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.

AJ “Bazooka” Banal who is looking to challenge for a world title this year should have no problem disposing of Mexico’s Raul Hidalgo when they clash for Banal’s WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight title at the Cebu Waterfront Hotel & Casino on Saturday.

The fight will headline the extremely successful “Pinoy Pride” series which will telecast its 13th edition titled “Road to Glory” on ABS-CBN on Sunday.

The southpaw Banal who is ranked No. 1 by the WBO, No. 3 by the IBF and the WBA and No. 5 by the WBC has a record of 26-1-1 with 19 knockouts while his Mexican opponent Hidalgo has a record of 16-5 with 12 knockouts.

Hidalgo is coming of back-to-back wins beginning with an eight round split decision victory over former world super flyweight title challenger Victor Zaleta who had an impressive record of 19-2 with 10 knockouts on January 28 this year followed by a 2nd round TKO over unheralded Macario Leyva who had a record of 3-8 with 2 knockouts on February 25.

However, Hidalgo was knocked out in the first round of a battle for the vacant WBC International super flyweight title when he made the mistake of engaging Kameda early in the fight and paid the price. The tough Japanese caught him with two shots to the liver and as he agonized in pain referee Manolo Alcocer counted Hidalgo out at 2:20 of round one.

However, with his two recent wins the Mexican warrior is confident he could scuttle Banal’s title bid by beating him. In a statement prior to the Mexicans arrival on Wednesday at 9:45 p.m. in Cebu, Hidalgo said “We Mexicans always fight to win and I will make sure to win in any way possible.”

He said he is “very excited” about the fight and he hopes to “excite the fans when they come to watch us on Saturday.”

Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation flyweight champion Rocky Fuentes takes on Mexican Javier “El Chivero Franco in a ten round bout with the hard-hitting Fuentes favored to win and also step in line for a world title shot since he is ranked No. 4 by the WBO, No. 3 by the WBC and IBF and No. 5 by the WBA behind a record of 32-6-2 with 19 knockouts.

Franco is coming off an eight round unanimous decision over Jorge Garcia who hadn’t won a fight with a 0-2 record according to last March 3 prior to which he scored a 1st round TKO over Luis Carlos Jimenez who had a record of 1-7 with 1 knockout making Fuentes a prohibitive favorite to win.

But just like Hidalgo and most Mexican fighters Franco didn’t back off and promised “I will do what I can to give a grand performance for the fans to remember. I will be going for the win.”


By Ronnie Nathanielsz

WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion AJ “Bazooka” Banal of ALA Gym Philippines will be tested anew before his second world title shot of his career on the 24th of March at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.

Banal W 26 (KO 19) L 1 D 1 last fought October 8, 2011 in Bacolod City where he beat Mexican Mario Briones of Mexico via a 12 round UD beat down and will be facing another Mexican in Raul Hidalgo for his fourth defense of his WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title.

Hidalgo who sports a record of W 16 (KO 12) L 5 D 0 will be Banal’s last test before fighting for the WBO World Bantamweight title which rumor has it that current champ Jorge Arce will be vacating to challenge Nonito Donaire, Jr. of the Pilippines. Should this happen, Banal will possibly be in the clear to fight for a world championship this year.

Also to be featured in the undercard are promising undefeated Filipino fighters Prince Albert Pagara and Arthur Villanueva. OPBF Flyweight Champ Rocky Fuentes will likewise be in this exciting fight card.

Pinoy Pride 13 is a proud presentation of ALA Promotions and ABS CBN Sports gearing towards showcasing the Filipino fighters to the world.

Mandaue City – AJ ‘Bazooka’ Banal (26W-1L-1D, 17 KO’s) of Ermita, Cebu City will defend his WBO Asia-Pacific bantamweight title against Raul Hidalgo (15W-5L, 11 KO’s) of Mexico this March 24.

But the favourite question among the sportswriters was if Banal can fight for a world title this year.

“We are not treating this as a mere tune-up,” ALA Promotions CEO Michael Aldegeur said, “You can never underestimate a Mexican fighter. Yes, AJ is nearing a title fight and we’ll assess after this fight. We are also looking at the possibility of AJ fighting on the undercard of a Nonito Donaire fight in the U.S.”

Banal for his part said, “I am satisfied with the results of my last two fights. My confidence is back. I have prepared long and hard, I’ve been in the gym since December. I will not look past Hidalgo. He could be better than his record.”

Banal is the number ranked contender in the WBO. The reigning champion, Jorge Arce, of Mexico, has been reported to be planning another move up in weight.

By Rene Bonsubre, Jr.


Things appear to be looking up for famed ALA Promotions prospect AJ “Bazooka” Banal, the reigning WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight champion who is ranked No. I by the WBO and No. 3 by the IBF as he has an opportunity to fight for the title under either world organization.

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum told Standard during a conversation in San Antonio, Texas,  that Jorge “Travieso” Arce is moving back up to bantamweight to fight four-division champion Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire who won the WBO title beating former champion Wilfredo Vazquez Jr handily last February 4 at the Alamadome in San Antonio.

Donaire’s manager Cameron Dunkin confirmed the fight and with the specialist’s findings that Donaire’s left hand wasn’t broken as originally feared,  chances are the Arce fight will go ahead sometime in May either in the Cowboys Stadium in Texas or the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

With Arce moving up to fight Donaire it leaves the WBO bantamweight title vacant although as of now Arce’s handlers haven’t confirmed his decision to move back to 122 and formally notified the WBO.

In another development IBF Championship Committee chairman Lindsey Tucker  has announced that since 118 pound champion Abner Mares has informed the IBF he was relinquishing his title and not fighting mandatory challenger Vusi Malinga of South Africa, the IBF had given the handlers of Banal and Malinga some 90 days within which to finalize negotiations for a title fight. If Branco Milenkovic who handles Malinga is unable to come to terms with ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer then the IBF will order a purse bid.

Should Banal opt to fight for the vacant WBO title he will face Thailand’s Pungluang Sor Singyu, the WBO Oriental interim champion and the WBO Asia Pacific Youth champion who is 23 years old and has an impressive  record of 39-1 with 26 knockouts.

On the other hand is ALA Promotions decide to go after the IBF title then Banal will clash with  Vusi “Marvelous” Malinga the 29 year old southpaw with a record of 20-3-1 with 12 knockouts who, in his last fight,  beat Banal’s stablemate Michael Domingo by a twelve round unanimous decision in a title eliminator in South Africa on October 30, 2010.

Banal himself a southpaw is 23 years old and boasts of a record of  26-1-1 with 19 knockouts and is one of the ALA fighters being eyed by Top Rank alongside undefeated WBO No.1 flyweight Milan Melindo to figure in forthcoming Top Rank fight cards in the US.

Arum told us that he wants the ALA fighters to train in the Top Rank Gym in Las  Vegas before being featured on the fight cards of Top Rank promotions.


By Ronnie Nathanielsz

ALA Promotions president Michael Aldeguer says AJ “Bazooka” Banal (26-1-1, 19 KO’s) is being lined up for a possible WBO Interim bantamweight title fight against Thailand’s No.1 world ranked Pungluang Sor Singyu who has an impressive record of 38-1 with 26 knockouts, many of them against Filipinos.

The solidly built Thai stopped Marvin Tampus in six rounds, Paul Apolinario, Freddie Martinez and Elmar Francisco in two and Joel Rafols in the first round. Pungluang won the WBO Asia Pacific Interim title with a 2nd round TKO of Nathan Bolicio last October 11 and won the Youth title with a 1st round knockout of Jilo Merlin on October 31, 2009.

Aldeguer told the Manila Standard that during the recent WBO Convention in Puerto Rico he started to “open up discussions” with WBO president Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel and Asia Pacific vice president Leon Panoncillo about a possible interim title fight, ”hopefully in March 2012.”

The interim title fight loomed after reigning WBO/WBC champion Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire announced he is moving up to campaign as a super bantamweight following his shutout win over two division champion Omar Andres Narvaez of Argentina last October 22 at the Theater in Madison Square Garden.

Although there are also possibilities of the talented southpaw Banal fighting for the No.1 mandatory spot in the IBF, Aldeguer said “for now, the focus is on the WBO not the IBF, but we will study the best option.”

Aldeguer informed us he would discuss the planned interim title fight with ABS-CBN vice president for Sports Peter Musngi before sending the WBO president a formal letter.

Aldeguer is in Los Angeles and plans on visiting the gym of Donaire’s trainer Robert Garcia who informed us that he would be ready to train Banal beginning next year since he is currently in Mexico working with Antonio Margarito.

Aldeguer who visited Garcia’s gym in the past said he would “still be passing by his gym to see the place again and prepare a place for Team Banal to stay when he starts training with Robert January of next year.” He added “definitely, whatever happens Banal will be training in the US next year. We feel that Robert is the right guy for Banal and maybe in the future for some of our other fighters.”


By Ronnie Nathanielsz