AJ Banal, Milan Melindo score impressive decision wins

MANILA, Philippines - Seen during the Pinoy Pride XXIII boxing match between Philippines' former WBO ASPAC Bantamweight Champion AJ Banal (in black-silver trunks) and Puerto Rico's Lucian Gonzales held at the SMART Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, northeast of Manila, on 30 November 2013. Banal won the bout. (Voltaire Domingo/NPPA IMAGES)

Three of the ALA Boxing stable's fighters started Pinoy Pride 23 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum right as they all won by unanimous decisions. AJ Banal, Jason Pagara, and Milan Melindo were all victors for the night before the twin world championship fights.

Banal started the main card with a unanimous decision victory against Lucian Gonzales of Puerto Rico.

Banal outworked Gonzales the entire fight, buckling the Puerto Rican's knees with left straights and right uppercuts throughout the fight. The judges submitted scores of 98-92, 98-92, and 100-90 for Banal's second win after losing his first bid at a world title. He now holds a record of 33 wins with two losses and a draw with 21 knockouts.

In the fifth round, Banal introduced his glove to Gonzales' face with a violent overhand left. He followed up with a jab that twisted the Puerto Rican's head. Banal had another big round in the seventh as he landed a straight. Gonzales' knees momentarily deliberated if they'd go or not, then deciding to stay upright split seconds later.

The crowd cheered lustily in the final round to urge Banal to go for the knockout but Gonzales refused to become a knockout victim although his record fell to 14 wins against eight losses and two draws.

"I really wanted to fight to the latter rounds to test my conditioning," said Banal in Filipino after his fight. "I still had enough towards the end so I tried to go for the finish but he was really tough."

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Pagara duplicated Banal's victory as he also won via unanimous decision over the Dominican Republic's Vladimir Baez. After 10 rounds, the judges scored the fight 98-91, 98-90, and 99-90. Pagara retained his WBO international light welterweight title and raised his record to 32 wins with two losses. Baez on the other hand dropped to  19  wins, with two losses and two draws.

Pagara deposited some body shots early in the fight. He was warned twice for low blows but it didn't stop him from going after Baez's body. The Dominican Republic native kept on leading in with his head in the third round and Pagara happily met it with straight right hands. Baez, however, got some left hooks in the fourth round to announce his willingness to trade with the Filipino slugger.

The rest of the fight was a give-and-take affair with Pagara doing more of the giving and Baez the taking. In the seventh round, Pagara forced Baez to stare at the bright coliseum lights as he landed an uppercut, tilting Baez head upward. 

After rounds and rounds of taking punishment, Baez finally met the mat in the ninth round but Pagara was unable to finish. He tied to end it in the 10th but Baez proved too tough to finish.

"I really wanted a first or second round knockout," Pagara said in Filipino. "I was anxious all fight long because I wanted to give the crowd a knockout win but I'm still pleased with my performance."

Melindo bounced back with a handsome win after the suffering the first defeat of his career in his last fight. Eager to show the boxing world that he has put the loss behind him, Melindo abandoned his usual tactical boxing in favor of a heavy-handed approach. He won another unanimous decision, 118-110, 118-109, and 119-109, and took home with him the WBO international flyweight belt after 12 rounds.

Melindo lulled Rodriguez to a false sense of confidence in the third round as he allowed the Mexican to throw his combinations. With his back on the ropes, Melindo unleashed a brutal counter attack that threw Rodriguez to the ropes. Luckily for the visitor, the bell rescued him from an untimely end.

Action boiled over late in the fifth round as Melindo hurt Rodriguez with a right. The Mexican retaliated with a left hook well after the bell which ticked off the Filipino.

Melindo entertained the crowd all-fight long as he willingly took some punches just so he can land some back. The two fighters traded heavy leather well after the final bell tolled to the people's delight.