Milan Melindo is ready to challenge IBF champ Akira Yaegashi
Life for Milan Melindo is full of challenges. Starting boxing as a six-year-old is definitely one, as children around the world likes to play with toys at that age. But Melindo’s toys were leather gloves his father gifted to him.
“One day, my father came home with a pair of gloves. I used to box just to make my father smile because he liked it so much,” Melindo told UCNLive.com.
After nearly 600 amateur bouts, the native of Cebu City, Philippines, turned pro at the age of 17.
At 21 and in his 18th fight as a professional, he faced former IBF strawweight champion Muhammad Rachman. The Indonesian veteran had 73 bouts and wa ranked No. 5 by THE RING Magazine at the time. Melindo graciously took the challenge and grabbed a clean decision victory in 10 frames. Two years and a couple of losses later, Rachman still had enough fighting spirit left in him to win one more belt at 105 pounds.
Young Melindo kept winning, on his way to become a rated contender as a flyweight. Finally in 2013, at the age of 25, and after compiling a record of 29-0 (12), he challenged the universally recognized best fighter at 112 pounds when he fought WBA/WBO unified champ Juan Francisco Estrada.
After Melindo earned Estrada’s respect in the first half of the bout with precise, sharp countershots and even stun the Mexican titleholder at the end of rounds four and five, the latter finally let his hands go in the seventh frame and managed to build a lead to a clean decision win, following a high-paced tactical war.
Less than two years and three wins later, Melindo challenged another champion. This time, he faced IBF light flyweight beltholder Javier Mendoza on his opponent’s home turf in Mexico.
The aggressive and stronger Mendoza made an impression on the judges over his equally effective challenger and walked away the winner by technical decision after the bout was stopped before the seventh heat due to bad cuts on both participants’ eyebrows from unintentional headbutts.
Melindo desperately tried to secure a rematch against Mendoza to set the record straight. They even signed for a rematch in May 2016 but, two weeks before the bout, an injury sustained by the Mexican rendered him unable to compete.
“(The rematch) almost happened last year but they changed my opponent (two weeks before the bout). I don’t know the (real) reason (of the change). I was depressed because I was eager to fight him at that time, to take my revenge,” remembered the Filipino pugilist.
It was then and there that some close to Melindo questioned his desire to keep going as a top athlete. He lost his interest in training and weighed four and three-quarter pounds over the scheduled 110-pound agreed limit against his short-notice opponent Maximino Flores. Finally he topped Flores by technical decision in a tougher-than-expected bout. After this fight, he started to feel better about his future.
“Little by little, the revenge thinking has gone. (I understood that) losing is part of the game.”
With this realization, Melindo also understood there are far more important goals for him than the identity of his counterpart in the squared circle.
“I don’t dream for my opponent (anymore). I just dream to win every fight (and give the fans an) awesome performance,” acknowledged a matured Melindo.
Letting the thoughts or revenge go also allowed him to concentrate on the task at hand. He was the No. 1 contender at 108 pounds through the better part of 2016. All he had to do was be patient until the IBF orders the mandatory defense for champion Akira Yaegashi.
Unable to secure a bout against the Japanese titlist in December last year, Melindo chose to face Thailand’s Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr. for the interim title by the IBF. Milan won the belt by a clean decision in late November in his hometown of Cebu City.
The inevitable bout between champion and his mandatory was at last finalized earlier this year. On Sunday, May 21, Melindo gets his next challenge.
“My preparation went good. I started training last December after my last fight in November 26,” said Melindo, who arrived in Japan on Monday. The bout is going to take place at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo.
Milan has the utmost respect for his more accomplished opponent.
“I describe Akira Yaegashi as a Japanese warrior. He won world titles in three divisions. He is a brawler who can also take a punch. He has good stamina and an entertaining style.”
Yaegashi – who won his first world title in 2011 at strawweight followed by belts at 112 and then 108 pounds – has an aggressive, seek-and-destroy kind of manner that always delivers on fight night. Add to this Melindo’s focused, well-timed counter attacks, plus the fighting spirit of both competitors, and we are about to witness an explosive collision of styles that are made for each other.
“I can’t imagine what kind of collision we should expect on the 21st. (Most likely) we will see it come Sunday,” offered a concentrated Melindo.
Sunday is going to be a special day for Milan Melindo. He is getting his third shot at the title and a win would significantly lift his career. On the other hand, the experience is something he is used to in his still young life. It is a challenge, after all, a challenge he took on as a six-year-old to make his father smile.