AJ “Bazooka” Banal emerged victorious last Saturday in Tagbilaran City, but not after getting quite a scare.

His chosen opponent for the night—a lanky Korean curiously named Big Yoo —showed up with a pre-determined game plan and almost saw it through to fruition.

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Of course, we all know that the template applied by Yoo was provided by Banal’s only conqueror to date- Rafael Concepcion of Panama.

JINX. In my last column, I had hoped that there would be no repeat of the Concepcion debacle where I conveniently assumed a Banal victory only to stand transfixed as a bloody Concepcion rallied hard and brutalized Banal from pillar to post in the 10th round.

In the Yoo fight, there were some tense moments as well, especially in the fifth when Banal wobbled and felt the effects of Yoo’s scathing body attack.

UPPERCUT. In the first round, Banal typically went about his trademark fast-paced ttack, peppering Yoo with jabs and straight lefts.

The visitor, however, exhibited a decent defense and on most occasions, Banal’s punches landed harmlessly on his gloves. He would then fire off a counter-attack of his own, unleashing four or five-punch combos, mostly to the body.

The same pattern would be repeated in the second round with the Korean showing increased proficiency in digging to Banal’s ribs. An inadvertent clash of heads resulted in a nasty gash on the right side of Banal’s head.

The next two rounds were fought at a frenetic pace. Banal would spear Yoo with straight lefts and an occasional right hook, and the latter would then respond with his combinations. However, Banal was in control of the fight.

In the fifth, Yoo’s aggression paid off as Banal seemed to tire. However, the latter wisely shifted gears and exhibited some much needed lateral movement and scored well with hooks and uppercuts.

Yoo seemed undeterred, but in a deadly exchange in the center of the ring, he ran smack into a right hook followed by a nasty left uppercut that AJ seemed to launch all the way from Mandaue City.

His momentum carried him forward where he wobbled and finally fell down. As the ref started the count, Yoo motioned to his corner that he was hurt and could do nothing but listen helplessly as the numbers whizzed by.

ASSESSMENT. It was a bout replete with both negatives and positives for Banal.

The good news is that Banal is still the speedy, sharp-punching fighter we know.

The bad news is that AJ remains quite vulnerable to a wilting body attack. His stamina is still suspect.

The thinking here is that Banal will almost always outfight any opponent with his power and exceptional skill, but is perennially in danger of being outlasted by a supremely conditioned opponent with an iron chin like Concepcion.

EL TORITO. Speaking of Concepcion, this face-first mauler got shellacked over the weekend by Fernando Montiel in just three rounds.

Montiel is an accomplished champion but I assumed Concepcion would at least be able to make it competitive, given that Montiel isn’t too hard to find.

I always thought that Banal is ripe and ready for a title shot again, but after Saturday’s barnburner, I’m sitting on the fence on this one.

Banal and Montiel were at one time said to have been matched.

But based on the recent performances of both, AJ probably needs more seasoning and improved conditioning before taking on “Cochulito”.

LAST ROUND. It’s on a dear friend, Liezel Gedorio, who celebrates her birthday this week. Cheers!