by Cliff Rold
What was it like before YouTube and social media? How many classics never got their full regard when the world was smaller?
Would something like Hall of Famer Jung Koo Chang’s valiant last, losing stand against Muangchai Kittikasem have been remembered differently in 1991 had their been broader outlets to see it? What if Ring Magazine had looked outside New York more often in the 1960’s? Would it have been enough to generate sentiment to name Chartchai Chionoi’s epic 1968 Flyweight win over Efren Torres as Fight of the Year over Dick Tiger’s battle with Frankie DePaula?
It’s hard to say.
This much is clear. In 2006, YouTube meant the world got to see Somsak Sithchatchawal’s 122 lb. title win over Mahyar Monshipour, contested in France and surely too obscure for global notice just a decade before. It meant Ring, ESPN, and the Boxing Writer’s Association of America (BWAA) gave the nod to the rightful Fight of the Year.
In 2011, it’s happening again. Slowly but surely the votes are coming together. ESPN has selected it for the honors. Eric Raskin and Michael Woods at The Sweet Science have made it their choice. Steve Kim of Maxboxing, whose Twitter feed was the source of much early buzz, has made it his selection as well. His proclamation on the social media tool of a Gatti-Ward-esque brawl peaked plenty of interest. It was an apt comparison.
So far, it appears some of the folks not making it their choice for Fight of the Year haven’t seen it. They should. The BWAA vote is coming. It would be unfair, at best, not to give it a full look. It would be unwise, for any fight lover, not to give two brave 105 lb. warriors the short investment of their time the fight demands.
It’s that good.
At one vote shy of a unanimous decision, it is the BoxingScene staff choice for 2011 Fight of the Year.
Fight of the Year: Akira Yaegashi TKO10 Pornsawan Porpramook
WBA 105 lb. titlist Pornsawan Porpramook of Thailand faced Akira Yaegashi of Japan at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo on October 24, 2011. Over ten rounds, they put on the best sort of fight, a steady escalation of tensions best described as a game of ‘can you top it.’ They pushed each other to the brink, refused to fall, and found new brinks to push towards. Each round seemed to improve on the last until the third man in the ring was forced to make a call.
It was the ultimate proof of an old cliché. It’s not the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog that matters. The size of their hearts, their ring character, was immeasurable that fall day.
In front of a rabid crowd chanting, “Akira! Akira!” at the opening bell, the challenger came out behind a heavy left jab in round one. A lead left hook just past the minute mark declared Yaegashi’s intentions. He’d do it again in the round and turn the left over into an uppercut for a hard combination just past the halfway mark of the round. Porpramook could do little more than follow, landing little of note as Yaegashi continued to land hard lefts, and a sneaky right to the belly, in a lopsided opening frame.
Porpramook was waiting for Yaegashi at mid-ring to start the second round. Thirty seconds in, already eating another stream of lefts, Porpramook fired as Yaegashi let his back touch the ropes. A right hand got through to the body, then to the head, and they exchanged as Yaegashi worked off the ropes. A fight was breaking out. Yaegashi was a step ahead, using his jab and legs to control the action but Porpramook was increasing the pressure. A Porpramook right to the body and left upstairs stung along the ropes. The defending titlist wasn’t shy about rabbit punching in a clinch, Yaegashi tumbling to a knee out of the tussle. Yaegashi responded with a slashing right when action resumed. Porpramook stayed to the body first, looking for rights to the head, with Yaegashi working off the ropes as the bell sounded.
Taking what looked like at least two to land one, Porpamook continued to push forward through a barrage of sharp left hands in the third, waiting for his chances to land loaded single head shots and one-two’s to the ribs. Yaegashi’s counters were flush, occasionally pivoting Porpramook with their force. The Thai champion would pivot back towards his man and resume pursuit.
Round four would be Porpramook’s best to then, a quick measuring jab allowing him to land more right hands. Yaegashi continued to land hard counters, but he was being tagged, stunned momentarily by a hard right and slowed a bit by the committed body attack of his foe.
Biting down, both men met in the trenches in the fifth. Yaegashi moved when he could and exchanging when he could not. At one point, Porpramook pinned Yaegashi on the ropes with his left, measuring for a hard right to the body, and again, and then a right to the head. Moments later, Yaegashi had worked his way back to mid-ring and the two were trading body blows. In the final minute of the round, it was Yaegashi being belted with one clean head shot after another, Porpramook seeming to put every bit of mustard he could on each. Yaegashi weathered the storm and kept his feet.
Each man raised the ante in the sixth, taking turns landing stiff power shots. The Yaegashi uppercut was there to answer the Porpramook right and neither man wanted to let the other land more than a few before landing a few of their own. They expressed the same sentiment with leather in the round seven. Swelling around both eyes, Porpramook took the worst of it in a savage round, Yaegashi landed sharp hooks and uppercuts, ignoring the right hands bouncing off his face. As the bell ended, one could wonder what more the two warriors could give.
Then came round eight. Were it not for the opening frame of James Kirkland-Alfredo Angulo, these two might have taken round honors as well.
An exhausted Porpramook fired a right to the head and left to the body. A counter left landed when Porpramook went downstairs and the Thai was wide open for the right behind it. Stunned, he took a step back, held up both gloves, and dared Yaegashi to come forward. The challenger obliged. A furious assault followed, Yaegashi easily breaking through the guard of Porpramook. Again Porpramook waved him on, again Yaegashi obliged. Porpramook replied with right hands, fighting to survive and doing so. Yet another hard Yaegashi right hand sent Porpramook stepping back again, waving Yaegashi on again, getting the living hell beat out of himself again per request…until it was his turn to do the beating.
Yaegashi’s hell bent charge forward was halted with a crushing counter right. Yaegashi’s knees buckled but he kept his feet and braced for a storm of right hands. It was his turn to fire back for survival. As they headed into the final minute of the frame, neither man could do anything but trade. They measured each other with rights, punching with whatever energy they could muster, Porpramook still nodding, waving, taunting, both men warring into the bell. As it clanged, Porpramook stared at Yaegashi and Yaegashi looked back, their faces wearing both fatigue and a hint of awe.
Slowing from the superhuman heights of the eighth, Yaegashi appeared the fresher and sharper of the two even as the determined Porpramook pressed the action and landed more in the early part of the round. It wasn’t until the final thirty seconds that the round firmly turned, Yaegashi landing hard counters between the swings of Porpramook. The champion was hurt, weary, his back towards the ropes and pride keeping him from the canvas as he tossed powerless rights up to and after the bell to end the round. It was a glorious display of courage from a man who appeared to have little left to give.
He found was what left between rounds. Porpramook poured it on to start the tenth, planting and landing to the body and head. Methodically, Yaegashi punched between the shots of Porpramook, waiting his man out the hard way, blocking what he could. In the final minute, a right hand landed to the head of Porpramook with another and then another in rapid succession. Porpramook waved Yaegashi in again and Yaegashi fired a three-punch combination before the taunt was done.
Legless, Porpramook went into the ropes, moved to his left, and found nowhere left to go. A left hook landed clean, shortly followed by a left, right, and left to the face. A fully leveraged right folded Porpramook to his side and, as he popped back to try to withstand more, a glancing right from Yaegashi finding him, referee Erkki Meronen stepped in to save Porpramook from further punishment at 2:38 of the tenth.
They gave the world a classic. Thanks are in order for an age when the world could know it.
Runner-Up: Hernan Marquez TKO11 Luis Concepcion
It was a great year for some of the smaller weight classes in terms of action and this Flyweight brawl set the bar. Before Yaegashi-Porpramook, this was the war worth searching for. Hernan “Tyson” Marquez challenged Luis Concepcion the WBA belt at 112 lbs. on April 2, 2011. Before the night was over, both men would hit the deck and leave fans asking for more.
Concepcion came out with a furious assault. He was taking the fight to Marquez within seconds and had the Mexican fighter on the run. In the second minute, Concepcion caught Marquez with a very big counter hook to put him down. Marquez beat the count and made a decision to stand and trade punches. Concepcion appeared to be too much bigger and stronger than his opponent. Concepcion was laying the punches on Marquez against the ropes when the Mexican boxer landed a counter hook of his own and put the champion down at the bell. Concepcion quickly jumped up as the ref began a count.
The second round started with more trading by both boxers. Concepcion was more selective with his punches. He was landing the straight right hand often, and the uppercut up the middle. In the final minute they both stood their ground and were trading power shots at close range. There was no defense by either boxer. They were taking heavy blows.
Marquez was taking more damage and almost went down for a second time as Concepcion started doubling up on the combinations.
At the start of the third, Marquez scored another quick knockdown on Concepcion. They continued to trade punches, shot for shot, as a packed house was standing on their feet. Concepcion got rocked again in the final minute of the round with a heavy combination of punches. This time Marquez was pressing the action and landing huge punches on the champion. Concepcion was somehow able to stay off the canvas and even traded punches in return.
Concepcion came out pressing in the fourth. Marquez was more confident in his ability to hurt the champion and stood his ground to trade punches instead of running from the exchanges. Marquez was rocking Concepcion with punches from both hands. The champion's face began to swell up.
A loud "Nica" chant began in the fifth round. The crowd was trying to lift the champion. Marquez was getting the better of the champion during their exchanges and his punches were doing more damage in the ring.
Concepcion could not switch up his plan of attack. He only knows how to fight by coming forward and trading big punches. Marquez was staying on his toes and catching Concepcion with counters coming inside. In the final minute he started attacking Concepcion with counters, but then the champion started landing big straight punches. Then Marquez came back to hurt the champion with combinations.
The action slowed down in the seventh round for the first two minutes. They started trading again when the final minute of the round hit. Marquez was still landing better and picking off the champion.
The eight round was the slowest in the fight. They again waited until the final minute to start trading. Concepcion tried to jump on Marquez, who kept his distance and did well to pick his punches.
The champion was looking for one big shot to end the fight in the ninth. Marquez was not going down without a fight. He was outboxing Concepcion and landing heavy blows to score points.
Marquez started pressing the action in the tenth and taking the fight to the champion. Marquez wanted to close strong in the championship rounds. Concepcion was still looking for one big shot and once again he was knocked down by a counter shot from Marquez.
Concepcion went after Marquez and they were trading furious exchanges. The entire arena was once again on their feet as Marquez was hurt by a right hand as they traded punches.
Before the start of the eleventh round, the ringside doctor took a look the badly swollen eyes of Concepcion and stopped the fight.
The conclusion screamed rematch. The scream was answered but these two couldn’t do it again. Marquez blitzed Concepcion in one round in October.
Honorable Mention: In chronological order with apologies to the many great fights that didn’t garner votes… Marcos Maidana MD12 Erik Morales was one of those special nights where the loser exited the real winner on the night. Few gave the aged Morales a shot against the heavy-handed and much younger Argentinean Jr. Welterweight. “El Terrible” proved fools of the skeptics and nearly pulled off the upset in a night reminiscent of Roberto Duran-Iran Barkley… Victor Ortiz UD12 Andre Berto gave fans as good a show as any two fighters this year for half a fight, each man hitting the deck twice. The second half didn’t quite measure up as Ortiz seized control after dropping Berto near the end of the sixth. Altogether, still one hell of a fight, giving Ortiz a Welterweight belt and a path to Floyd Mayweather… Jorge Arce TKO12 Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. must have felt like reverse déjà vu for the winner. Once, it was Arce playing the young lion eaten by the old, toppled early in his career in Michael Carbajal’s farewell fight. This time it was Arce outfoxing and outfighting the game Vazquez for a belt at 122 lbs. It was arguably the popular Mexican best win since defeating the late Yosam Choi in 2002 for a 108 lb. belt… Pawel Wolak D10 Delvin Rodriguez was the best of a fantastic season of Friday Night Fights on ESPN2. It was so good, ESPN replayed the Jr. Middleweight clash a week later and a return engagement was booked for the undercard of Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II. Rodriguez won and Wolak announced his retirement… Liam Walsh RTD10 Paul Appleby was a splendid battle in London between young, hungry Jr. Featherweights trying to get to title contention. Walsh hit the deck first but he rose to drop Appleby and force his corner to call it a night… James Kirkland TKO6 Alfredo Angulo didn’t look like it would last long when Kirkland hit the deck in the first minute. He survived a furious assault, turned the tide, and dropped Angulo before the opening round was over. The five round beating Angulo took from there was an epilogue to the wild opening in this Jr. Middleweight affair… Kompayak Porpramook KO10 Adrian Hernandez was the year’s last great battle, literally. Staged on December 23, Porpramook took the WBC 108 lb. belt with a clean ten-count finish
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]