By Dennis 'dSource' Guillermo
Bacolod City, Philippines -- The stigma with AJ "Bazooka" Banal (26-1-1, 19 KOs) was that he can't fill a dollar- he only has three quarters; That he struggles in the "championship rounds" and fades as the fight goes on. As talented as the 22-year-old Bukidnon-native is, his heart and stamina prevent him from becoming a World Champion.
At least that has been the perception.
Last Saturday night, however, Banal proved that he is capable of finishing. Against a tough and rugged customer, then undefeated Mexican Mario Briones (20-1-1, 14 KOs), Banal dominated and outclassed, only to feel as if he was having deja vu in the latter rounds as his body started to fade and his opponent kept on coming.
This though, was no Groundhog Day rerun. Banal mustered all he could and exchanged with Briones in the final two rounds, despite somewhat struggling with his wind. Not only did he go toe-to-toe in the end, he continued to best his opponent.
What was the difference?
"I would like to thank my psychologist from Manila, Dr. Lee," Banal told me after the fight. The humble and soft spoken Banal also admitted that it was in the mental aspect where he fell short in terms of his previous fights.
"I was thinking about my son during those hard rounds. He's the one who gives me strength and inspiration," Banal added.
Aside from his heart and will, Banal also showed proof of the strides he's made with strength and conditioning coach Pio Solon, who has been working hard on improving all of the ALA boxers' conditioning and training methods. Maturity and experience also played vital parts.
Banal kept his composure and was patient when he had to, reserving some in the tank for his final push, instead of going all-out and risk gassing in the latter rounds.
"I didn't rush in those rounds that I felt I had him. I always hit him with solid shots, but he showed that he can take them, so I didn't rush things and go for the knockout. I just paced and make sure I got the best of him," Banal revealed.
Banal's performance earned the praise of several onlookers, including his promoter and manager Michael Aldeguer. "That was the vintage AJ Banal we have been waiting to see for a while. We are very happy with his performance," Aldeguer told this writer after the fight. Aldeguer revealed that Banal is currently ranked #3 in the bantamweight division by the WBO, but wanted a big fight from his ward before putting him in a title fight.