Banal, foe trade barbs in face-off

Fighters AJ ‘Bazooka’ Banal, left, and Pungluang Sor Singyu of Thailand share light moments with Amy Pamintuan, STAR editor-in-chief, during their visit to The STAR office to promote their Oct. 20 WBO bantamweight title fight at the MOA.   JOEY MENDOZA

MANILA, Philippines – Animosity was evident as A. J. Banal and Pungluang Sor Singyu predicted they would leave nothing to chance and win convincingly by knockout in their 12-round battle for the vacant WBO bantamweight crown at the MOA Arena on Oct. 20.

The fighters trooped to The STAR office the other day and paid a courtesy call on editor-in-chief Amy Pamintuan. While appearing civil towards each other, the protagonists spewed venom in separate interviews.

Banal, 23, touched off the fireworks when he predicted a knockout win in the sixth or seventh round. When informed of Banal’s forecast, Pungluang laughed it off and said the Filipino will fall in four. Banal then said he’ll dispose of the Thai instead in three. It didn’t look like they were joking.

Pungluang’s manager Michel Do said the Thai has so far beaten 15 Filipinos in 16 fights with Elmar Franciso losing twice. “Banal will be the next victim,” said Do. “We’re not afraid of losing by hometown decision because we’ll make sure it doesn’t go the distance.” Pungluang’s last five opponents were all Filipinos.

Do said Pungluang’s Muay Thai background is an advantage. “He had about 20 Muay Thai fights and that experience made him tough,” said Do. “He’s not scared of anyone, certainly not Banal.”

Pungluang, 24, said Banal is no better than the slew of Filipinos he has dispatched. “Banal doesn’t hit hard,” he said. “I’ll admit he’s faster than any of the Filipinos I’ve fought before but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to knock him out. My trainer (Taweewat Islam) is from the military and was Manus Boonjumnong’s coach when he won the Olympic gold medal in the lightwelterweight division in 2004. He is an expert in training amateur fighters and I will be his first professional world champion.”

Pungluang said it doesn’t bother him that Banal is rated No. 1 and he is No. 2. “Ratings don’t mean a thing to me,” he said. “You can be No. 5 or No. 6 and still become a world champion. I fought only once away from Thailand and I lost a split decision (Stephane Jamaye) in Belgium in 2009. I was robbed of the decision but now, I know better. Fighting in Manila won’t be a problem. The weather is the same in Bangkok and the time difference is only an hour. I’ll be back five or six days before the fight and I’ll be ready for Banal.”

Pungluang and Do flew in from Bangkok last Saturday. They appeared in press conferences in Cebu and Manila and will do the rounds of TV shows before returning home this weekend.

Banal said he has sparred over 40 rounds so far with hardened veteran Michael Domingo and former Oriental superbantamweight champion Roli Gasca. “I’ll be the first Filipino to beat him,” said Banal. “When I hit him, he’ll go down. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to win. If he counters, I’ll counter back. I prefer to move in, push him to the ropes and corners. I’ve fought some of the world’s best. Whom has he fought? Fighting at the MOA Arena is fine because there’s more pressure for me to win in Cebu. I’ll go early the day of the fight, get a feel of the ring and adjust my eyes to the lights.”

Banal said he has studied Pungluang’s style in videos. “I watched his fights against Eden (Sonsona), (Danilo) Peña and Marvin (Tampus),” he said. “He’s flat-footed. He likes to throw a left jab followed by a right straight. He has a good left hook and uppercut. Sometimes, he moves in, sometimes, he just counters. I prefer moving in than countering. I’ll pace myself. I used to run out of gas in the late rounds. This time, I worked hard in the gym to build my stamina. If there’s an opening in the first round, I’ll go for a quick knockout. If not, I’ll be patient. I’ll work the body until he’s ready to go.”

Banal has won 11 in a row since losing to Panama’s Rafael Concepcion by a late stoppage in a bid for the interim WBA superflyweight crown in Cebu in 2008. It’s the only blemish in his record of 28-1-1, with 20 KOs, compared to Pungluang’s mark of 42-1, with 27 KOs.

By: Joaquin Henson