By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Fumika Okuchi
Former WBC super-bantam champ and currently promoter/manager Kiyoshi Hatanaka flamboyantly predicts that his “Dream Boy” Kosei Tanaka (2-0) may win a world championship in his next bout to tie with Saengsak Muangsurin’s record of winning the world belt in his third pro outing. The sensational youngster Tanaka, who defeated a couple of world contenders in as many pro bouts, is still 18 years of age, but his impresario Hatanaka earnestly wishes to make his golden rookie have a world shot as soon as possible. “Tanaka has everything to become a world champion, so I hope he will tie the world record of Muangsuin. Lomachenko lately failed to beat Saengsak’s mark, but Tanaka will tie the record without fail should he be fortunate enough to get an opportunity. As you (press people) watched, Tanaka superbly can punch, box and defend himself. I hope the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF will pave the way for the genius to prove his worth.”
Reviewing boxing history thanks to great statistician Bob Yalen’s list (where so-called “interim” champs aren’t counted), the quickest route to the top was registered by Saengsak Muangsurin of Thailand who dethroned WBC 140-pound champ Perico Fernandez of Spain via eighth round knockout in 1975. The southpaw ex-Muaythai battler won the belt in his “third” international-style fight. The second quickest is also a Thailander named Veeraphol Sahaprom, who gained the WBA bantam belt by dethroning his compatriot Daorung Chuwatana in his “fourth” pro fight in 1995.
Why do Thai Muaythai superstars attempt to gain the international-style championship in such a short route as Saengsak or Veeraphol? It is because rare superstars of Muaythai have been very well-paid in the combat with hands and legs. Usually the Muaythai superstar gets paid approximately US$10,000 per fight, which is equivalent to some $30,000 in Japan—because of the difference of prices of commodities. He fights almost every month so that his earning amounts to some $100,000 (worth $300,000 in Japan) or more. In order to earn more than his purses paid in Muaythai and prove his strength to the world, he attempts to invade in the international-style ring. He then makes a brief decisive battle. The superstar faces a strong and name opponent in his debut and tries to fight for a world championship as early as possible. If unsuccessful, he may return to his favorite Muaythai ring. Saengsak and Veeraphol were such exceptional Muaythai superstars at that time.
Saengsak Muangsurin, a very famous Muaythai superstar whose power punching had been highly evaluated, fought his first international-style fight with US-based Filipino Rudy Barro (who produced a sensation in Los Angeles by defeating Andy Price and previously unbeaten Jimmy Heair in February and in May respectively in 1974). In November that year Saengsak made a successful international-style debut by demolishing Barro just in the first round before 15,000 people at Hua Mark Stadium in Bangkok. Saengsak, called “Saeb” (naughty boy), was so tremendously popular among fight fans in Thailand because of his exceptional strength and likable character.
Saengsak’s second opponent was formidable Japanese junior welterweight champ Lion Furuyama, a very sturdy southpaw banger who had dropped a controversial split decision to Perico Fernandez with the vacant WBC 140-pound belt at stake in Italy in September 1974. We wonder why Furuyama did go and fight Saengsak, a dangerous Thai sensation? It was rumored that (1) Furuyama was very highly paid in this bout, and (2) there was a promise between both parties that should Saengsak beat Furuyama and should he become a world champ, the Thailander would come to Japan to meet Furuyama again with his belt on the line. Saengsak defeated Furuyama via seventh round TKO in Bangkok to get world-rated so that he had an opportunity to face then WBC ruler Perico Fernandez in his “third” pro bout. Saengsak dethroned Fernandez and then kept his promise to face Furuyama again in his initial defense in Japan in January 1975. Furuyama (who previously failed to win the world 140-pound belt twice, losing to Antonio Cervantes in Panama in 1973 and to Fernandez) again failed to win the belt from Saengsak by a unanimous decision (146-143, 147-144 and 148-139) in Tokyo.
Back to Bob Yalen’s list of world champs produced in the least number of fights, it might be less known that Paul Weir of Scotland won the then less prestigious WBO 105-pound belt by halting Fernando Martinez in seven rounds of his “sixth” pro bout in 1993. Seaengsak Muangsurin, in his “seventh” bout, regained the WBC 140-pound belt by dispatching Miguel Velasquez in just two rounds in their rematch in Segovia. The hard-punching Thailander avenged his previous setback to Velasquez by a disqualification in round five in June of 1976. In their first encounter, the defending champ Saegsak, despite dropping Velasquez twice in the second and third, was declared loser on disqualification since he landed a left shot to the right cheek to have the Spaniard prone just after the bell to signal the end of the fourth session.
It was Jeff Fenech of Australia that captured the IBF world bantam belt from Satoshi Shingaki in his “seventh” pro bout in 1985. The boxers who acquired world belts in the “seventh” bout following Saengsak and Fenech were Korean bantam hard-puncher Sung-Kil Moon (who dethroned Thailand’s Khaokor Galaxy, the twin brother of Khaosai Galaxy who registered nineteen defenses to his credit), Thai light-fly speedster Muangchai Kittikasem and Japan’s Kazuto Ioka (still active; who wrested the WBC minimum title by finishing Oleydong Sithsamerchai in 2011).
The fast-rising boxers who gained world thrones in the “eighth” bout were as follows: Leon Spinks (who upset Muhammad Ali and yielded the belt to Ali in 1978), Thai flyweight champ Sot Chitalada, Japan’s first IBF champ Satoshi Shingaki (who forfeited his belt to Jeff Fenech), Japanese bantam star Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and also Japanese 115-pound titlist Nobuo Nashiro (who scored an upset victory over Martin Castillo).
Those who captured world thrones in the “ninth” pro bouts were: Japan’s southpaw champ Yoko Gushiken (who registered thirteen defenses), Davey Moore (a US prospect that dethroned Tadashi Mihara in Japan and yielded the belt to Roberto Duran), Payao Poontarat (WBC 115-pound ruler and the first Olympic medalist out of Thailand), Hiroki Ioka (who became the WBC’s first 105-pound champ; Kazuto Ioka’s uncle), Napa Kiatwanchai (who captured the belt from Hiroki Ioka), Jung-Il Byon (ex-Olympian who dethroned Mexican Victor Rabanales in Korea), Paul Weir (a Scotchman who gained his second belt in the heavier 108-pound division) and Guillermo Rigondeaux (who gained the WBA interim 122-pound belt by defeating Ricardo Cordova in his “seventh” bout and won the full WBA throne by disposing of Rico Ramos in his “ninth” game in 2012).
Bob Yalen’s research had this reporter realize that it was not only Thai or Japanese boxers but those in other countries that pursued world belts in fewest pro bouts. The Japanese promoter Kiyoshi Hatanaka wrested the WBC super-bantam belt as he displayed a give-and-take performance in finally finishing Argentine Pedro Decima in 1991. He, however, at first failed to win the WBC 115-pound belt from Gilberto Roman in his sixteenth bout, and finally had the belt in his twenty-fourth game on his second attempt. Furthermore, Hatanaka, despite dropping Decima four times in the fourth round, wasn’t awarded a victory then and had to floor the Argentine champ twice more (no less than six times in total) before his coronation in the eighth session. “Dream Boy” Kosei Tanaka probably may acquire a world belt earlier than his handler Hatnaka, hopefully.