By Unus Alladin
Hong Kong’s unbeaten superstar Rex Tso Sing-yu admitted he would need to step it up against “different calibre” Kohei Kono, who will be highly motivated to put his career back on track after becoming a father two months ago.
Tso came face-to-face with the former WBA world champion for the first time at last Tuesday’s press conference for “Clash of Champions 3” on October 7 and the 30-year-old “Wonder Kid” knows he will have his work cut out against a Japanese veteran, who won his warm-up fight last month and is confident of victory at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Tso is well aware the showdown will be a golden opportunity for him to fight against a classy and well experienced 36-year-old fighter, who made three successful WBA super flyweight title defences (he first held the WBA crown in December 2012) before losing the strap to Panama’s Luis Concepcion in August 2016.
Kono tried to claim the WBO super flyweight title against fellow Japanese Naoya Inoue in December 2016 but was flattened by the “Monster” in a sixth-round TKO.
Kono, or “Tough Boy” as he is known at home, returned to winning ways last month against Thai boxer Yuranan Dokrathok, otherwise known as Rambo Sithsaithong, to improve his record to 33-10-1, 14 KOs.
“This is a golden opportunity for me and I must make the most of it,” said Tso, who will defend his WBO international junior bantamweight title (115 pounds) in a 12-round contest.
“It’s a great chance for me to fight against a former world champion, who obviously has a lot of experience under his belt. He’s a boxer of a different calibre [from the rest of his opponents].
"But my training has gone really well and I’ll definitely show my best in front of the home fans,” added the southpaw.
Tickets for the fight went on sale to the public on Tuesday morning and demand was so overwhelming, the computer booking system crashed – but it was back up and running in the afternoon.
The bout is expected to match the interest of March’s Clash of Champions 2, where a sell-out crowd of 8,000 saw Tso notch his 21st victory with a knockout victory over Japan’s Hirofumi Mukai.
“I haven’t thought about the world title. That may well be my next fight but I’m concentrating on my fight against Kono first. I have had him in my sights for two years. I am very excited to have this opportunity,” said Tso, who is 21-0-0 with 13 knockouts.
Tokyo-based Kono is the second fighter Tso will face whose ranking will be higher than the Hong Kong star.
The last time Tso faced someone with a higher ranking was May 2014 when the Wonder Kid came back from two knockdowns to outpoint Ratchasak Kokietgym (birthname Nattaphong Panpaew) of Thailand, who was 23-2 at the time.
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Promoter Jay Lau Chi-yuen believes Kono is trying to resurrect his career, knowing fame and his reputation will be on the line. Kono is ranked 11th by independent Boxrec, while Tso is ranked 19th.
“Kono is the second ranked boxer in his division in Japan and he wants to become famous again in his homeland,” said Lau.
“He knows if he beats Rex he will restore his reputation, too. Secondly, he became a father just two months ago. He has a baby daughter. He probably needs the money [to support his family].”
Lau reiterated there would be a rematch should Tso lose in the clash. That gives Kono more incentive as he would earn a bigger payday a second time around.
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“It’s a big motivation for Kono. I want to motivate him. I am not sure whether we will give Kono a rematch should Kono lose as it is not written in our contract,” said Lau.
“But if it goes the distance and it turns out to be a really good fight and all the boxing fans want a rematch, then why not? It all depends – as long as it is a good fight.”