By Cliff Rold
Boxing is a big sport. There are notable events and participants on each of the six habitable continents. Hardcore soccer fans know what it’s like to follow a layout like that. Few other sports fans really do.
Even the hardest core fight followers were shocked on March 2nd. While much of the rest of the world was asleep or otherwise occupied, an off the books underdog was pulling off what, on paper, was the most unlikely win of 2012.
The editors at BoxingScene poll the staff annually about their picks in the various year-end categories, embracing the democratic approach. In democratic courts, there are occasions in courts of law where the judge ‘sets aside’ the verdict of the jury.
After further editorial discussion, this is that rare occasion.
No one outside of his camp (and someone there was likely hard to come by) picked Sonny Boy Jaro to knock off two-time reigning Lineal and WBC Flyweight World Champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. It was, for those who follow the action at Flyweight, not even a fight taken seriously.
No one picked him? No one really cared that it was happening.
Wonjongkam’s career had long been in a pattern. Tough fights were sandwiched around thick multitudes of stay busy non-title affairs and standard, faceless sanctioning body challengers, helping him build an old school record of 83-3-2. In October 2011, Wonjongkam solidly outboxed talented veteran Edgar Sosa for one his best title defenses. While clearly past his prime, Sosa showed Wonjongkam still close enough to his best form to continue to matter.
He followed Sosa with six-fight veteran Hirofumi Mukai (a technical draw in one) and then signed for Filipino journeyman Jaro. This was well with in pattern, a fight that begged the question, “how many more before Wonjongkam gets back to real challengers again?”
Jaro entered the bout at 33-10-5 off a decision loss to Mukai and four straight wins over fighters with losing records. Prior to Mukai he’d been stopped in two by Oscar Ibarra. In two previous title shots, he was knocked out in the first by Giovanni Segura at 108 lbs. and was dropped and nearly shutout at 112 lbs. by Edgar Sosa. Of the ten total losses he brought into the Wonjongkam fight, seven were inside the route.
Compares those numbers to the borderline Hall of Famer from Thailand. He’d lost only one fight since a knockout defeat in 1996, via narrow road decision to career rival Daisuke Naito in 2007.
The Naito loss brought a record-setting reign at Flyweight to an end. From Wonjongkam’s first round stoppage of Malcolm Tunacao for the crown in March 2001, through to the third of his Naito clashes, Wonjongkam defended his title seventeen consecutive times. Those seventeen bested the previous lineal consecutive defense record of Hall of Fame Mexican craftsman Miguel Canto and included wins over future titlist Luis Lazarte, tough then-undefeated contender Hussein Hussein, and a Flyweight title record time first-round knockout of Naito in their first clash.
He came within a hair of avenging the Naito defeat in their 2008 fourth fight, suffering a draw in Japan and then embarked on what would be a dramatic career enhancing run. A win over future Flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Miranda earned him a crack at the man who beat Naito, undefeated Koki Kameda.
Wonjongkam boxed beautifully to hand the Japanese mega-draw his first defeat, on the road, in March 2010 and regained the title. A fighter who had been seen as somewhat suspect for years outside Asia was being heralded as in the hunt for Canastota. After Sosa, it appeared his late roll had no real end in sight short of unification clashes short of unification clashes with some of the new faces in class.
Jaro’s perceived chances before the fight were somewhere south of a Buster Douglas special. He sent Wonjongkam south anyways, eleven years to the day after Wonjongkam won his first crown.
Commenting on the outcome in the aftermath of the contest, this scribe noted that Wonjongkam:
…went out on his shield. He tried to get into the fight and fought to stay afoot as the end came. He just couldn’t.
The brutal salvo that finished him along the ropes in the sixth was quite a few punches too many but perhaps the referee got sucked into the feelings of the crowd. The eerie hush that fell over the assembled was an uncommon moment in boxing. Referee Yuji Fukuchi appeared just as overwhelmed by the moment.
It was a shocking upset but, in the context of Flyweight history, not that surprising.
Wonjongkam is 34 years old. That’s ancient for the division. Some of the notable champions of the past, men like Yuri Arbachakov, Sot Chitalda, and Miguel Canto, were all washed up at closer to 30 years of age. Wonjongkam’s late career renaissance, after a record setting first title reign, a renaissance which saw him recapture the crown from Koki Kameda in 2010, was more exception than rule.
On Friday, while he still was able to get off some nice combinations in spots, his feet looked glued into the floor, his legs were never firm after a first round knockdown, his jab was pushing, and his defensive reflexes were absent.
In short, he looked like an old fighter. It happens to most eventually. It would be a bigger surprise than the upset result if Wonjongkam emerged to avenge the loss or capture more belts. There will be more on Wonjongkam, and the debates about his overall merits, later in the week.
For now, the victor deserves to shine… (and) takes nothing from the wonderful story that is the Jaro win. The Philippines has another champion in its midst. Jaro has never been a particularly good fighter and that isn’t likely to change. He’s lost ten times and been stopped seven. In previous clashes with championship level fighters, some of them men Wonjongkam has defeated, he’s been badly outclassed.
Past was no prelude and Jaro’s is a career fulfilled.
He’s always given honest effort and now has the sort of great win few get to live a lifetime bragging to their friends and family about. Not many men could bounce back from all those losses, all those bad days, and believe in themselves enough to pull off the upset he did. Jaro was said to have sparred a high volume of rounds before his title shot. It showed in the ring.
He pulled everything together, every ounce of learning he’d done in a career of almost fifty fights, to make his mark on the rich history of the 112 lb. weight division. What’s the Filipino word for ‘Rocky?’
Can the answer be anything but Jaro?
As noted at the time, the physical signs in the ring were foreboding, but one never knows those things until the bell rings. Hindsight contextualizes the defeat well in terms of the history of the little men, but history has to be made before context applies.
The gap between expectation and outcome in Jaro-Wonjongkam was massive.
When it was over, the bell had rung on the career of Wonjongkam even if he didn’t know it yet. Wonjongkam rebounded with four indistinct wins before being stopped again by a man he defeated twice prior, knocked out by a sub-.500 Rey Migreno in three. Wonjongkam retired following that defeat, his drop from Sosa to Migreno as dramatic as any in recent memory.
Jaro lost his title in his first defense, versus Japan’s Toshiyuki Igarashi, and didn’t get in the ring again for the remainder of the year. It didn’t mean he was done winning. He’s got the ace here.
The BoxingScene 2012 Upset of the Year: Sonny Boy Jaro KO6 Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
ALSO RECEIVING VOTES
Staff Choice: Josesito Lopez RTD9 Victor Ortiz (Nine (9) first-place votes received) – The biggest, and most impactful, upset of the year on U.S. soil came on June 23 in Los Angeles. Edging Jaro-Wonjongkam in the staff vote at a margin of 9-4, one could find a spattering of folks who gave Lopez a shot at the upset heading into the fight. They were few and far between.
The former Welterweight titlist Ortiz was already penciled in for a pay-per-view showdown with Jr. Middleweight titlist Saul Alvarez. Lopez was coming up from Jr. Welterweight and had never shared a ring with a champion. Questions lingered about Ortiz. They appeared exorcised in a war with Andre Berto, but his meltdown against Floyd Mayweather saw them resurfaced. Lopez proved up to the task of raising the questions again.
Ortiz, bigger, faster, and more powerful of punch, found a Lopez willing to exchange and unprepared to lose. Ortiz suffered a broken jaw and stayed in the corner after nine, a payday and chance for marquee redemption gone in a flash. Lopez took his place, and lost, to Alvarez. The result forced the Canelo show from pay T.V. to Showtime and shut down the looming showdown with Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez. Would boxing truly have seen two major pay-per-view shows go head-to-head if Ortiz had won? We’ll never know. Lopez removed the option.
Kerry Hope MD12 Grzegorz Proksa (One (1) first-place vote received) – A three round shelling of former titlist Sebastian Sylvester in 2011 appeared revelatory, Proksa showing off power and speed in abundance and earning him regard as on of the top ten contenders to Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Hope, entering at 16-3 with two knockout losses under his belt, shelved such talk in March. Cut in the second round, Proksa never got on track and Hope fought the fight of his life, battling through a point deduction in the eighth to hold on for a narrow decision win. The talent gap submitted to the will of Hope for a night. The gap was proved later in the year in the rematch, Proksa winning going away and stopping Hope in eight. The rematch magnified just how big an upset the first fight had been.
Timothy Bradley SD12 Manny Pacquiao (One (1) first-place vote received) – Universally reviled as one of the worst decisions of the year, the shock factor alone was enough to garner this WBO Welterweight title clash a vote. Bradley didn’t fight terribly but he took more than he gave on the night and, to date, has found it difficult to cash in on this shocker.
HONORABLE MENTION (IN SEQUENTIAL ORDER)
Mario Rodriguez KO7 Nkosinathi Joyi – On September 1, undefeated IBF titlist Joyi entered the ring with a case as the most talented fighter at 105 lbs. even with Japan’s Kazuto Ioka holding two titles to his one. The early rounds did nothing to detract from the thought, but Rodriguez - a meager 14-6-4 at the time - showed up to fight for every round he had available. Ripping to the body and ever coming forward, Rodriguez made it a scrap and more. In the seventh, an assault sent Joyi to a knee and the South African stayed there, waiting out the count and conceding his crown.
Gamaliel Diaz UD12 Takahiro Ao – Diaz came into this October title clash at 130 lbs. with nine losses, five of them inside the distance. Ao had six straight, four of them title fights and had home court in Japan. Diaz, whose previous career highlight was handing Robert Guerrero his first loss, was game all night and refused to let the fight get away, winning a title after a long, hard career began in 1998.
Johnathon Banks KO2 Seth Mitchell – One week after working the corner of Wladimir Klitschko’s title defense against Mariusz Wach, the ghost of Emanuel Steward smiling down on both his charges, Banks busted the latest HBO Heavyweight hype bubble in short fashion. Mitchell has been hurt in his previous outing against Chazz Witherspoon and overcome adversity. Three second round knockdowns against Banks was a bridge too far and the former Cruiserweight title challenger announced his presence in boxing’ signature class. His reward is a return to HBO in February in a rematch with Mitchell.
Vyacheslav Senchenko KO9 Ricky Hatton – Down on all three scorecards, the former WBA Welterweight titlist Senchenko had worked his way into the fight with the former World Jr. Welterweight champion but the ending was still a shocker. Coming back for the first time since a knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2009, Hatton had chosen a fighter stopped and beaten wide by Paulie Malignaggi his last time out. A devastating body shot in the ninth proved Hatton should have chosen wiser and ended the return of one of boxing’ most popular draws before it even started.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org