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Local fighters show off on undercard

By Jason Kaneshiro

LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

The last time Mike Balasi and Van Oscar Penovaroff appeared on the same boxing card, they were toiling at the Palolo Hongwanji.

Thanks to Brian Viloria's return to the islands, they shared the ring last night under a considerably brighter spotlight.

Balasi, who hails from Kalihi, and Penovaroff of Kailua-Kona met in a welterweight match as part of the undercard of Island Assault 2, preceding Viloria's title fight against Julio Cesar Miranda at the Blaisdell.

Although designated a preliminary bout, the local fighters provided prime-time intensity in an entertaining fight won by Balasi by majority decision.

One judge had the fight even at 57-57, the other two scored it 58-57 and 59-56 for Balasi.

In the end, the result didn't matter much to Balasi, a father of two who squeezes in training between working two jobs to support his family.

"I just came to give 100 percent," said Balasi, whose boss gave him some time off leading up the fight.

Balasi fought on the undercard of Viloria's previous appearance at Blaisdell on Aug. 29, 2009, knocking out Toby Misech.

So when he got the call to be a part of last night's event, he didn't hesitate to accept even though the training made for some long days.

"I like it because when do you have an opportunity to fight like this?" Balasi said. "It's so rare in Hawaii, so whenever I get the call I take every opportunity there is because you never know when the next time will be. Maybe somebody's out there who can give me a shot."

The local fighters certainly didn't waste the chance to perform on a bigger stage last night.

Balasi (10-1), a 30-year-old southpaw, worked the body early against the taller Penovaroff (6-1), who repeatedly peppered Balasi with a straight right.

Balasi, who last fought in January 2010 at Waipahu High School gym, said he wanted to "just go inside and keep working and try to frustrate and keep my head cool. Hit the body early, work to the head and keep pushing."

The momentum seemingly shifted with each combination and Balasi paired solid lefts to the head to take control of the fifth round, which set up a wild sixth, with both fighters raising their hands at the final bell to appreciative roar from the crowd.

"That's how I fight, I just try to give the fans their money's worth," Penovaroff said. "I come to fight for the crowd and I love this sport, that's all.

"He's a good fighter and it's an honor to be fighting on a world championship card like this and I just fought my heart out."

Penovaroff also competes in MMA and made his last three boxing appearances in Pennsylvania, the last coming on June 4, 2010. He fought in an X-1 event in March and said he agreed to another fight on Aug. 13.

Honolulu's Ku'ulei Kupihea was also a part of Island Assault I in 2009 in her lone professional fight in Hawaii and won a unanimous decision against Tiffany Junot of New Orleans, La., in a light welterweight fight to open the event.

Kupihea (7-1), another southpaw, frustrated Junot (9-3) early, her left hand repeatedly connecting, then landed her heaviest shots in the sixth and final round.

In the first of the eight-round preliminaries, Denver Cuello (24-3) of the Philippines made quick work of Omar Soto (15-7-1) of Mexico with a technical knockout about a minute into the second round.

Michael Farenas of the Philippines and Fernando Beltran Jr. (35-6) of Mexico went the distance, with Farenas (32-3) emerging with a split decision.

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