With reports from Victor Sy
Despite being nicknamed “Ruthless”, there’s nothing heartless nor callous about Romero Duno.
At first impression, Duno comes off as shy and rather humble despite gaining new attention in the professional boxing world — that itself is noteworthy in a sport full of strong-egoed athletes.
But, as the adage says, “actions speak louder than words”, and Duno’s recent moves in the ring have many people all ears and eyes to see what he can do.
Just having turned 22 this month, Duno has already been described as a knockout artist with an impressive record of 13-1, 12 KOs. Only three of his professional bouts have been outside of the Philippines, with two wins in the United States.
Duno, which his friends call him, hails from Tagum City, the capital of the Philippines’ Davao del Norte province. When home, he lives with his parents Nephtalie and Victoria, and is the sixth out of seven kids.
Like most parents, basic hopes for their children are that they stay out of fights, and stay in school. Duno — by no means a bad kid — did the opposite of both.
“It was just over a paper,” confessed Duno to the Asian Journal about his first ever fist fight win as a high school freshman.
His opponent so happened to be a local boxer and a son of a boxing trainer who eventually took Duno as his trainee. That marked Duno’s beginning as a boxer.
A few years later as a student at the University of Mindanao, Duno, like many other college students, decided to skip school. But, he didn’t just skip class, or one day to hang out with friends at the mall or beach. Duno instead moved four hours away to pursue his boxing career in General Santos City at the invitation of Engelbert Moralde, another known Filipino boxer.
“My mom didn’t know,” said Duno.
Duno’s mom Victoria, had plans to support both him and his sister in finishing their post-secondary education at the time.
“I told myself that if we study together, my mom and dad may have a hard time — maybe neither of us may finish school due to shortness of budget,” said Duno. “So I just told myself that I should just go straight to Gen San.”
Just as all mothers eventually find out if they’ve been disobeyed, Victoria found out that he indeed was not studying. But it wasn’t until after two fights.
“She was mad — she wanted me to stop,” said Duno quietly laughing.
“I said that I had already started — I had already signed the contract,” he added.
Many boxers enter the professional field with a lot of amateur experience. Duno, on the other hand, did not have many tournament fights under his belt as they required the process of defeating other boxers in order to move up — a classic game of elimination.
The majority of Duno’s fights were in local barangays or villages.
As a result, not much training focus was initially put on the powerful, but limited amateur experienced Duno.
In his first-ever fight outside the Philippines last May, where he experienced his first and only loss in an eight-round decision to Mikhail Alexeev in Russia — only his manager accompanied him.
“They were not sure with Duno,” said Rodel Mayol, the Filipino former World Boxing Council (WBC) Light Flyweight World Champion who now trains and houses Duno in Los Angeles.
But it didn’t take long before Duno began to prove himself as what Mayol described as an “A-plus boxer”.
Duno, the new ‘golden boy’
At his U.S debut fight in March, Duno took victory over the then-undefeated prospect Christian “Chimpa” Gonzalez in less than a minute into the second of what was supposed to be eight rounds.
Crowd favorite Gonzalez, who had entered the arena to the sounds of enthusiastically chanting fans, was later carried out of the ring to a more silent and stunned crowd.
“We saw Romero’s power in the ring — he is the real deal,” said former professional boxer and ten world title winner Oscar De La Hoya, in a statement on signing Duno to his Golden Boy Promotions firm.
“He has the exceptional power, along with the talent and desire to be a great fighter. He could be the next big boxing star from the Philippines as time is on his side, and I’m pleased he chose Golden Boy to introduce him to a wider audience in the U.S.”
Gonzalez (also with Golden Boy Promotions) has himself amassed a strong following with many from Mexico where he spent his early pro boxing years, and from his hometown of Buena Park, California. He is also the youngest brother of former WBC Featherweight World Champion, Alejandro “La Cobrita” Gonzalez.
“Chimpa was 16-0, with 14 knockouts, so they were really building him up,” said Mayol.
Upon entering the venue, Duno recalled hearing taunts and chants from the pro-Chimpa crowd attempting to get into this head.
“I told him, ‘let’s just focus — don’t think about their shouting. Think instead that they’re shouting for you. They’re shouting to distract you’,” said Mayol, adding that Filipinos were very underrepresented in the venue.
Out of maybe 200 to 300 people, less than 15 were Filipino, said Mayol.
Ecstatic, Duno’s accompanying team rushed on stage while security attempted to hold them back.
The shocking win resulted in a multi-year promotional deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, a “Hero’s Welcome” in General Santos City, and a push into the spotlight among boxing fans.
“I was surprised because I didn’t even know that was a thing,” said Duno on his General Santos City welcome and meeting with the mayor.
“His mom wasn’t there. She’s upset. But I know that she is also proud,” said Mayol.
In late September, Duno went on to take another 78-74 win over Juan Pablo Sanchez (30-14, 14 KOs) at The Forum in Los Angeles through a unanimous decision.
Once again, Duno’s team rushed on stage. This time, Mayol received a fine but said it was worth it.
“It was okay because it was a happy moment,” shared Mayol.
Duno now trains at Los Angeles’ Wild Card Boxing Club, which has been the training grounds for numerous world champions like Filipino boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, and even Mayol. The gym is owned by well-respected boxing trainer and former professional boxer Freddie Roach.
“Freddie is always supporting us at the gym,” Mayol said. Roach often helps find Duno good sparring partners.
Considered as one of best boxing trainers of all time, Roach’s lineup of famed boxers include former WBC Middleweight Champion Julio César Chávez, Jr., five-time and four-division world champion Miguel Cotto, and eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao whom many on the internet are likening Duno to.
During Duno’s U.S. debut win over Gonzalez, commentator Steve Kim compared the victory to Pacquiao’s shocking defeat over Lehlohonolo Ledwaba in 2001 which thrust him into the spotlight.
“Much like tonight to a certain degree, he just blitzed Lehlo Ledwaba, and really at that point, arrived,” said Kim of Pacquiao’s 2001 fight.
“I’m happy when they say that, but in my opinion, you can’t compare with Manny — there’s only one Manny,” said Duno.
“All I want is to make my own name in boxing,” he added. “I don’t want to imitate him. I want to be different, so that there will be something different.”
On October 9, Duno went back to the Philippines for a quick two-week vacation before continuing training for an upcoming U.S. fight on December 18 in Southern California.
In the Philippines, he got to spend his 22nd birthday doing one of the things he loves to do the most: hanging out with his family, who he sees as his biggest inspiration.
“I just want to prove to the people who look down on my family that we can make it without them,” said Duno.
As for his December fight, his opponent has yet to be announced. But one thing for sure is that people will be watching.