Pungluang Sor Singyu (R) of Thailand throws a punch against AJ Banal of the Philippines during their WBO world bantamweight championship at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila. Photograph: Reuters
Pungluang Sor Singyu silenced the crowd at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Saturday night by stopping Filipino AJ Banal in the ninth round to win the vacant WBO bantamweight belt. It was a confident performance from the Thai fighter, who applied relentless forward pressure throughout the fight.
An accidental clash of heads at the end of the third round opened up a cut above Banal’s right eye and Pungluang immediately started to target it with straight right hands. By the fourth round, the blood had begun to flow freely, adversely affecting both Banal’s vision and confidence.
Confidence is a commodity that Pungluang is not short of, and even when his punch output was not high he was always right in front of Banal, bobbing and weaving and ultimately wearing down the 23-year-old, who was fighting for a world title for the second time.
Although these two had 55 stoppage wins between them, it never seemed likely that a single blow would settle the fight. Instead, it became a war of attrition with Banal becoming increasingly frustrated as Pungluang took his best shots and continued moving forwards, obviously enjoying the exchanges.
The Filipino was doing enough to keep most of the rounds close but could do nothing to prevent his Thai opponent from dictating the rhythm of the fight. Pungluang seemed firmly in control throughout and, with Banal not applying enough pressure of his own, he was free to pace himself and pick his moments to attack.
After falling at the final hurdle once before, when he was stopped by Rafael Concepcion in the 10th round of their world title fight in 2008, Banal was desperate to claim the belt this time around. But his cause was not helped by a point deduction for two low blows in quick succession in the sixth round.
This proved the catalyst for some of the most entertaining exchanges of the bout in the seventh round, with Pungluang starting to lay the foundations for his stoppage win by putting together combinations of punches, something which he had only done intermittently up until this stage.
Banal fired back and a straight left hand connected clean and momentarily stopped Pungluang in his tracks but, despite getting a big roar from the crowd, it was only a temporary reprieve as the Thai started stalking forward again and had a big grin on his face as he headed back to the corner at the end of the round.
Banal began round nine with an uppercut that narrowly missed and again got the Filipino fans on their feet, but Pungluang was unfazed and fired back with the best shot of the night, a short straight right hand which wobbled Banal and was followed up by a barrage of punches that knocked him through the ropes.
No count was given and Banal got to his feet but Pungluang was not going to let him off the hook and pressed forward, landing another straight hand followed by a glancing left hook which floored the Filipino.
Banal got to his feet but his legs were gone and he was in no fit state to continue, prompting wild celebrations among the small contingent in Pungluang’s corner who had made the trip from Thailand with him.
With the victory, the 24-year-old improves to 43-1 and after winning a world title for the first time in his career he could hardly contain his elation, “I am very happy, I waited 10 years for this,” said Pungluang after the fight. “AJ Banal was very skillful, very good footwork but he never hurt me. I want to thank everyone in the Philippines for coming to watch this fight, but I am very proud to be bringing the belt back to Thailand.”
In the co-main event, Rey Bautista can consider himself extremely unfortunate to have only come away with a split decision win over Daniel Ruiz.
The Mexican missed weight by 1.36 kilograms and had a significant size and reach advantage but right from the opening round, “Boom Boom” was the aggressor, backing him up against the ropes and looked to rip into his midsection.
Ruiz was perhaps the more accurate of the two fighters but was absolutely overwhelmed by Bautista's punches and it is difficult to understand how one of the judges saw fit to award the fight to his opponent.
At least two of the decision makers did get it right, awarding Bautista a win which brings with it the lightly regarded WBO International Featherweight title.
Apart from Banal’s disappointing defeat, it was a good night for the Filipinos with Marlon Tapales, Michael Domingo and Jason Pagara all registering stoppage wins over foreign opponents