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Sabillo: "There can only be one strawweight champ out there"

(Photo © ALA Promotions)
(Photo © ALA Promotions)

For the first time in his professional boxing career, Merlito Sabillo will have to leave the cosier confines of his home in the Philippines and make the long journey to South America where he’ll meet once-beaten Colombian Luis De la Rosa. He does so knowing the prize is worthy of the sacrifice with the vacant interim WBO strawweight bauble up for grabs. The 29-year-old southpaw is unbeaten in a five-year career, going 21-0 with 10 kayos, winning the national and OPBF titles along the way. “Tiger” is highly rated by three of the four main sanctioning bodies at number five by the WBA, eight by the IBF and three by the WBO.

Anson Wainwright - You’re a rising fighter in boxing’s smallest weight class. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Merlito Sabillo - Yes, my name is Merlito Sabillo. I am 29 years old; I recently turned 29 last January 19. I am the middle child among three siblings. I was born in the municipality of Toboso, a small farming village in Negros Occidental, Philippines.
AW - You fight on 9th March against Luis De la Rosa for the WBO interim strawweight title. What are your thoughts on that fight and going to Colombia?
MS - I am excited and have prepared myself mentally, physically and emotionally. The fact that we have to travel halfway across the globe for this fight is quite overwhelming but if that’s what it takes, we will be ready. I am very focused now on the work ahead and I know the importance of the matter at hand. That is why I will work very hard and give my best to bring home the championship belt to my country, the Philippines.
AW - You’ve been a professional boxer for five years now. Can you tell us about your career to date and how you feel you have developed?
MS - Much has changed since I started boxing. After joining ALA Promotions, I believe I am a more mature athlete now. I have learned a lot of things. I learned the value of hard work and how important it is to make the most of a chance that is given to you. I guess that is why I am more determined now, more than ever, to prove my worth as a boxer.
AW - Who are the key members of your team?
MS - I am a part of the ALA Gym of Cebu. My team is composed of my manager, Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, my trainer, Michael Domingo, and ALA Promotions is my promoter.
AW - Could you talk to us about the famed ALA Gym and some of the fighters who train there with you?
MS - I am very grateful to be part of ALA Gym. The facilities that we have here are world-class and top-of-the-line, a far cry from the ramshackle gym that I was used to training at. I already consider this my second home and my co-boxers…my brothers. Everyone here is treated equally and as long as you show determination and hard work, you will definitely be given a chance to make it to the big leagues. I learned the value of discipline. We also worked on my defence as a boxer, unlike before, when I just go for the kill. They also instilled in me the importance of having a fight plan.
AW - You were born in Toboso, Negros Occidental, Philippines. Could you talk us through your youth?
MS - Like any young Filipino boy, I also had my ambition back then. I did not know then that I would be a boxer. I actually went to school, taking a vocational course. I guess things just did not go my way. I was not able to finish my studies because my family could no longer support my education. So I placed it upon myself to be independent. I turned to sports, thinking that I could earn money from it. I tried BMX racing and even karate. In fact, let me tell you a story; this one time, I joined a karate tournament to earn some cash. I reached the championship round and ended up having to fight this burly, tough guy who beat me up quite badly. He won and I had to settle for silver medal, so there I was, exhausted but quite happy with a bloodied nose, a silver medal…but sadly, not a single peso in my hand. Life was very tough then but when ALA Promotions took me in…everything changed for the better.
AW - How did you first become interested in boxing?
MS - After my stint with the other sport, I thought a lot about my future and my plans for it. This was also the time when Manny Pacquiao was starting to make waves on the international boxing scene. A very good friend invited me to join him in a local boxing gym in Negros Occidental and I immediately grabbed the chance to start training. I did very well with my trainers and they, in turn, set me up for some fights.
AW - You turned pro at 24; many fighters are deep into their careers by then. Why did you turn pro so late?
MS - Yes, you are right about that. I got into boxing quite late already. In fact, I was already 21 when I started to box but as I said, I finally knew what I’d like to do…and that is to fight.
AW - Manny Pacquiao has played a huge part in Filipino boxing. What are your thoughts on this?
MS - Undoubtedly, Manny Pacquiao will always be an inspiration to all, especially to us Filipino boxers. He is everything that we aspire to be. The man is literally a Jack of all trades; I mean he is a successful businessman, has a career even in show business and is an accomplished politician. Now, he is also preaching the gospel and is a very religious man. I really look up to him.
AW - When you are not boxing what do you do with your time?
MS - If I’m not at the ALA Gym, I see to it that I take a lot of rest by going home to my village. I spend time with my family and loved ones. I watch movies on DVDs and listen to music.
AW - Finally, do you have a message for Luis De la Rosa?
MS - I respect the other fighter’s will to be a champion but I also intend to do the same. I only want to say that I have prepared extensively going into this fight. I worked very hard to be at this stage in my career and I am hungry for a championship. I respect the other fighter’s desire to win but I am more determined to do the same. There can only be one champion out there.
Questions and or comments can be sent to Anson at and you can follow him at Anson is also a member of The Ring magazine’s ratings panel.
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