Some of them flew in from Saudi Arabia, others drove from Fujairah and Abu Dhabi and in the end a couple of hundreds were turned away because the Dubai World Trade Center was full.
While Filipinos agreed to pay for standing room only and begged organizers to bend the rules, they soon realized that rules in Dubai are strictly enforced unlike Manila where the standing room only phenomenon is a reality.
The Filipinos who lined up for tickets as early as five hours before the first bell sounded shouted themselves hoarse as three of the famed ALA Gym’s most exciting fighters battled Hispanic opponents in the “Duel in Dubai”, a joint undertaking of Asia’s premier promotional outfit ALA Promotions in cooperation with the giant broadcast network ABS-CBN and its global network, The Filipino Channel or TFC.
An enthusiastic group of people from TFC and their local radio partners did a tremendous job in reaching Filipinos in Dubai while the Regional Marketing Head for the Middle East and Europe Maribel Hernaez was all smiles after her tireless efforts resulted in a tremendously successful undertaking with Filipinos begging for a return in a hurry and this time with more seats available.
ABS-CBN’s renowned “Voice” and consultant for sports Peter Musngi, head of Narrowcast March Ventosa and head of Integrated Sports Dino Laurena who put in a lot of hard work and were concerned whether this historic first in cooperation with ALA Promotions would succeed, were all smiles as they walked into the venue and saw the faces of hundreds of smiling Filipinos lining up at the entrance.
The fights themselves were perhaps not as exciting for those of us who have covered the fights of world champions - “Fighter of the Decade” Manny Pacquiao, Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire, Donnie “Ahas” Nietes and the emerging Pagara brothers, Jason and Prince Albert Pagara - but it’s not the fault of ALA Promotions who matched undefeated Genesis “Azukal” Servania and King Arthur Villanueva and comebacking Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista against opponents whose impressive records and a review of their fight videos gave them the confidence that there indeed would be a “Duel in Dubai.”
While our countrymen and a few local owners of boxing gyms in Dubai embraced the Pinoy boxers and exulted in their victories, such recognized boxing writers as Nick Giongco who has covered most if not all of Pacquiao’s fights summed it up when he told Yahoo Philippines, “it was a great, great card where we were hoping for knockouts instead of disappointing endings.”
Antonio “Tony” Aldeguer, the visionary patron of ALA Gym and now ALA International Promotions, told Yahoo Philippines that “essentially styles make fights” and based on the opponents’ records and videos of some of their fights where they engaged in toe-to-toe action, he expected a war. But the Hispanic fighters appeared to be overwhelmed by predominantly Filipino sell-out crowd and the undefeated records of IBF International junior bantamweight champion Villanueva and WBO Intercontinental super bantamweight champion Servania who looked supremely confident at the press conference and weigh-in at Rocky’s Café and Bar.
Aldeguer remarked that as a result of the attitude of their Mexican and Nicaraguan opponents who unlike their traditional warrior mentality appeared to be content to survive, the Filipino boxers were forced to be the aggressors and take risks just so they could entertain the fans.
Villanueva almost paid the price for his as he went after Nicaragua’s rugged Henry “El Crespo “ Maldonado. He had the Nicaraguan in trouble in the second round but got too impatient in going for a knockout and was caught by a counter-punch as he leaned forward.
The flash knockdown embarrassed Villanueva who tried to brush it off with a grin.
Maldonado was awkward and hard to hit but Villanueva behind a solid jab and right straight ultimately got to the Nicaraguan in round five and turned the tide before a flurry in the 10th round enabled him to score a split decision win.
Maldonado was cut on his forehead and scalp and his face was turned into a bloody mess.
There was some discontent with the 117-110 scorecard of Filipino judge Danrex Tapdasan whose appointment prior to the fight had been questioned by Maldonado’s team and obviously didn’t reflect the closeness of the bout which Thai judge Yongsak na Songha had Villanueva winning by a 116-113 margin while the other Thai judge Cherdchaichanon Srichart had Maldonado winning by a single point 114-113.
The Nicaraguan was seen shedding tears in his dressing room after the fight but a beaming Villanueva who improved to 26-0 with 15 knockouts knew that his chances for a world title shot improved since he is ranked No. 2 by the WBO, No. 4 by the IBF and No. 8 by the WBA.
Charismatic Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista, a crowd favorite in Dubai who has always endeared fans with his aggressive style, was dead eager to go against highly touted Mexican slugger Juan Jose “Piquet” Martinez right from the opening bell.
The Mexican stepped into the ring with a fearsome record of 15 knockouts in 19 wins with only one loss. This included a unanimous 12-round decision win over Carlos “Torito” Jimenez last March 29 to win the WBC Mundo Hispano title in a fight where both fighters went down and the final round had fans on their feet.
Ever since American strength and conditioning coach Nick Curson worked with him some months ago, Bautista has demonstrated better head and lateral movements and used it effectively to avoid some of the big shots of Martinez who seemed awed fighting for the first tine outside his native Mexico.
Bautista tried but just couldn’t put Martinez away but the back-and-forth action resulted in a cut on the right eyelid of Martinez as well as that of Bautista.
A nasty clash of heads in the seventh round opened up a bloody gash on Bautista’s left eyelid and with blood streaming from both cuts, internationally respected referee Bruce McTavish on the advice of ring physician Dr. Rene Bonsubre called a halt to the contest.
Two of the three judges – Tapdasan who had Bautista the winner 67-65 and Salven Lagumbay who also scored the fight for Bautista 68-65 - enabled the popular “Boom Boom” to earn a majority 7th round technical decision after the third Filipino judge Edward Ligas rather surprisingly scored it a 66-66 draw.
Bautista, who is hoping to break into the world rankings, improved his record to 36-3 with 25 knockouts while Martinez suffered only his second defeat in 21 fights with 15 of his 19 wins coming by way of knockouts.
In the main event, WBO Intercontinental super bantamweight champion Servania, who is ranked No. 2 by the World Boxing Organization and No. 9 by the International Boxing Federation, retained his belt and kept his title hopes with a TKO victory after tough Jose “Matador” Cabrera refused to come out for the 10th round claiming that a nasty gash suffered on his left cheekbone was caused by a deliberate headbutt.
Yahoo Philippines sensed that Cabrera’s fight plan was to hopefully put Servania away in three or four rounds but when Servania caught the Mexican with a terrific one-two combination in the second round, Cabrera’s game-plan and focus were wrecked.
In fact he wanted to quit at the end of the third round but was prevailed upon by his corner to keep fighting which he did, connecting with some sneaky counter-punches even as Servania was trying to shake off cramps in his legs as trainers Edito “Ala” Villamor and brother Edmund and former Philippine bantamweight champion Michael Domingo feverishly massaged his legs.
Servania proved to the heavier puncher but although he buckled Cabrera’s knees a couple of times he just couldn’t take him out.
A flurry of punches by Servania in the ninth round opened up an ugly cut on Cabrera’s left cheek. Cabrera’s corner told referee Tapdasan that Cabrera wouldn’t continue, handing Servania a 10th round TKO while Cabrera was roundly booed.
With the win Servania improved to 5-0 with 11 knockouts while Cabrera dropped to 22-5-2 with 10 knockouts.
ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer is pragmatic enough to know that going after undefeated Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux is a somewhat risky proposition and considered it prudent to chase IBF champion Kiko Martinez instead.
But Martinez lost the title to Britain’s Carl Frampton on Saturday night in a brutal and thrilling clash in Belfast, Northern Ireland which put such an option in jeopardy.
Overall, ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer said he was “hoping for something spectacular in the Servania fight but it was anti-climactic because Cabrera was merely fighting to survive.”
What truly lifted his spirits was “the overwhelming support of our countrymen in Dubai” even as he indicated that while Abu Dhabi and Doha, Qatar are keen to stage the “Pinoy Pride” showcase he believes “we owe it to Filipinos in Dubai many of whom were turned away.”
A possible return in March is likely to see the attractive Pagara brothers, junior welterweight Jason Pagara (34-2, 21 KO’s) and super bantamweight Prince Albert Pagara (21-0, 15 KO’s) take centerstage and no matter how many extra seats you add, it promises to be another sell-out.