By Troy Parslow
Try as I might to enjoy other factions, in my distractions as a boxing fan there are few ecosystems more challenging and rewarding to keep pace with than those of the Asian flyweight.
Between the three ‘flyweight’ classes of 108, 112 and 115 lbs, the Philippines, as I’m sure you’ve come to expect, offers much of the depth. And, accordingly, they deliver styles and characters manifold. Understanding where they all fit in amongst the domestic abundance is esoteric in the time and deviations it requires of you, and it can be easy to lose fighters in the shuffle. Above all though, this depth binds new prospects to a standard and spawns rivals to prove their worth.
True to form, on the 13th February, at Paniqui Mega Mart, the contrasting identities of Bienvenido(Ben) Ligas, 12-1-1 (9) and Alphoe Dagayloan, 14-3-6 (5), meet to contest the vacant Philippine Flyweight Championship.
Under the Elorde and Fairtex banners, training in their satellite gyms, ‘Sniper’ Ben ‘Fairtex’ Ligas, 22, of Caloocan City, looks to have the talent and resources to transcend this domestic pile up and move his career through the levels.
Following his suffering of a technical draw to Joseph Ambo and his losing an all-action bantamweight rematch in 2018, aged 19, Ligas has been streaking to the tune of six wins and five knockouts; shaking up JC Francisco(misrepresented by his 8-15 losing record) and cruising to a decision, as well as toppling Jesel Guardario in one, Cristoval Furog in three and Joan Imperial also in three.
Big and strong at the weight in his 5’7” frame and with an exciting, if relatively untested, skillset, at his core Ligas is an aggressive counter puncher. Feinting and agitating with his lead hand and jab, shuffling with deceptive footwork and movement at the upper body; he looks to create opportunities to explode into his offence with fierce counters to body and counter in combination. Comfortable setting traps and punching as he moves in any direction, composed up close and unflustered fighting off of the ropes, it’s always encouraging when you can trust a young prospect has the versatility to draw on.
In the ten rounds against southpaw veteran JC Francisco, we got to see a lot of what Ligas does best. Shifting his weight over his front foot as he shuffled forwards or back, baiting with his jab, feinting with his right shoulder or countering with his right hand; Ligas likes to establish the threat of his rear hand and load his left hip to lead unexpectedly with his left hand or follow up on the right. Channelling Canelo, almost, in the fifth, he shifted his weight onto his front foot, twitched his lead hand, flared a right hand feint and dropped Francisco with a lead left uppercut. As he shifts his weight over the front foot, he’s able to manipulate the distance by leaning over his base and giving the impression of being in range. When he does this as he shuffles back, he’s able to draw leads and counter off of half-steps, making his opponent fall short. Also impressive was his keen use of hand traps to pull down the right side of his Francisco’s guard and land the left hook.
Fighting out of the lesser-known, talented Quibors gym, if we’ve come to expect anything of ten year professional Alphoe Dagayloan, 29, and his upstart career revival, it’s his rising to the role of opponent.
Debuting in 2010, it would take eight years and 16 fights for Dagayloan, Bacoor, Cavite, to find form, tallying a messy 8-2-5. He’s since gone 6-1-1; dropping Kazakh Madiyar Zhanuzak five times to an eighth round stoppage win; decisioning domestic prospects Danrick Sumabong and Esneth Domingo; losing narrowly on points to Kadoebi Gym-trained Ryota Yamauchi and taking Carlo Penalosa to a draw.
Watching Dagayloan, we see a fighter struggling to keep their shape on just about everything he throws and yet, as much as he isn’t a correct puncher, when it comes to landing off-beat out of his southpaw stance, he’s perfectly awkward for it. He doesn’t really pressure with his feet or cut off the ring, so much as he reacts and moves towards his opponent’s centre, punching into the clinch and hooking to both sides of the body(or anything in the way), before switching upstairs when he notices either side of the guard slipping. Forgoing his balance, falling in and then squaring up, he simply allows for no transfer of weight and looks less like he’s punching to hurt the longer his combinations continue. So long as it doesn’t stop him coming forward, though, or throwing off of both hands, he’s content to lead and keep a high output—to push his pace.
As disagreeable as his brand of brawling can come off, you can only imagine the frustration his opponents have finding separation and a pocket of air to breathe. Uncomfortably effective and constant, not since a loss in his third fight has Dagayloan allowed anyone the space to separate themselves from him unanimously—or otherwise enough to beat him. That’s not to say better fighters wouldn’t have done so, but whenever he’s needed to find a new gear, that next level of craft or skulduggery, he’s always had enough to impose his pace and physicality. To beat him clearly(and cleanly) would be a statement, but fall short of that and you’re surely wrestling every second of the fight to return to the comfort of the fundamentals.
Sharpening both edges of his blade with every close run decision, there are few opponents less fashionable and more significant for a Pinoy prospect than Alphoe.
Can he spoil?
As with any of his fights, of course, is the risk of the fight looking ugly in the moments Dagayloan leads with his head. And it wouldn’t be the first time—or the fourth—a clash of heads ended a Dagayloan or Ligas fight prematurely.
That said, we know the value of Dagayloan being himself and when he’s consistent in hiding his left hand entries behind a short jab and raiding whenever his opponent is trying to take stock, standing in range or backing up straight, at this level it has proven a nightmare to manage. When he punches into the clinch or finds himself on the inside, it’s important he’s as rough and crafty as we know he can be. He needs to lean on Ligas’ right shoulder like he did Penalosa’s, holding his head with his right hand and throwing left uppercuts across his body. As well as using his own head to stand Ligas up and prevent him from tying up or using his strength to create separation with a forearm.
Dagayloan plays fast and loose with southpaw-orthodox lead dynamics, stepping either side of an orthodox lead foot to land his jab and, again, it works for him entering range and landing off-beat. If he steps inside Ligas’ lead foot recklessly he might find himself walking into that rear hand, but he will always give up opportunities to counter and if he’s to push a pace on Ligas, he might need to take these risks to get to his body early. Being that this is Ligas’ first fight scheduled for 12 rounds, and that he has only ever gone as far as 10 rounds once, there’s no telling how he’ll handle the pace if Dagayloan can regularly get to his chest and work the body.
Winning for Dagayloan—being recognised with the Filipino title—would mark a quite admirable comeback from a turbulent rise at the journeyman level.
A significant step for Ligas, if he can handle the Dagayloan problem suitably, it could rubberstamp his credentials as one of the foremost prospects in the country.
And he’s equipped to beat Dagayloan well. Particularly using his feet to manipulate distance and counter off of half-steps. Dagayloan moves in straight lines and doesn’t like to punch with his opponent: hiding behind a rigid high guard and waiting his turn to punch. As I’ve mentioned, Dagayloan’s imbalance makes him readily available to counter if you can time him, but if Ligas can’t bait him into leading and counter as he falls in, he can have success occupying him in a high guard, stepping around his southpaw lead foot to change the attack and turn him, guiding Dagayloan past him with his (check) left hook.
Dagayloan is consistent on the inside if he has the freedom to stand square on and work the body, and he throws tight uppercuts well off of both hands, but considering how often finds himself in the clinch, it shouldn’t be so easy to control him and walk him back to the ropes. It’s not something we’ve seen all that much from Ligas and, late on in their fight, Francisco made him look slightly uncomfortable working under him and preventing him from tying up, but if he employs basic grappling technique here he’ll be able to dictate terms on the inside and walk Dagayloan back when he wants to break up his offense. Despite his willingness to fight off the ropes in recent fights, it makes more sense for Ligas to keep the fight at a range his cleaner footwork can make the difference and help create opportunities to counter or exacerbate Dagayloan’s shortcomings. At the very least, here Dagayloan should serve as a fascinating test of Ligas’ ability to control distance with his feet and manage a fight.
On a date heaving with exciting fights, when a young prospect tries to balance aggression and control against a marauding vet, the Philippines looks like a great place to start.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.