By Ryan Maquiñana
Filipino featherweight prospect Ernie Sanchez has the opportunity of a lifetime this Saturday when he fights Wilton Hilario on the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley undercard at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“I’ve been jogging with Manny for my endurance and I’ve been working on my speed for this fight,” said Sanchez, whose words were translated by team member Jose Desembrana. “I’m really hoping I win because it can change my life.”
Sanchez (12-3, 5 KOs), who hails from Pacquiao’s hometown of General Santos City, and Hilario (12-2-1, 9 KOs), a St. Louis Park, Minn., resident via the Dominican Republic, meet at the crossroads.
Hilario was inactive all of last year, and has lost his last two to former title contender Martin Honorio and unbeaten prospect Luis Franco. Meanwhile, Sanchez showed promise with a two-round destruction of Eman Labanza in March, but entered that bout having dropped three straight decisions—two of them being for regional belts.
However, Sanchez finds himself on one of the biggest cards of the year after Pacquiao saw enough potential in the 20-year-old to not only get him on the show, but also buy him a new pair of shoes as motivation.
“We’re really excited for him to fight on Manny’s undercard in his first fight in the United States, and we know there’s a lot of pressure on him to do well,” said trainer Nonoy Neri, who has also been a part of Team Pacquiao for a decade. “Ernie can’t be overconfident either because [Hilario] is a strong fighter and experienced.”
Neri also revealed that Sanchez might extend his stay with a victory.
“Our advisor Michael Koncz said if he wins, he’ll have a fight in July where he’ll probably stay in America and train with Jeremiah Quijano while I go back to visit the Philippines,” Neri added.
As for the fighter, while the odds are that the arena will be relatively empty when he takes the ring on Saturday, he is fully aware of the magnitude of the bout on his career.
“I can’t believe I got this break from Manny to be able to train with him,” Sanchez said of his new mentor. “I still can’t believe I’m actually here in America. I have to do my best on June 9 for him and for everyone who’s giving me this chance.”
Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly boxing column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.