The first time I watched A.J. "Bazooka" Banal fight in person I was instantly astonished by his abilities. I still remember how fast he was, his stinging punches and rapid movements (Perhaps too much movement- the kind that unnecessarily used up so much energy one ought to conserve for the later rounds), which is perfectly understandable with the impetuous nature related to his youth. That was a bout held at The Araneta, and the spectators at the stadium were completely taken by his zinging right hook that rocked the then undefeated boxer from Uruguay, Caril Herrera and paved the way to the first loss of his career. This was way back 2008, if I remember it right.
Mark F. Villanueva with AJ Banal (Photo taken in Bacolod City)
Moving forward to the year 2012, after suffering one loss and moving a weight class higher, examining his fight last Saturday against Thailand’s Pungluang Sor Singyu rewinds me back to that day I watched him against Herrera. The Cebuano boxer looked more muscled yet suave and stable, without a doubt, an empirical development over time.
Apart from the right hook, his uppercuts have immensely improved; the way he slipped and gave that extra twist to it as it was about to land an impact at the top; twisting so the fist grinds as if to pulverize that jaw into dust. Banal boxed sweetly while he was at it, and he always started every fight headstrong.
But boxing is not just about throwing punches. No matter how fast you hurtle it, or how much you've mastered those hooks and uppercuts, or shall I say "Bazooka" your fistic bombs, such is merely a single department of the science of boxing.
For an opponent who merely threw one or two punches at a time it is almost disturbing to any keen observer of the sport how Banal could not have adjusted to it throughout the fight. The pug from Thailand was quite basic through and through. He fought elementary, too far from displaying any sort of fancy, nor feigned when he punched, and apparently did not possess the advantages of speed of hand which was inherent to A.J. Banal, but he knew what he had to do.
Pungluang Sor Singyu did not for a second try to fight Banal's style; he didn't incorporate flashes of Donaire, who was co-hosting for ABS CBN during the fight; the Thailander fought the only way he knew how to fight and stuck to the game plan. He ate punches, got wobbled, absorbed too many low blows, gave some back. Most of all he got back to his business and manned up against a more skillful prizefighter and the overwhelming home crowd. This was the first time I have seen him fight, and I do not imagine I will be a fan of him at any point in the future, but the boxer from Thailand isn't one who's hard to admire.
It is an admiration for the way he handles duress, the manner of which he just pushes his limits so that his crude boxing skills become second tier to it. I watched him persevere in such a way that he did not question the end to his efforts, seemingly not caring if success was at hand or too far out still or perhaps never to come. He just sucked it up like a man.
As to A.J. Banal, his future still holds great potential without a doubt. Watching him was almost like a review of old films of Z Gorres, a little bit of Boom Boom, and Donnie Nietes, except without much anticipation and defense. I hope I am wrong, but it seemed his legs gave in underneath him way earlier before his Technical Knockout. It could simply be just lack of defense, or the bleeding caused by the head butt, although highly unlikely in my humble opinion. Whatever it is I just hope it is not a lack of fighting spirit for that path is most solitary.
That AJ Banal's suffered his second loss is not the chief thing of the matter. It is the failure to impress before the loss that hurts.
Mark F. Villanueva
Mark currently lives in Iloilo City and can be followed through http://twitter.com/markfvillanueva