By Joe Koizumi
Perennial top contender Denkaosen Kaowichit (45-1-1, 19 KOs), 111.75, Thailand, very impressively captured the WBA flyweight belt as he showed a fine opening attack in the first, caught defending champ Takefumi Sakata (33-5-2, 15 KOs), 112, making his fifth defense, with a vicious right under the ear and finished him for the count at 2:55 of the second round on Wednesday in Hiroshima, Japan. It was their grudge fight as they battled to a split draw in the first encounter in November of the previous year.
We knew Denkaosen was a dangerous challenger, having seen him drop Sakata with a solid right in the first round in their initial battle that ended with 115-112 for the Thailander, 112-114 for the Japanese and 113-113. Furthermore, it was the draw despite Denkaosen having suffered a right thumb fracture in the fourth and necessarily fighting with one hand thereafter. However, we never expected such a devastating and dramatic, plus so quick, one-punch knockout by the Thai veteran, since Sakata had been known for his tremendous durability and determination in every defense.Sakata was also expected to surpass the record of most defenses in the flyweight category in Japan, as such previous and current 112-pound champs as only Yoshio Shirai, Masao Ohba and WBC titlist Daisuke Naito registered four successful defenses. Sakata, four years his junior at 28, was a prefight–if not prohibitive–favorite.
Everyone in the world, including Denkaosen himself, had realized Sakata was a notorious slow starter, though boasting of abundant stamina in later rounds, who might be able to fight even in fifteen or twenty rounds. The Japanese fighting machine made it a rule to accelerate his work rate as the contest progressed, but it was a story from the fourth round onward. Sakata always showed a slow and shaky start against Lorenzo Parra, Roberto Vasquez, Denkaosen and Shingo Yamaguchi (who decked the defending champ Sakata with a smashing right in the third last March). In short, Sakata always used to look terrible in the first three rounds.
From the outset Denkaosen, a hard-hitter with a vaunted right hand, started his engine at full speed, and landed strong shots to the champ as if he attempted a first-round KO victory. The Thailander set up with solid left jabs to the belly before throwing vicious rights, which occasionally caught the still nervous and stiff champ. In the closing second Sakata just connected a good left hook following a left-right combination, but the champ looked bad and slow as usual. Denkaosen was in complete command in the opening session without doubt with all the judges (Roberto Ramirez of Puerto Rico, Rafael Ramos of the US and Derek Milham of Australia) unanimously having it in favor of the aggressive challenger.
Sakata’s performance in the first round seemed worse than that of his previous defenses. Why so bad? Probably because it was his very first defense in his native place Hiroshima, from which Sakata moved up to Tokyo after a brief mediocre amateur mark at the age of eighteen. Sakata might have been too much eager to show a good performance before his parents, friends and local supporters. He appeared to be carrying a too heavy burden of local expectations by great many adherents on the back to move smoothly.
It might be a serious mistake, though judging from the result, that Sakata, in round two, kept rushing to Denkaosen and welcomed infighting with the hard-punching challenger in the close quarter. Sakata, with a peek-a-boo guard, went close to him in order to kill Denkaosen’s range (as the Thailander usually needed a distance to throw his favorite straight right). Denkaosen, smart enough tonight, dug very solid body shots to the champ’s belly in the close range to have Sakata on the defensive. But Sakata attempted to retaliate with slower and less accurate combos with Denkaosen apparently having the upper hand.
Should you be a fan of Sakata, watching his showing in the first three rounds usually makes you feel stomachache, as his opponent often beats him up. Why not use a better engine of Toyota, Honda or Nissan? But Sakata’s engine is always like that–slow-starting but long-lasting even in later rounds.
With just fifteen seconds remaining in the second that Denkaosen was dominating, the Thailander landed a very devastating shot to the champ’s head under the ear. It was so powerful and so well-timed that Sakata’s body abruptly once stood up like an electric pole, looked paralyzed and fell down.
Sakata stayed completely flat until the referee Roberto Ramirez tolled eight, and wobblingly attempted to regain his feet. The ref’s count had already reached a fatal ten when Sakata, still groggy and shaky, almost stood up with rubbery legs. As his cornerman and trainer Shigeyuki Otake carried him to the corner, Sakata looked like being made of jelly, which truly justified Ramirez’s declaration of a knockout win for the jubilant challenger. The new champ cried for joy.
Denkaosen’s shot was like an atomic bomb, if this expression should be allowed here in Hiroshima. We have known the spot under/behind the ear should be one of important pinpoints such as button (the point of chin), jaw, temple, liver, heart (Jack Dempsey liked to hit the heart to finish his opponent in infighting), solar plexus (as Bob Fitzsimmons dethroned Jim Corbett), the middle of the forehead, etc. However, we have never seen it (a punch under the ear) so effective and so apparent in having a boxer paralyzed. The one-punch knockout might be a scientifically spectacular example at a medical seminar of boxing organizations.
Reviewing the past, we have very rarely watched such an easy and quick forfeiture of Japanese world champs here in our home turf. In 1972, WBC feather champ Kuniaki Shibata (who dethroned Vicente Saldivar via upset stoppage after the twelfth in Tijuana, Mexico) was amazingly flattened by unheralded Mexican Clemente Sanchez in three in Tokyo, but Shibata, even with a fragile chin, fought well before the trick happened.
In 1975, the same Shibata also lost his WBC 130-pound belt by a second-round KO by Alfredo Escalera in Ibaragi, but Shibata furiously swapped punches with the lanky Puerto Rican toe-to-toe and really showed something before the shocking defeat. Also, Escalera later became formidable world champ, having kept his belt ten times to eventually justify Shibata’s then upset forfeiture of the belt.
In 1996, WBA light-fly ruler Keiji Yamaguchi lost his throne to Thai southpaw and top contender Pichit Chor Siriwat with a second-round TKO by a single wicked right hook in Osaka, but it looked like a careless mistake that Yamaguchi failed to avert the southpaw right hand.
Sakata, warmly loved by hardcore fight fans thanks to his workman style, could actually showed nothing before his farewell to the belt. It was very shocking that Sakata, who had never tasted a loss either by a KO or a TKO, suffered such a lopsided knockout defeat. The crestfallen ex-champ couldn’t remember what happened, asking his cornermen in the dressing room, “What punch finished me?”
The newly crowned Denkaosen jubilantly said, “I am very happy to win the belt from Sakata, the strong champion. I tried to knock him out to capture the world title. I am very happy to do it quickly.”
Now that Denkaosen is completely free from any option agreement (since this is the WBA’s mandatory defense), he will be able to decide a challenger in a voluntary defense. Who will be the next? Koki Kameda? Kameda (19-0, 12 KOs), former WBA 108-pound champ, 22, said, “I’m very much willing to face Denkaosen for the belt.” But the champ’s selection will be at his disposal.
It is uncertain whether Sakata will go on fighting in the flyweight division, move up to the 115-pound class, or hang up gloves for good. Boxing is a game with a winner and a loser, so we didn’t feel sorry for Sakata’s loss, but suffered from a sort of fistic indigestion that Sakata yielded his belt without doing anything in such a fashion. In this regard, it was a sad night.
Promoter: Kyoei Promotions. WBA supervisor: Jose Oliver Gomez (Panama).