Heartbreak in Dubai: The sad story of Denver Cuello

Denver Cuello with manager Aljoe Jaro. (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Nathanielsz)

Denver Cuello, the devastating southpaw puncher and reigning WBC Silver minimum weight champion was expected to overcome Chinese world champion Xiong Zhao Zhong when they clashed at the World Trade Center in Dubai last Saturday morning, Manila Time in a mandatory title shot.

For one thing, Cuello had far too much power for the mediocre Zhong, who won the title in his hometown of Kunming last November in a clash for the vacant title against an unheralded Mexican challenger with a record that hardlyinspired confidence.

Javier Martinez Resendiz, who  had a record of 13-3-2 with 6 knockouts and hadn’t beaten any fighter of consequence, was easy picking for Zhong and WBC president Don Jose Sulaiman who had pleaded with Cuello’s manager Aljoe Jaro to have his fighter step aside so the WBC could make a breakthrough into the potentially rich Chinese market.

The fact that they were able to offer Cuello a step aside fee of $25,000 indicated just how much they wanted that title for Zhong.

But after Zhong won, the WBC ignored a written commitment to give Cuello a crack at Zhong in his first title defense and through the reported maneuvering of Chinese promoter and TV executive Liu Gang, the WBC board of governors inexplicably ignored the commitment which was made by president Don Jose Sulaiman and allowed Zhong the luxury of one voluntary title defense.

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The protests of Aljoe Jaro got nowhere and he was blamed for not being at the Convention site in Cancun when the request for a voluntary defense by Zhong was taken up.

Aljoe Jaro’s answer was perfectly reasonable – a commitment had been made in writing by no less than the WBC president and when commitments are made, they are expected to be honored.

Following reports that Zhong would defend his title in Las Vegas on a card promoted by Gary Shaw who met with Liu Gang in Bangkok the plan fizzled out and so the Cuello mandatory was on the cards.

Aljoe Jaro offered to promote the fight in the Philippines but Zhong’s handlers turned it down and maneuvered along with Patrick Cusik of the WBC to stage the fight in Dubai under the auspices of KO Promotions headed by Zach Taumafi.

We had cautioned both Aljoe Jaro and president Sulaiman about the reputation of KO Promotions, who had staged a fight card in Dubai some two years ago with ALA Promotions with Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista and Milan Melindo headlining the card in partnership with the giant broadcast network ABS-CBN. That venture turned out to be a minor disaster in terms of the local TV coverage with ABS-CBN unable to telecast the fights because of its extremely poor quality.

On top of that KO Promotions wound up owing ALA Promotions several thousand dollars which   remains unpaid to this day.

Our caution went unheeded and the end result was that Cuello,  after losing his title bid, didn’t receive his purse which is believed to be $40,000. Neither did his team receive the airline tickets for the flight back to Manila with the promoter asking them to stay in Dubai for a week to get paid and to receive their airline tickets.

Aljoe Jaro told us he was not prepared to spend another week in Dubai and used his own funds to buy their return tickets to Manila.

Under accepted rules fighters are supposed to receive their purses right after the official weigh-in. Why the WBC fight supervisor Patrick Cusik didn’t enforce the rule is another question the WBC must answer. But up to now our queries to WBC president Don Jose Sulaiman remain unanswered.

Cuello, for all his courage, was at a terrible disadvantage when he entered the ring with a an injury to his right shoulder, effectively  turning him into a one-armed fighter.

The manager of newly crowned IBO super flyweight champion Edrin “The Sting” Dapudong, former North Cotabato governor and journalist Manny Pinol and GMA 7’s Chino Trinidad were aware that Cuello had aggravated the injury he suffered in his last two ten-rounds bouts against Ivan Meneses and Japan’s Takashi Kunishige, while training for the Zhong fight.

Unfortunately both Cuello and Aljoe Jaro figured that even with one hand, Cuello could win the title he had patiently chased for over two years. In fact, Aljoe Jaro had previously told us Cuello was willing to fight Zhong “even in his own home” and that he could beat the Chinese with one hand tied behind his back. One wonders whether this was a sign of misplaced bravado or overconfidence.

Hours before the fight was to take place, KO Promotions issued a statement that the fight had been called off but strangely gave no reason. Not long afterwards the promoter turned around and announced the fight would push through but the start would be delayed by one hour from 8:00 p.m. to  9:00 p.m.

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Yahoo! Philippines contacts in Dubai told us that the initial cancellation was because of financial problems faced by the promoter and that an unidentified Chinese had stepped forward and offered to pick up the tab so the fight could go on. By design or not, this gave the Chinese champion an added boost in terms of influence.

We also learned later on that a Filipino no less  had informed Liu Gang and Zhong’s handlers that Cuello had an injured shoulder which accounted for the champion targeting Cuello’s shoulder in the very first round.

But the power of Cuello overcame the initial pain and he dropped the champion with a crunching left in the opening round and was leading at the end of four rounds on the scorecards of all three judges.

An accidental clash of heads which was quite honestly initiated by Cuello as he lunged forward, opened up a nasty gash on the Filipino’s right eye which bled profusely and clearly hampered his vision.

Aljoe Jaro claimed that the ringside doctor had recommended to referee  Joseph Afu of Panama that the fight be stopped because of the bad cut in addition to the injured shoulder but that he was ignored by the referee, who ordered the fighters to continue although he penalized Zhong one point under WBC rules where if a fighter is cut and bleeds, his opponent will be deducted a point..

The sight of Aljoe Jaro trying desperately to put Cuello’s dislocated shoulder in place was a sad spectacle knowing that he, while being a good trainer and a former boxer, was not a physical therapist and hardly qualified to set things right.

Pinol claimed the injury was a shoulder rotator cuff tear which is a painful injury and didn’t even allow Cuello to raise his right hand in a token fashion forcing him to try and use his head to ward off Zhong for which he was cautioned by the referee.

A review of the fight tape indicated that Cuello, despite his obvious handicap, won at least four rounds. If you give them to him by a 10-9 margin and add the three points for the 1st round knockdown which should have been scored 10-8 in Cuell’s favor and the one point deduction which would have given him that round, it would add up to three more rounds for the Filipino which, eventually, should have translated into 7 rounds to 5 or a 115-113 margin on points.

Two of the judges, Russian Roman Filimonov and the other a native of Luxembourg who lives in Italy, Sergio Silvi , scored the fight by margins of 115-112 and 113-110  for Zhong, respectively, while the third judge, the highly commended John Keane of Britain scored it even at 113-113.

Jaro and Cuello were distraught over the result and while  the manager is being blamed for  allowing his fighter to enter the ring with a painful injury when he could have had the fight postponed considering that Zhong and the WBC had made him wait two years for the title shot, Cuello, in a statement said Aljoe Jaro shouldn’t be blamed because it was he who wanted to fight.

In his statement in Pilipino which was translated into English, Cuello said, “What hurts me is that they blame Kuya Aljoe (Aljoe Jaro). Do they really know what happens to us every day when we are together? Are they aware of what Kuya Aljoe has done for me? They should just keep quiet. Everything that Kuya Aljoe has done is for my own good. They do not know that Kuya Aljoe has brought me to many doctors and I was the one who wanted to fight.

"My shoulder only hurts on certain occasions but before we left for Dubai I was feeling okay.

"This is the truth – three weeks before the fight, Kuya Aljoe asked me if  we should postpone the title fight but it was I who wanted to fight. No postponements. I thought that if I let this opportunity slip away, when will I get another chance? They promised me so many times that I would fight for a title but they always found a way to avoid me. Why should I let this chance slip away?

"I know my own body. They should not blame other people and they should just find ways to help me. This is not the end for me. I don’t regret losing. I will be back. The doctor said they will operate on my shoulder. Those who keep on criticizing, will they help me in my operation? (Yahoo! Philippines was informed that the surgery will be done at the Makati Medical Center on Wednesday.)

"Kuya Aljoe has helped me a lot. Even in my past fights, he has allowed me to keep the percentages of my purse. They should not say bad things about him. We should just help each other. I will be back. Just wait.”

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.