Filipino boxing fans will get to see a glimpse of the future as 2012 London Olympian Mark Barriga headlines his first fight card when he takes on Colombia’s Gabriel Mendoza in an IBF minimumweight eliminator in ESPN5 Live Boxing presents Survival Instinct: Matira Matibay on May 13 at the SM Skydome in Quezon City.
With only eight fights in his professional boxing record so far, it’s not a surprise that there will be boxers on the undercard with more experience than Barriga. However, two in particular not only have more fights compared to Barriga but they’ve also reached heights in the sport that the younger fighter has yet to accomplish.
“Revenge of the fallen,” Barriga said regarding Marvin Sonsona and former WBO bantamweight title challenger AJ Banal.
Before the name Barriga started making noise in the 2012 Olympics, Sonsona and Banal were already household names.
For Sonsona, the zenith came in 2009 when he defeated Jose Lopez for the WBO super flyweight title. Back then, the power puncher was seen as one of the young fighters who could carry the flag for the Philippines after Manny Pacquiao’s career ends. However, his stint at the top did not last long.
Sonsona lost his title on the scales during his first title defense as he missed the 115 pound limit by 2.5 pounds. He skipped the bantamweight division and went straight to a title match in the super bantamweight division in his next fight but he was rudely welcomed by Wilfredo Vazquez who defeated him via knockout. Sonsona bounced back with six straight wins after his first knockout loss and even avenged his loss to Vazquez with a split decision victory for the NABF featherweight title. His last win came in 2015.
For Banal, the apex of his career did not involve a world title reign. Twice he challenged for world titles and twice he fell short. His first shot came in 2008 at the Cebu Coliseum for the interim WBA super flyweight title where he lost via knockout against Rafael Concepcion.
Banal worked his way up for another title match against Phuengluang Sor Singyu of Thailand for the vacant WBO bantamweight title. This also ended in disaster with the Filipino fighter losing via technical knockout. He has won seven straight fights after that and separated with ALA Promotions in the process.
Now, Sonsona and Banal find themselves in the same situation. To be able to inject new life into their careers, they joined the Survival Camp of Jerwin Ancajas and his trainer Joven Jimenez for another shot at glory.
“I had a misunderstanding with my promoter back in 2015,” Sonsona admitted. “I was asking him to look for fights for me but he could not so I didn’t force the issue anymore. It seemed to me like the promoters have all the power. I was not part of the decision on what to do with my career. Then I became a father so I temporarily forgot about boxing.”
Sonsona did not completely turn his back on boxing as he often found himself working corners for younger fighters.
“I started to miss the feeling of fighting,” Sonsona admitted. “When I see younger fighters, I get the feeling that I can still do it. I also miss the cheers of the crowd. I want to hear that again.”
One of the things Sonsona struggled with throughout his career was keeping his focus. He trained hard but he also liked parties and late nights. This is why he chose the Survival Camp to prepare himself for a return — it’s far from the temptations of the city.
“Everyone’s already asleep by 7 p.m.,” Sonsona joked. “You really can’t do anything there (at the Survival Camp) but focus on training and resting so I’m excited to fight again to show the fans that I can still do it.”
“I’m just happy [Marvin and AJ] trusted me and coach Joven to help them out. I’m sure they will not disappoint the fans on May 13.”
The same goal also drives Banal.
“Only one chapter of my career has ended. I moved to the Survival Gym for a fresh start,” Banal said. “I came up short when I fought for world titles but I learned a lot and now I’m learning more under coach Joven.”
Banal admitted he put in too much on his punches before as he was always going for the early knockout.
“Now, I’m training to shorten my punches,” he explained. “I think it will also help me keep my power in the latter rounds.”
While their tie-up with Survival Camp has given Sonsona and Banal another shot, Ancajas knows that having a former champion and a former title challenger is also beneficial for their young group.
“Marvin is really skilled. He was out of boxing for three years but when he sparred, he looked good. Only after a few sessions, he already looked like the Marvin of old,” Ancajas said of Sonsona. “Sometimes coach tells him to pull his punches a little bit in sparring because he’s so strong.”
“AJ has been with us for a while now and he’s really serious about getting his third world title opportunity. I’m just happy that they trusted me and coach Joven to help them out and I’m sure they will not disappoint the fans on May 13,” he said.