by Dennis 'dSource' Guillermo
It's been more than four years since Rey "Boom-Boom" Bautista's (31-2-0, 23 KOs) promising boxing career took a dramatic turn and plot twist.
Easily the most popular and recognizable young Filipino boxer at the time with the boxing-crazy Cebu and Visayan fan base behind him, Bautista was being groomed and heralded as the prince next to the rising boxing king from the Philippines. Together with stablemate Z Gorres, Bautista was being touted as an integral part of Golden Boy Promotions' future, with none other than Oscar Dela Hoya himself flying to Cebu to personally acknowledge him.
All of that, however, would blow up almost instantly after two minutes and thirty seconds in the ring with Mexican KO artist Daniel "Ponce" De Leon during the first and only world title fight of his career thus far.
A lot of questions hounded Bautista after that loss, and even more so when he dropped his second and only other career loss to Heriberto Ruiz a year after. The popularity and support he used to enjoy, also abandoned him as several fans turned into his worst hecklers after the disappointment of his first loss.
But one thing that's unquestionable about Bautista is the kid's courage. In fact, a week before his fight against De Leon, Bautista suffered a wrist injury that later on would need surgery after his loss to Ruiz. Not one to make excuses, Bautista kept the injury to himself fearing that his fight would get scrapped and his once in a lifetime opportunity to fulfill a dream with it.
To this day, any mention of a rematch with De Leon lights up Bautista's eyes. "He just got to me first. I really believe that if I got to him first, he would've suffered the same fate. That's boxing though. Who hits first, often wins," Bautista told me while I was in Cebu back in October.
But instead of caving in to his critics and the heartbreaks dealt by defeat, Bautista didn't hang his head, and instead, took care of his hand injury and worked on his weaknesses. "I am not the same fighter anymore that just attacks and attacks without thinking. I've trained and worked on my defense and boxing with my coaches. I am definitely more experienced and a more mature boxer now compared to how I was before," Bautista stated.
Bautista has managed to avenge his loss to Ruiz, and racked up a few impressive wins against decent opponents since coming back from his hand surgery.
His first real test though, comes this Saturday, December 10 at the Hoops Dome in Lapu-lapu City, Cebu, when he tackles on his most dangerous opponent yet since De Leon in undefeated KO artist Miguel Angel Mendoza (17-0-1, 17 KOs).
No matter how much people say they've improved, it can only be proven inside the ring. Just like how Manny Pacquiao was supposed to run over and "figure out" Juan Manuel Marquez in their fight, it is to be expected that Bautista will know how to fight a dangerous KO puncher like Mendoza now at this stage of his career, right?
Such is the beauty of the sweet science. You never truly know what's going to happen when two equally matched opponents face inside boxing's squared circle.
For Bautista, Pinoy Pride 10 somewhat brings him back to the scene of the crime, and provides an opportunity for him to win back some of the fans that have turned on him. By no means is this a walk in the park, and the slightest of errors could render him tumbling to the canvas once again as he did against De Leon.
Just how far has Boom-Boom come? Surely, he can't afford another devastating loss, especially not in front of the highly-critical Cebu fans. Will he crack under pressure? Or prove to be the diamond in the rough people once believed he was?
I've seen him work. I've picked his brain. The kid is definitely ready and capable. As promising as his chances are, nothing in boxing is promised. Anything can happen at any given moment.
One thing's for sure, if he still intends to exorcise the demons of his loss against De Leon, he needs to make sure no new ones appear after Saturday against the dangerous Mendoza.