FILIPINO boxer Reymart Gaballo claimed the World Boxing Council (WBC) interim bantamweight title belt after edging Emmanuel Rodriguez of Puerto Rico in their clash on Sunday (Manila time) at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

A substitute for compatriot Nonito Donaire, Jr., who had to pull out because of coronavirus-related concerns, and took the fight in two weeks’ notice, Mr. Gaballo displayed a game plan built on aggressiveness to swing the tide in his favor in the tightly fought contest.

The Filipino was ahead in the cards of judges Don Trella and John McKaie at 116-112 and 115-113, respectively, in the end, with David Sutherland going Mr. Rodriguez’s way with, 118-110.

Mr. Gaballo, 24, started the fight strong, including opening up a cut on the bridge of the nose of Mr. Rodriguez in the fourth round, before his opponent gained headway in the middle rounds.

The two fighters fought it tightly in the homestretch with the Polomok, South Cotobato native staying aggressive and Mr. Rodriguez trying hard to fend off the charge of Mr. Gaballo.

Suspense ensued as the final decision was being awaited until Mr. Gaballo’s camp celebrated after the announcement of the split decision win.

The victory kept Mr. Gaballo’s undefeated streak to 24 while sending Mr. Rodriguez (19-2), the former International Boxing Federation champion, to his second straight defeat.

Next stop for Mr. Gaballo could be a showdown with WBC “champion in recess” Nordine Oubaali of France, who had to vacate the regular WBC title after testing positive for the coronavirus in November.

Mr. Oubaali was supposed to fight Mr. Donaire for the title before Mr. Rodriguez stepped in for the Frenchman.

Then it was Mr. Donaire who tested positive for the coronavirus, although confirmatory tests afterwards had him negative, setting the stage for the Rodriguez-Gaballo fight.

Mr. Gaballo is fighting out of General Santos City-based Sanman Promotions. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo