AJ ‘ Bazooka’ Banal continues maturation, and world title quest this weekend

The main criticism regarding talented and hard-hitting bantamweight top contender AJ “Bazooka” Banal (26-1-1, 19 KOs) was that he couldn’t fill a dollar – he only has three quarters, or in other words, he fades during the “championship rounds”. As gifted as the 23-year-old Bukidnon-native is, his heart, and stamina are main factors that keep him on the outside of being a World Champion

But in his last fight against then undefeated Mexican foe Mario Briones, Banal took a major step in disproving those criticisms. He dominated, and outclassed the taller, stronger, and granite chinned Briones, only to feel as if he was having deja vu in the latter rounds, when fatigue started to creep in.

Instead of going for broke, however, Banal pulled back for a few rounds, played keep away, and smartly picked his spots. Signs that “Bazooka Joe” has learned from his past experiences.

What he would give to have that wisdom back in 2008, when he dropped a KO loss to Rafael Concepcion for the Interim WBA sper flyweight belt in a fight he was dominating from the opening bell. Banal was ahead of all scorecards when he refused to get up during that fateful 10th round when he got dropped for the first time ever in his career.

This weekend, Banal gets to test his mettle once again as the WBO’s #1 bantamweight headlines ALA Promotions’ March 24 Pinoy Pride card at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.

Banal will be facing tough Mexican in Raul Hidalgo (16-5-0, 12 KOs) for his fourth defense of his WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, which will also serve as a tune-up before he goes on to finally challenge for another World Title.

Also to be featured in the undercard are promising undefeated Filipino fighters Prince Albert Pagara and Arthur Villanueva, as well as OPBF Flyweight Champion Rocky Fuentes.

Another added motivation for Banal is the fact that he has more to fight for at this stage in his life. “I was thinking about my son during those hard rounds. He’s the one who gives me strength and inspiration,” Banal told be back in Bacolod after his win against Briones.

Considered as one of the best boxing talents from Cebu, something undefeated lightweight rising star Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta himself confirmed to me in one of our conversations, Banal is definitely looking to be on the right path to fulfilling his promise.