-back, come-back!”

UFC. I got plenty of feedback from last Thursday’s “UFC beats boxing” column and I’d like to share one, coming from a former Class-A tennis player and golfer.

Nick Torres said: “Hi John! AMEN to your column today! I’ve been trying to educate Bidoy (Aldeguer) about the UFC because he’s puzzled why it’s so popular. I told him everything you wrote plus the genuine respect 99% of the fighters have for each other plus the ‘Countdown’ and ‘Ultimate Fighter’ series, etc. I’m sure you know at least 30 UFC fighters on sight and know their backgrounds, fighting style, and always have a sentimental favorite for every single fight, right? You can’t say the same for boxing unless your family name is Aldeguer, Villamor, Gorres, etc.”

PACMAN. This is hard to believe. And it’s a sign. Manny Pacquiao, with just six weeks to go before his Dec. 8 fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, is absent. He’s not found in the news. There’s Donaire. There’s ALA. But there’s hardly any Pacman. This is surprising. Maybe the public is bored and weary of his 4th encounter vs. Marquez? Whatever the cause, the buzz surrounding Pacman is no longer the same. My advice for our modern-day hero? Pummel the Mexican, knock-him-out and then, before a worldwide audience, announce your retirement. Pacman’s skills, as we’ve witnessed in the past few fights, is waning. It’s time to end the career of the greatest Pinoy athlete ever.

LATE ARRIVAL. It was a long and tiresome trip for Team Visayas. En route to the 4th National Milo Little Olympics, the delegation’s departure from Cebu got delayed by one day. They arrived in Manila on Oct. 19 (Friday) and had to be ferried straight to the Marikina Sports Park for the Opening Ceremony. They finally landed at the Robinsdale Hotel, all tired and travel-weary, past 9 P.M. – with games scheduled early the next day. That was the delay going to Manila.

Coming home was even worse. After the Milo Olympics finished last Sunday, the Visayas Team was supposed to leave Manila last Monday. Instead — no thanks to Typhoon Ofel — they left four days later, sleeping in the boat as it got stuck in the pier. They finally arrived in Cebu only yesterday noon!

CEBU MARATHON. The online registration of the event slated this January 13, 2013 is now on-going. Register now… www.cebumarathon.com

Agony, ecstasy for AJ and the Milo Olympics

While in Metro Manila last weekend, I watched two sporting events: the 4th National Milo Little Olympics and the AJ Banal championship fight.

First, Milo. Their opening ceremony last Friday was spectacular. After Ricky Ballesteros wowed the Milo officials with his opening act here at the CCSC three years ago, the high standards have been set.

Marikina City was a superb Milo host. So was Nestle, who spared no expenses to give the best; all athletes received green shirts, jackets, bags, magazines with their names printed on it, plus nicely-crafted medals for the winners.

For tennis, our elementary and high school girls played at the Marist School. That was the same venue as football — won by our Team Visayas. For the high school girls, we defeated Luzon, NCR and Mindanao to win gold. My daughter Jana, who played singles, won her matches with impressive scores: 8-0, 8-0, 8-3. Jana’s other teammates from Bright Academy were Stephanie Kim, Shyne Villareal and Anday Alferez.

In the elementary girls, we won silver. Led by Kara Salimbangon, who won all her games, we barely lost to Mindanao in the finals. Still, a proud silver-medal achievement for the St. Benedict girls. Kudos to coach Ken Salimbangon.

Team Visayas

Gold medalists, High School

MARIKINA. The past three days, I drove all over the streets of the country’s Shoe Capital. You know what impressed me most? The bike lines. Everywhere in Marikina, there is a dedicated lane for bikers. We should adopt this!

Imagine if more people biked? In a trip to Copenhagen and Amsterdam several years back, everybody biked. There’s less pollution, less traffic and we’re all healthier. (Ask Jourdan Polotan about climbing Maria Luisa.) With the BRT project to be realized, why not include dedicated bike lanes as part of the master-plan?

MOA. It stands for Mall of Asia. It also stands for Milo’s Most Outstanding Athlete. At the SM MOA Arena, one word best describes the entertainment complex, said Rico Navarro: beautiful. Yes, it is majestic and world-class.

Our seats were soft and cushiony. When Randy Villanueva brought me a cup of beer, the seats had bottle-holders ready. A giant LCD screen with the most advanced scoreboard loomed at the center. The aircon? Colder than Cebu Coliseum’s! Imagine if, a few years after the SM Seaside City rises at the SRP, it also decides to build such an arena. Let’s hope.

BANAL. Driving for over an hour from Marikina to the Mall of Asia, I arrived past 8 P.M. Jason Pagara was next. His fight started and finished in haste. It was over in a minute as the enemy quit.

Boom-Boom Bautista fought next. Though the fight was close and a split-decision decided the outcome, it was obvious that our Boholano won. Their Round 2 slugfest was one of the best three minutes I’ve witnessed. Still, despite the win, it wasn’t an overly remarkable or superb result. Boom-Boom defeated the Mexican but can he win a rematch vs. Daniel Ponce de Leon?

With Banal vs. Sor Singyu, from rounds 1 to 8, it was entertaining. No one backed off. AJ attacked. The Thai stepped forward. When AJ trapped him against the ropes, Sor Singyu shielded himself then unleashed his own retaliatory barrage. Wallops on the head were countered with pummels to the abdomen. AJ’s right upper eye bled. Low blows were repeatedly thrown by AJ. Up until the 9th round, I thought AJ led the scorecards. I thought it would end in the 12th without any KOs. But, like I was at the Cebu Coliseum four years ago to witness AJ’s shocking surrender, the same shocking end followed last Saturday.

Lack of training? Lack of stamina? Of heart? Prior to Round 9, AJ didn’t look beaten. He was exchanging strikes with punches. He looked alright. Then again, we didn’t know what his mind and body felt. Sadly, in the 9th, the worst-scenario moments arrived: AJ was punished, leaned against the ropes, almost fell off the ring in what should have been a knock-down; then, seconds later, after a succession of blows, AJ collapsed. He stood up but his eyes said it all: No Mas.

Can AJ Banal do a Pacman in Manila?

Of the hundreds of sporting events that I’ve witnessed in my life, the date “December 2004” stands out as unforgettable. It was a fight between a Thai and a Pinoy.

Eight years ago, Manny Pacquiao, then a rising star — but nowhere near his worldwide celebrity/billionaire status of today — fought a Thai named Fahsan 3K Battery. The venue was The Fort. It was open-air. Jinkee was seated behind us. With one punch, Pacquiao damaged the abdomen of 3K Battery. The Thai flew on-air in Taguig.

This Sunday, a similar occurrence will unfold. It’s in Manila. It’s a world title bout. It’s a Pinoy vs. a Thai. Can Alex John Banal duplicate Manny’s feat?

“Pungluang Sorsingyu is a very strong and experienced fighter. He only has one defeat in 43 fights and has a high 62.79 knock-out percentage. That says a lot about his strength. Also, based on his previous fights, he can take a punch.”

Those words were uttered by Michael Aldeguer, the president of ALA Promotions, who spent millions and took months to organize this event.

“This is ALA Promotions’ biggest promotion this year,” added Aldeguer. One of the reasons why this is huge is because six different nationalities are coming to fight. Usually, it’s just the Mexicans. This time, it’s six nations represented. No wonder the event is called Pinoy Pride XVII – Philippines vs. The World.

“This is also a triple championship event with Banal and Sorsingyu for the WBO World bantamweight Championship and Boom Boom and Jason Pagara’s WBO International championships for the Featherweight and Light Welterweight divisions, respectively. Lastly, this will be the inaugural boxing event at the state-of-the-art SM Mall Of Asia Arena and it will be a world championship event at that.”

True. While Ateneo beat UST in SM’s MOA Arena and Lady Gaga had performed there, there had been no boxing spectacle. This Sunday will change that.

There’s a good chance I’ll watch the fight “live” this Sunday. I’m excited to visit the MOA Arena. Some friends commented that it’s nothing special. The workmanship, they said, was unlike the reported “NBA-like standards.” But others say otherwise.

“The SM MOA ARENA definitely is world-class,” Aldeguer said. “It is set-up like the Staples Center in LA and everything is electronic. It seats about 16,000 and a 20,000 capacity SRO. It has concessionaire booths all over and the seats are comfortable. Parking is not a problem; there’s an adjacent building connected by a bridge to the ARENA. World-class.”

Well, there you have it. I’ll submit my actual inspection after this weekend.

Back to AJ’s opponent, Sorsingyu’s credentials are impressive. He won 42 times and lost only once. He’s knocked out his enemies on 27 occasions. Against Filipinos, he’s won 14 times. Will AJ be next? (Fahsan 3K Battery actually defeated 22 Pinoys prior to facing Pacquiao.)

Not so fast, says Aldeguer. “AJ is very well prepared for this world championship,” said Michael. “He has been training since early this year and has fought last July to keep of the ring rust as his fight before that ended quickly in the very first round against the Mexican Hidalgo. For his training, the whole team has been very focused on all aspects like the strength and conditioning, skills training, the nutrition side of things… We can say he is very prepared.”

Banal is not the only mega-fight. Rey “Boom-Boom” Bautista also plays a starring role.

“For Boom Boom, Daniel Ruiz is a very tough and hard punching fighter,” said Aldeguer. “A fighter who can apply pressure and packs a lot of power with 19 KO’s on his resume. As for Jason Pagara, he will be facing an undefeated fighter from Barbados Miguel Antoine and any undefeated fighter cannot be taken lightly. These opponents, like Boom Boom and Jason, have likewise been training hard for these championship fights as these are quick tickets for either fighters to improve their world rankings, possibly in the top 5 of their respective divisions.”

This Sunday in Manila, it’s “Go, Cebu!”

Milan, in Cebu, stars in Mexico vs. Philippines

Michael Pastrano Aldeguer and Bob Arum recently met. One of the top prospects that the chieftains of ALA Promotions and Top Rank discussed?

El Metodico. “The Method Man,” known for his precise, well-designed and deliberate punches, his name is Milan Melindo. Aldeguer explained: “Bruce Trampler, the International Hall of Fame Top Rank match maker who has worked with Muhammad Ali, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard and the great Manny Pacquiao, is keen on having Milan in their shows abroad.”

This is outstanding news. Are we anticipating, possibly in Pacquiao’s next Las Vegas encounter this May or June, an ALA boxer to be featured in the undercard? We hope so. Because… sayang. In nearly all of MP’s mega-fights, with tens of millions of eyeballs watching, no prominent Pinoy was featured in the undercard. With this ALA-Top Rank initiative, we might see a change.

Back to Milan Melindo, he’s one of the top guns being groomed. “That just says it all for Milan despite the fact that he has never even fought in the US,” said Michael Aldeguer. “Pinoy Pride, who has achieved double-figure national television ratings, has helped Filipino fighters get global recognition through these events.”

But, before thinking of Las Vegas, it’s Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino this Saturday, January 28. It’s the 11th edition of Pinoy Pride and Melindo is fighting another Mexican, Juan Esquar, in the 112-lb. Flyweight Division.

Why this heated Philippines-Mexico rivalry? I asked Aldeguer. “The Philippines-Mexico rivalry started when Manny, one by one, beat Mexico’s living legends in Marco Antonio Barrera, Eric Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. What he has done opened doors not only for Filipino boxers abroad but highlighted the rivalry of our nations in boxing. Manny’s achievements showed the world that Filipinos are at par with the best in the world giving inspiration to the young boxer’s dream that you can achieve anything if you work hard.”

(In my further research, Mexico and the Philippines are so similar that, despite our geographical distance, we’re “baby-making nations.” Mexico ranks as the 11th most populous nation on this planet (113 million) while ours is ranked 12th at 94 million.)

With Milan’s opponent, Juan Esquer, is he: A patsy? A whipping boy? A sacrificial boxing lamb ready to be bloodied by the undefeated (in 25 fights) Milan Melindo?

“Juan Esquer has fought the best fighters of his division,” said Aldeguer. “He has fought six world champions: Ivan Calderon, Hernan Marquez, Carlos TamaraGilberto, Keb Baas, Lui Concepcion and Kermin Guardia. He has a 56.76 % KO percentage.”

Impressive. He also has, like boxers in the mold of Mayweather, a loud mouth. “I am a fighter who likes to slug it out and I am going to win by knockout so that they (judges) will not take away the fight from me,” Esquer said. “I am 100% sure of winning my fight against Melindo.”

100 percent sure? What I’m 100 % sure of is this: This Saturday will be a carnage. Jabs, wallops, uppercuts will bombard Lahug.

I asked Michael A. what he likes about Milan M. “He has a high boxing I.Q. He is so focused and is very hard-working. He analyzes the game and he has always have had a cerebral approach to everything. What is great about Milan is his being calculated with his punches and he picks his spots and times his punches well.”

As to the Pinoy Pride Series, Aldeguer adds: “Each Pinoy Pride is unique as boxing shows are always unpredictable and feature different fighters and opponents from different nationalities. Like the last Pinoy Pride Philippines vs Mexico wherein up and coming fighter Jason Pagara lost to Rosbel Montoya of Mexico. Hopefully, Filipinos will come and support Team Philippines against The World in their quest to win the World Trophy and bring pride to the country once again. ALA Promotions is always true to its goal to discover and support Filipino fighters and for them to have a great venue to showcase their skills to the world.”