By Victor Lee
Photos: Ulysses Sato and Aaron Jang
Nineteen year-old fistic prodigy Mako Yamada (7-0, 2 KOs), of Fukuoka, Japan wrested the WBO Female Minimumweight Title from formerly undefeated defending southpaw champion Su-Yun Hong (9-1, 5 KOs) in snowy Chuncheon, South Korea by split decision scores of 97-93, 96-94 (for Yamada) and 97-96 (for Hong).
Hong, who won the WBO title in June, 2012, was coming off her second defense in August, 2013, a highly controversial split decision win over Kyoto, Japan-based Mari Ando, who went on to become the WBC Minimumweight champion in December of last year. Although Yamada made her pro boxing debut at age 17, a mere six weeks before Hong won the WBO title, she started kickboxing and karate as an elementary school student, and had amassed a pro kickboxing record of 5-0-2. When reminded after the weigh-in about their compatriot’s unfavorable decision loss in August, Yamada’s manager, Masahiko Kumeta, expressed his confidence, stating that his charge had trained and prepared to her best ability, and that they had come to knock Hong out.
This was apparent from the opening bell, as Yamada employed a persistent body attack that weakened Hong over the first half of the bout. Through round after round of trench warfare, the champion scrapped valiantly, but the challenger’s superior infighting skills gave her the upper hand. Yamada increased her work rate in the later rounds, throwing full-force hooks to the head that had Hong holding on for dear life. Not expecting to win a decision on the former champion’s home turf, Yamada burst into tears when the decision was announced. Unlike those of certain other boxing organizations, it appears that the representatives of the WBO are making a concerted effort to eliminate hometown decisions in Asia. Hopefully the other organizations will follow their lead. After the bout, an insider from Hong’s camp revealed that the former champ had sustained an injury to her right eye in round two, which negatively affected her performance thereafter. With this victory, Yamada became the first Japanese WBO female champion, and the first woman from Kyushu to win a world title. Although he had taken time off from managing his Korean Barbeque restaurant in Osaka to come and support Su-Yun Hong, former WBC Super Flyweight champion Masamori Tokuyama (aka Chang-Soo Hong) stopped by Yamada’s dressing room to offer his congratulations. Yamada’s promoter, Takao Mihashi, commented that since Yamada is still young, their goal is for her to become a world champion in three weight classes. Mako Yamada, whose older sister Saki is also a formidable professional boxer (could they become the Japanese “Klitschko” sisters?), says that she will continue to work her part-time job as an assistant in a beauty salon while training hard to defend her newly acquired belt.
The semifinal bout of the afternoon had electrified the Korean boxing world for weeks, generating much discussion among Korean boxing aficionados young and old alike. This is not surprising, as it was a tale of crossroads, of old vs. new: could the seasoned veteran, current Korean Super Lightweight Champion, former PABA Super Featherweight Champion and WBA #12 ranked Super Featherweight Taek-Min Kim (15-7, 10 KOs) dispatch the new kid on the block, KBC #4 Super Lightweight and former Korean national amateur champion southpaw Ja-Ik Goo (2-0, 2 KOs)? Or could Goo do what so many of his predecessors failed to do, and send the more experienced champ packing? After losing his Korean Super Featherweight title in 2009, Kim became something of a stern gatekeeper and trial horse, albeit indomitable at the domestic level, having dispatched with former amateur star and OPBF champ-to-be Min-Wook Kim (TKO 5) in 2010 and amateur standout Jin-Soo Kim (TKO 8) last July. So many inquiring minds were asking: could Kim score the trifecta against Goo, or would he finally be sent to the glue factory? As the bout drew nearer, late-night pundits made bets over soju and beer at local dak kalbi (the grilled chicken specialty of Chuncheon) joints, most of them favoring Goo inside five.
This bout was originally scheduled to take place at the end of 2013, but was postponed due to a leg injury sustained by Ja-Ik Goo during training.
In stark contrast to his typical crowd-pleasing, all-out brawling style (hence the nicknames “TEC-9” and “No-Tech”), champion Taek-Min Kim started out circling and tapping the challenger’s right glove with his left jab, while the challenger remained stationary at ring center, waiting to unleash his cobra-like straight left. The challenger appeared to be puzzled by and unprepared for the champion’s strategy, and looked surprised when Kim unexpectedly lashed out with a wide left hook behind his pawing jabs, catching and quickly reddening the area around Goo’s right eye. Still, Goo remained composed, patiently scanning for opportunities to pull the trigger on his trip-hammer left, though he had difficulty landing anything of import in the opening stanza. Kim remained highly disciplined throughout the early rounds, content to circle left and work behind his left jab and wide left hooks, range finding and pumping in the occasional straight right to the head and body of the former amateur standout. Indeed, Kim only resorted to slug-outs when cornered by an increasingly frustrated Goo, who was noticeably uncomfortable and impatient with the uncharacteristically restrained opponent, lack of meaningful exchanges and overall slow pace of the bout. While Kim continued to land the sweeping left hook, Goo returned fire with his straight left and right hook, causing the area below Kim’s right eye to swell from round two on. In rounds three through five, Kim landed some nice right hooks to the body on the inside, while Goo’s lighting straight left finally caught Kim flush on the chin. Kim, whose cast-iron jaw is the stuff of legend (he once purportedly broke an Osaka sparring partner’s wrist with his chin), was not moved by the punch, but let out a puff of air in recognition.
Undeterred by the champion’s lead blows, Goo began strike the target more often with his left, opening a deep cut in Kim’s left eyelid. By round six, Kim’s corner men had their hands full trying to deal with this horrible cut, bad swelling under the eye, and bleeding from both nostrils. Remarkably, Kim began to come on after the first doctor’s check in round six, troubling Goo with multiple shots for the remainder of that round and into round seven. After a third check, however, the referee abruptly stopped the bout, awarding the TKO victory to Goo at 2:24 of round seven. The stoppage was somewhat puzzling, as within the minute or so that passed between the second and third doctor check, Kim appeared not to have been struck by a single significant blow. In fact, he was in the middle of a rally. After the bout, Kim’s chief second revealed the reason for Kim’s unusual strategy and active left hand: the champion had suffered a severely torn ligament in his right arm during training, but refused to postpone the bout a second time. Goo, who will no doubt face stiffer and stiffer competition as he enters the OPBF rankings, rises to 3-0, (3 KOs). The dejected Kim, who falls to 15-7, (10 KOs), underwent surgery for his arm yesterday and is recovering at the Olympic Hospital in Seoul.
The third contest of the title bout triple-header pitted southpaw Korean Bantamweight champion Jong-Min Jung (4-6, 1 KO) against up-and-coming challenger and KBC #2 ranked Bantamweight Ye-Joon Kim (6-1-2, 1 KO). However, fans had to settle for a ten round non-title affair when Kim tipped the scales at some five and a half pounds over the 118 limit. In a little over two hours, Kim somehow managed to reduce to within almost a pound over the limit. Note: the weights reported on Boxrec are not correct. Jong-Min Jung passed at 53.22 kg (117.33 lbs) on his first attempt. After two or so hours jogging around the hotel in his sweat suit, coat and hat, Kim reduced to 54.28 kg (119.66 lbs) on his second attempt. Then the scales read 54.00 kg (119.05 lbs) on his third try.
A self-professed Mayweather stylist, Kim looked sluggish entering the ring. By contrast Jung, the taller champion, looked ripped and energized. Still, Jung was tentative from the opening bell, flicking out his right jab from ring center as Kim looked to counter. Rounds one and two were fairly even, with Jung having a slight edge as he boxed well from the outside and avoided most of Kim’s wide-swinging counter attacks. In round three, Kim, fighting mostly in spurts, caught the champion in the corner with a smashing right uppercut to the head, rocking him badly. Kim immediately went for the finish, catching Jung with a number of combinations from all angles. As Jung covered up he stumbled, and it seemed that the referee might stop the bout. Instead, he stepped in, directed Kim to the neutral corner, and administered a standing eight count. When asked if he could continue, Jung stepped forward on shaky legs, but the referee allowed the bout to go on. Kim again moved in for the finish, throwing all the punches in his arsenal. Responding well to instructions from his corner, Jung circled away, sticking out jabs and countering when caught in the corners (though there was little mustard on his punches), somehow managing to last out the round.
Jung bounced back in round four, and had some of his best moments in next few rounds, landing straight lefts to the dome of the back-stepping Kim. Jung also did some good work on the inside, thudding short rights to the body as Kim clinched and attempted to take some breathers. While Jung’s straight enfilades moved Kim into the ropes on several occasions, Kim cleverly folded his body over so that most of Jung’s blows sailed over his head. The end came in round eight, when Kim landed a thunderous left uppercut to the body, immediately dropping Jung’s hands. Kim followed up with a left hook to the head, sending Jung sideways into the canvas. Though Jung gamely attempted to rise, the referee waved off the contest at 1:37. Still Korean Bantamweight champion, Jung slips to 4-7, (1 KO), while Kim rises to 7-1-2, (2 KOs).
Flyweight slugger Bo-Ra Kim (1-2, 1 KO) battered debuting out-boxer Da-Eun Kim (0-1) with a solid combination for the TKO win at 0:55 of round three in a four round contest.
Rugged welterweight Sun-Kyu Park (1-1) pounded his way to a convincing four round decision over debuting Hee-Joon Jo (0-1) by scores of 39-37, 39-36, 39-36.
In a very competitive match between debuting light welterweights, Dong-Young Gang (1-0) emerged victorious over Seung-Yub Jun (0-1) by scores of 39-36, 40-38, 40-36.
In a high-action middleweight bout, former amateur star and hard-punching upright technician Joo-Young Kim (1-0-1, 1 KO) showed flashes of brilliance, but could not overcome the toughness and determination of Gyung-Mo Yuh (1-4-1), as the two battled to a 39-37, 38-38, 38-38 draw.
In a hotly contested encounter of undefeated super bantamweights, heavily tattooed mauler Min-Joon Park (3-0, 2 KO) had the edge over the more scientific pugilist In-Kyoo Lee (2-1, 1 KO) 38-37, 39-37, 39-37.
Power-punching Hyun Sunwoo (3-3-1, 2 KO) dropped southpaw Sang-Keun Han (1-1, 1 KO) with a left hook in round two, then rushed in with a series of punches prompting the referee to step in and award him the KO victory at 2:42 of round two in a four round featherweight bout.
Talented Jae-Hoon Lee of Daegu raised his record to a perfect 3-0, 3 KOs by stopping Bum-Hyun Kim (2-2) at the three-minute mark of the opening round in a four round welterweight contest. Lee’s second knockdown resulted in the automatic stoppage.
Bruising featherweight swarmer Tae-Il Kim sent debuting straight shooter Min-Suk Choi (0-1) to the deck in round two with a well-timed right hook, raising his record to a perfect 4-0 by the official tallies of 40-37, 40-36, 40-36.
Promoter: YMW Buffalo Promotions.
Venue: Chuncheon Lakeside Gymnasium, Chuncheon, South Korea.
Date: February 9, 2014