|10-03-2007, 09:19 AM||#1|
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Korean Star Injin Chi vows to retire from boxing, fight MMA
By Kim Tong-hyung
Which is better, mixed martial arts (MMA) or boxing? For sports fans, the question has been a frequent topic of the new millennium.
In Korea, at least, the answer seems evident with the dearth of talent and a diminishing support base having boxing _ once the country's favorite pastime along with baseball _ breathing heavily on the ropes.
The local boxing world is now under a collective shock with WBC featherweight champion Chi In-jin announcing his intentions to retire from the sport to pursue a new career in MMA.
The 34-year-old has agreed to the terms on a multiyear deal with Japan's Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG), the organizers of the immensely popular K-1 MMA league, and a contract is expected to be signed as early as next week.
``I have some things to take care of regarding my past relations to boxing, but I will call you guys (reporters) to a news conference and send press releases soon,'' Chi told the Korea Times in a telephone conversation.
Since defeating Rodolfo Lopez for the WBC title belt in December last year, Chi disappeared for a while, nursing a hand injury, seeking to comeback with a big-money fight. He was involved in talks with Filipino ring idol Manny Pacquiao, the current WBC junior lightweight champ.
However, the fight with Pacquiao was cancelled due to the choice of venue and financial reasons, and Chi's frustrations over the fallout led to a feud with promoter Lee Ku-sung, with the champ questioning Lee's abilities to land him high-profile fights.
``I got exactly $10,000 in my championship bout last December and haven't earned a penny since. Without a sponsor, I had to feed my family of four with just that money for seven months, but I doubt my promoter or manager thought about that seriously,'' said Chi.
Money wise, K-1 would certainly provide Chi a greener pasture. Yang Myung-kyu, who heads FEG's Korean branch, declined to discuss the size of the contract offered to Chi. However, it is expected to be in the ballpark of the three-year, 1 billion won ($1 million) deal former WBA featherweight champion Choi Yong-soo got from K-1 last year.
Chi posted numbers of 31 wins, including 18 knockouts, 3 loses and a draw for his career.
Only time will tell how Chi weathers the fierce resistance from the boxing community, balking at his intentions of giving away the championship belt.
Kim Jung-kil, the owner and trainer at the Daewon Boxing Gym in Seoul, which Chi had trained throughout his boxing career, had an angry response towards his pupil.
``He never approached me on the issue. I got to know about the K-1 talks through newspapers and I have never been more disappointed,'' said Kim, saying that Chi's departure could cause a irrevocable damage to the sport of boxing here.
``I called him over and told him, `You are the only Korean world champion and you shouldn't walk out like this,''' said Kim, claiming Chi still requirements left under the contract with his gym, although failing to elaborate.
``He (Chi) and I both know that there is a lot left in him as a boxer. He shouldn't walk away from the sport just now. Mixed martial arts are for wash-ups, not great boxers,'' he said. Chi hasn't visited the Daewon Boxing Gym in more than a month and is currently training at home.
Kim also said that negotiations are underway with two featherweight fighters, and a win against either of them could give Chi another shot at Pacquiao. He did not give out the names of the potential opponents but said a fight against one of them was supposed to be arranged within the ``next 90 days.''
Chi denies the possibility of any legal problems once he gives up his championship belt. Most Korean professional boxers stay with the gym they signed first throughout their careers, but that is more of a convention than a legally binding contract, the boxer said.
``There aren't any significant problems left (in the move to K-1),'' Chi said. He was also incredulous about the claims from his promoters that they are close to arranging another fight.
``This is the first time I heard of that and I don't believe it one bit. What kind of a fight happens without the boxer knowing about it?'' said Chi.
In an interview with a daily newspaper, Kim had threatened legal action should K-1 sign Chi to MMA bouts. However, talking with the Times, Kim said he has ``not considered a suit yet,'' and believes Chi will return to boxing eventually.
Apparently fearing a backlash, FEG's Yang said the company would not sign Chi unless his conflict with the boxing circle is settled.
``It is his problem to handle. We won't sign Chi if we have to burden the blame that we are killing boxing,'' said Yang.
Since the retiring of stars such as Park Jong-pal, Chang Jung-koo, and Moon Sung-kil, who led Korean boxing's ``golden age'' in the 1980s, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that boxing has been on life support.
Boxing has been clearly losing athletic talent to other sports, including upstart MMA. Even Kim, the owner of perhaps the country's most prestigious boxing gym, admitting that the number of fighters _ both in the amateur and the profession ranks _ has ``halved'' compared to a decade ago.
In February's ``Pro Boxing New-Comers' Tournament,'' a major annual tournament for Korean boxing, organizers failed to gather a sufficient number of participants in each weight division. As a result, heavyweight contender Mathew Justin, a Canadian based in Seoul, ended up pummeling a 18-year-old middleweight contender to work his way to a unanimous decision win.
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