Banal stops foe, keeps WBO title

CEBU, Philippines – AJ “Bazooka” Banal turned his much-hyped showdown with Mexican Raul “El Bule” Hidalgo into a cruise, scoring a first round TKO to retain his WBO Asia-Pacific bantamweight crownin the main event of the Pinoy Pride XIII: Road to Glory at the full-packed Pacific grand ballroom of Waterfront-Cebu City Hotel and Casino Saturday.

Banal was just starting to heat up when he landed a solid left hook to the chin that wobbled Hidalgo late in the opening round. The visibly dazed and groggy Mexican kept on punching with his head down and his body trembling, prompting referee Joseph Danrex Tapdasan to step in and call off the bout to prevent the Mexican from further harm. The official time was 2:29 of the first round.

“The boxer (Hidalgo) was already trembling. He was not down, but you can see that his knees were not stable. He could no longer look straight and he doesn’t know who is in front of him,” said Tapdasan in defending his decision that drew mixed reactions from the fans.

“The entertainment side (of boxing) will have to take a backseat at that point. What is more important to me is to protect and safeguard the welfare of the boxer. I could have put him in a dangerous situation had I decided to let him continue,” added Tapdasan.

For his part, ALA Boxing Gym big boss Antonio Aldeguer felt the stoppage was “too premature” but said the referee can’t be blamed for doing his job.

“As a fan and promoter, it was too premature to stop the fight. I don’t know the rules, but he (Tapdasan) should have given him a mandatory eight count,” said Aldeguer. “But objectively as a referee, he did what was right.”

ALA Promotions president and CEO Michael Aldeguer echoed his father’s sentiment. “The referee should have prolonged it a bit, but we can’t blame him anyway for doing what he has to do,” said the younger Aldeguer.

“A win for me is a win, whether by early stoppage or decision. It doesn’t matter for me what others may think as long as I was able to make my fans happy,” said Banal, who improved his record to 27-1-1 including 20 KOs. Hidalgo slipped to 16-6 (12 KOs).

Asked if he’s ready for another crack at the world title, Banal quickly replied: “I am ready anytime. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. If opportunity comes, I’m willing to take the challenge.”

In the supporting main event, OPBF flyweight champion Rocky Fuentes pulled off a spectacular win along with ALA stablemates Albert Pagara and Arthur Villanueva.

Fuentes (33-6-2, 20 KOs) scored two knockdowns before finally stopping Franco Javier after 52 seconds of the sixth round. Pagara (11-0, 9 KOs) knocked out Thai Phupha Por Nobnom (10-8, 9 KOs) in 2:38 of the second round while Villanueva (18-0, 12 KOs) escaped with a unanimous decision victory over Rey Migreño (15-19-3, 13 KOs).