Right now the Filipino scene is red hot with a number of top class world champions at the top of the sport, some brilliant fighters in the title mix and some prodigious prospects starting their journey to the top. The scene may not get the attention of the Japanese one, but it is a very underrated one, and one that will be a major player again in 2019. So with that in mind we'd like to look at some of the most notable stories in Filipino boxing as we head into the new year.
Veterans on Top
As we've entered 2019 we see 3 familiar Filipino names at the top of the world level. WBA "regular" Welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39), WBO Super Flyweight champion Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23) and WBA "super" Bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25). At a combined 112 years old the trio are certainly veterans, but all 3 looked really good last time out, and we wouldn't be surprised by at least 1 of them ending 2019 as a world champion.
Of the three we know that Pacquiao will defend his title on January 19th, against Adrien Broner, and that Donaire is lined up for a WBSS bout with Zolani Tete. The plan is unclear for Nietes, though he looked very impressive in taking a decision win over Kazuto Ioka on New Yea's Eve, and has certainly still got a lot to offer the sport, even at the age of 36.
It's not just the veterans who are coming into 2019 as world champions but also two men in their physical primes. These are IBF Super Flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-2, 20) and WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (18-3, 10).
Whilst Ancajas had a relatively disappointing 2018, despite defending his title 3 times, there are notable fights on the horizon for him. He has an expected mandatory defense against Ryuichi Funai and has also been linked to a bout with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Both of those would be bouts for him to get his juices flowing. As for Saludar he had a career defining win last year, dethroning Ryuya Yamanaka, and is now expected to make his first defense in the Spring.
Hard hitting Interim Twosome
As well as the full, or regular, champions there are also two Filipino fighters who start the year with WBA "interim" titles, and both of those are unbeaten heavy handed hopefuls. One is Bantamweight Reymart Gaballo (20-0, 17) whilst the other is Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17), the Featherweight champion. Both of these fighters impressed us in 2018 and we're expecting to see huge things from both in 2019.
Tepora has his first defense set for January 19th, against Hugo Ruiz, whilst Gaballo will be in a none-title fight in February, his second since winning the title in the US. If they come through their next bouts both are expected to be moved onto big things before the year is out.
Just below the champions we see a host of contenders. Just a short list of these contenders includes the likes of Mark Anthony Barriga (9-1, 1), Melvin Jerusalem (14-2, 8), Pedro Taduran (13-2, 10), Edward Heno (13-0-5, 5), Rey Loreto (24-14, 16), Jonathan Taconing (28-3-1, 22), Christian Araneta (17-0, 14), Giemel Magramo (23-1, 19) and Aston Palicte (24-2-1, 20).
Barriga, Jerusalem, Taduran, Taconing, Palicte and Loreto have all come up short in recent world title fights, but all proved they belonged on that level and we suspect that they will all be getting another world title fight sooner rather than later. In fact Palicte has a world title eliminator sorted fro the end of this month whilst Taconing is expected to get a world title shot very shortly.
Whilst Araneta, Magramo and Heno haven't yet had their shot at world honours it seems that all 3 are only a fight or two off and we could well see all 3 challenging for world titles before the end of the year. Magramo has already fought this year, stopping Wenfeng Ge in China, Heno has an OPBF title defense set for February whilst Araneta last fought in December, beating Vincent Bautista over 8 rounds.
Our list above also misses out fighters like Albert Pagara (31-1, 22), Mark Magsayo (18-0, 13), Johnriel Casimero (25-4, 16), Genesis Servania (32-1, 15) and Marlon Tapales (31-2, 14) who are also in the mix for a title this year. The depth at this level from the Philippines is genuinely incredible and it's hard to not imagine at least a handful of these fighters getting a shot.
Promising Pinoy Prospects
Arguably the most exciting part of the Filipino scene right now is the prospects. These include the hard hitting Romero Duno (18-1, 14), 21 year old Samuel Salva (16-0, 10), the sensational KJ Cataraja (9-0, 7), former amateur standout Jade Bornea (13-0, 9), teenager Carl Jammes Martin (11-0, 10) and southpaw puncher Richard Bulacan (6-0, 4).
Whilst we're not expecting any of these fighters to compete in massive bouts this year we do expect to see them all take a huge step forward towards big bouts in 2020. Of the ones listed it's Cataraja who excites us the most, and he really should be seen as one of the sports best prospects globally, but the others are all well worthy of attention from fans following the Filipino boxing scene.
Whilst the present is interesting for the Filipino scene we can't help but feel that the future is even more exciting. We're going to be seeing Pacquiao, Donaire and Nietes hanging up the gloves in the near future, and while the generation of fighters following in their footsteps have got huge shoes to fill, we can't help but get excited about the sheer quantity of fantastic Filipino's set to make their mark at the highest level.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).