By Nick Giongco
Puerto Princesa, Palawan – Flyweight John Vincent Pangga and pinweight Kenneth Dela Peña set up gold medal matches after the two southpaw made heads turn Sunday in the semifinals of the Asian Juniors Boxing Championships.
Pangga survived a fiery third-round rally by Syrymbetov Talgat of Kazakhstan for a split decision while Dela Peña posted a shutout 5-0 win over Yu Chen-Chen of Chinese Taipei before a small but highly-appreciative crowd at the Puerto Princesa Coliseum.
But it was Dela Peña’s victory that was far more impressive with a bold display of bravado and ring generalship even if he had taken up the sport for just under a year.
Dela Peña, 16, and Yu traded blows as soon as the bell sounded for the first round and they kept that frenetic pace until the final bell.
Dela Peña landed the more telling and heavier blows during the fast and furious exchanges and he capped his supremacy when the referee issued a standing eight-count in the dying seconds of the bout.
As Dela Peña won hands-down, Pangga, 15, struggled in the third and last round looking gassed against his clever Kazakh rival, who was likewise given a standing eight-count by the referee in the first round.
On the strength of his strong start, Pangga was awarded a 3-2 verdict.
Dela Peña will face Akilbek Mukhtarov during the finals on Monday (today) in the 44-46 kg while Pangga will battle Sukthet Sarawut of Thailand in the 50 kg. Mukhtarov eliminated Abdurakhmonov Mukhammaduso of Uzbekistan in the other semis pairing and Sarawut got rid of Ibraimov Muktarbek of Kygyzstan in the other to gain their respective places in the finals.
On hand to congratulate Pangga, originally from Cagayan de Oro and Dela Peña, a native of General Santos City, include ABAP chief Ricky Vargas and secretary general Patrick Gregorio, who flew in from Manila.
Vargas was ecstatic over the host’s performance, stressing that the realistic medal in the slugfest for 15-16 year olds was simply to get a bronze.
“A bronze would have already been good news but we now have a big chance of winning a gold,” said Vargas.
The Philippines fielded a total of four entries in the five-day event but Norlan Petecio and Cris Russu Laurente failed to make the medal round.
Ronald Chavez called the shots for the host punchers while fellow former national team standouts Elmer Pamisa and Romeo Brin backed him up in working the corner of the 2016 Palarong Pambansa gold medalist Pangga and Dela Pena, the 2016 Batang Pinoy silver medalist.
Aside from the Philippines, a total of 18 countries sent teams to the competition.