By Leonard Gunning
In an attempt to play his part in tidying up the division and the mess that is the WBA’s super bantamweight title triangle, Bernard Dunne, 28-1 (15), invites a nightmare into his house when he faces Thai powerhouse and WBA interim champion Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, an intimidating 38-1 (27 knockouts), to battle it out as Dunne’s first defense of his WBA regular super bantamweight title at the O2 Arena in Dublin, Ireland on the 26th of September.
Unless they’ve been traveling around the world on a J1 visa trekking through Belize, Machu Picchu, and Laos then there is hardly an Irishman on the planet that could have failed to notice the rise of Bernard Dunne, who has single-handedly revived professional boxing in Ireland.
Despite the popularity of John Duddy amongst the immigrant Diaspora in the US, no professional boxer has captured the Irish public’s imagination like Dunne since Steve Collins filled the Dublin’s O2 (then ‘The Point’), Cork’s Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Manchester’s Nynex Arena, and most famously Millstreet’s Green Glens Arena, during the mid 1990’s.
Of course Collins, who’s career path draws parallels with Dunne’s, had the aid of high profile British fighters such as the flamboyant Chris Eubank and destructive Nigel Benn to ensure that enough media hype and interest was generated to power all the lights in Birmingham for a year.
Sadly, Dunne has no such caricatured figures to be pitted against, but what he does have is the technical boxing skills of any top Cuban amateur, an endearing cheeky chappy persona, manager Brian Peters, and, until recently, a booming Celtic Tiger economy to make up for the lack of household names in the division – Irish households that is.
But, if Bernard Dunne has single-handedly revived professional boxing in Ireland, then it is fair to say that Brian Peters, the County Meath farmer, publican, and entrepreneur, is the man who provided the bricks and mortar, the timber and the nails, the plasterboard and silicone mastic (need I go on?) for this particular development.
Dunne turned professional in December 2001 in the sweaty cut throat surroundings of the LA boxing scene and Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym but Dunne did not confine himself to local fights in California, he traveled throughout the states to Connecticut, Oklahoma, Nevada, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Arizona, garnering nationwide TV coverage on SRL promoted ESPN2 cards, which undoubtedly boosted the American boxing public’s awareness of this seemingly frail and anemic yet marauding Irishman.
However, in 2005 with Sugar Ray Leonard’s attentions focused on The Contender TV series and the pangs of homesickness and mammie’s cooking rumbling in the ‘Dynamo’s’ belly, Brian Peters brought the maturing 14-0 (9) fighter back home to Dublin to set sail on a voyage that would bring fame, fortune, and glory to both men.
Peters surrounded Dunne with a close-knit team, stalwart trainer Harry Hawkins, who operated out of the Holy Trinity Gym, stepped in to train the Neilstownman, fitness and conditioning guru Mick McGurn was later brought in to answer the lingering question marks, which dogged Dunne’s ability to cope with the age old conundrum of making weight and maintaining power.
In a move that proved to be the springboard to crossover appeal throughout Ireland, Peters signed a deal with RTÉ (Ireland’s national television broadcaster) that would bring Bernard Dunne into the living room of every home in Ireland – for free and during prime time.
Peters built on Dunne’s primetime career with the uber-confident “devil may care” can do attitude that prevailed in the nouveau riche New Ireland, Peters supported these foundations by adding proven ticket sellers such as the ever popular, and evergreen, Jim ‘The Pink Panther’ Rock and Brian Magee to undercards as well as introducing rising northern stars such as Stephen Haughian, Paul McCloskey, and Andrew Murray.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for the now-European super-bantamweight champion. In August 2007 his career hit an almighty stumbling block in the form of unheralded Spaniard Kiko Martinez, who, judging by his record, seemed to be knocking out pretty much every sub-ten stone boxer who ever stepped foot in the autonomous Valencian region. In short - Kiko came, Kiko saw, Kiko conquered.
What happened that night has been written about at length, maybe Dunne was overconfident and showed a lack of maturity, a lack of ring-smarts, a lack of experience, a lack of chin, and a lack of survival instinct? My guess is that Dunne does not even really know why it went so wrong, I certainly don’t.
It was a shock but the mainstream Irish media gave a smug and knowing “I told you so” nod at the demise of the Dubliner and they wrote about the defeat in a way that would make you think that it was a disaster of such cataclysmic proportions as to rival the collision of two supernovae. Those within Team Dunne knew they would have to take a step back and take stock.
Some thought Dunne would give boxing up for good to pursue a career in the Fire Service, but Dunne emerged phoenix-like from the brink of the boxing wilderness to return as a different man, with an added edge.
Dunne had three relatively easy bouts in 2008, Peters, known for his impulsive instinctive wagers, made the biggest gamble of his professional life by dangling €200,000 size carrot under the nose of the long rangy Panamanian WBA super bantam champion Ricardo ‘Maestrito’ Cordoba in an attempt to lure him into the lions den and risk his title in a voluntary defence against Ireland’s premier super bantam.
Cordoba bit and the stage was set for the first fight on Irish shores for a recognized world title since Wayne McCullough fought Jose Luis Bueno for the WBC bantamweight title, also at the Point Depot, 13 years previously.
Cordoba must have thought he was being handed manna from heaven in this a voluntary defence of his title. Receiving such a considerable purse to face a boxer that had never fought a top 10 rated boxer and had been knocked out within a single round in his last title fight must have seemed a very fair deal for the man from Panama City’s tough suburb of San Miguelito.
It was with a sense of hope, rather than expectation, that all but the most ardent of Dunne fans traveled to the refurbished O2 Arena in Dublin knowing that Cordoba’s roster included a wide points victory over current WBA super and IBF champion Celestino Caballero during an all Panamanian Derby in 2005.
The majority of the crowd streamed into the arena elevated after Ireland’s 6 nations rugby victory over Wales, their first Grand Slam win in over 60 years. Hearts and expectations were further lifted following victories for Jim Rock, Andrew Murray and Ireland’s two-time woman’s amateur lightweight World Champion Katie Taylor. Even Andy Lee’s labored win was glossed over once the tune of the Irish Rover rang out around the packed stadium as Dunne made his way to the ring.
After the formalities were out of the way the two boxers got down to business and Dunne surprised the crowd by trading with Cordoba. The fight seesawed one way then the next with Cordoba edging the first rounds before Dunne floored the champion in the third, which put and end to ‘Maestrito’s’ early dominance.
Although Cordoba looked weakened at the end of the third he appeared refreshed throughout the fourth and almost finished the fight in the fifth, knocking down Dunne twice before pinning him stricken against the ropes, raining volleys of combinations upon the tucked up and rocking Dunne until the bell came to save the Neilstown man.
Dunne gained in confidence from the sixth onwards and although it would be an injustice to say he bossed these rounds it would be fair to say that he showed levels of courage and determination that many had never seen before.
A resilient and determined Dunne brought the brutal battle to an end in the eleventh round after unleashing a venomous onslaught on Corboda, who at this stage was bereft of ideas and a shell of the fighter we saw in the early rounds.
Both men admirably gave their all in what was to be the final round of the bout but Dunne summoned energy from the pit of his stomach which saw Cordoba slump to the canvas three times before referee Hubert Earle called a halt to the bout.
Over 600,000 viewers tuned in live in Ireland alone and RTÉ provided a free top quality stream on line to countless other aficionados around the world, they all saw Dunne lift the world title in a bout that will surely be in contention, along with the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz thriller, when The Ring consider their Fight Of The Year title for 2009.
It was the culmination of over 15 years hard word and sacrifice. The boy had come a long way since following his brothers down to the C.I.E. Amateur Boxing Club in Inchicore and surely now had climbed out of his father Brendan’s shadow, himself an Irish Olympian at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Irish national light flyweight champion and gentleman of Irish boxing. Dunne had now firmly stamped his own mark on the world-boxing map and the Irish sporting psyche alongside luminary fellow “wee-men” Rinty Monaghan, Barry McGuigan and Johnny Caldwell.
In the weeks after the dust settled on that glorious night beside the banks of the Liffey, the thoughts of some, mainly the obsessed, turned to what next, where next, and of course who next?
Many fans wanted to see Dunne make hay whilst the sun shone and have a “soft voluntary fight” (or two) before the mandatory challenger was enforced. Some wanted to see an immediate replay of the thriller with Cordoba, others wanted to exorcise the ghost of Kiko Martinez or stage an All-Ireland clash against Irish champion Paulie Hyland, even Wayne McCullough threw his hat into the ring.
Celestino Caballero stated that he wanted to avenge the defeat of his countryman and Brian Peters hinted at a Hattonesque trip to Vegas to face Dunne’s former Wild Card sparring partner, the WBC super bantamweight champion Israel Vasquez, in a unification bout. More cerebral analysts saw Poonsawat on the horizon and knew a move towards lighter punching Olivier Lontchi or Steve Molitor would provide both a credible and less dangerous opponent than, say, hammer-fisted Juan Manuel Lopez or Rafael Marquez.
But the most serious option came from England, Frank Maloney Promotions to be exact. A cat and mouse battle had been raging between the two camps since 2007, an intriguing battle, which saw the upper-hand flip-flop in the power play that pitted Dunne v Munroe, Maloney v Peters, and Ireland v England against one another. Maloney took the chase to Dunne’s hometown when Munroe, who twice schooled Dunne slayer Kiko Martinez, successfully defended his EBU title in Dublin in December 2008.
Rendall Munroe, along with manager Frank Maloney, must have had money signs rolling in his their eyes sat ringside during the sell out Dunne-Cordoba thriller. Maloney openly offered Peters £150,000 to fight Munroe in England in September 2009 and Frank later upped the offer to £200k but he wanted to keep hold of the promotion rights.
Nothing came of these negotiations and there was to be no voluntary defence when the WBA enforced the mandatory challenger Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, who had been waiting impatiently in the wings for his shot since the beginning of 2008.
Purse bids had to be submitted to the WBA’s affiliate European office in Spain by 6pm on Monday 20th of July 2009. The Thai’s had been working behind the scenes to formulate an offer but to no avail – an offer from Peters was the only successful submission.
According to the Bangkok Times, Poonsawat’s promoter Chaemae-Niwat Lhaosuwanarat of Galaxy Promotions claimed that they had instructed their representatives Charles Atkinson and Irishman Pat Magee to submit a bid but that they were unable to.
Peters, in the guise of Brian Peters Promotions, won the purse bid to stage the fight with a bid of $120,000 (to be split 55% for the Champion and 45% for the Challenger, which was to minimum permitted offer – 1-0 to the Irish. Galaxy Promotions were unhappy claiming their bid was scuppered by a “foreign middleman”.
Peters now controlled all aspects of the fight, including the promotion, and suggested that the fight could take place in Macau, China or New York but there was only one location for this battle, and that place was Dublin.
Meanwhile one thing seems to have been forgotten in this furor, and that is the danger man from the Vietnam border territory of northeast Thailand, namely Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, which is his fighting pseudonym - his real name is Prakorb Udomna. The aggressive Thai nicknamed ‘Poonsawat’ which means ‘full to the brim with prosperity’ and ‘Kratingdaenggym’ translating to ‘Red Bull Gym’, the drink Red Bull being the main sponsor of Poonsawat, his gym, and one of the biggest supporters of boxing in Thailand.
At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking that Poonsawat looks like an angelic choirboy but once viewed in the ring all of those preconceived notions are blown away. The boxing and Muay Thai-trained fighter has had a frustrating wait for his shot at the WBA title and will be looking to take this out on Dunne. The stocky Thai has a lot in his armoury; with a confident, aggressive style he is reminiscent of a slicker, faster, more powerful Kiko Martinez – who demolished Dunne within 90 seconds.
‘The Fat Boy’ is a pressure fighter who hunts down the opposition forcing them to the ropes delivering explosive combinations dispensed with bad intentions and meaning in every punch. He possesses a devastating left hook and a sharp right cross, which can also be used as a clubbing overhand right, he also has a strong, tight knockout left hook.
Like Dunne, Poonsawat turned professional in June 2001, in Nakhon Pathom, defeating journeyman Ramil Itom in a first-round knockout – a habit that he has carried on throughout his career. In only his fourth fight and less than four months as a pro he fought for the PABA (Pan Asia) bantamweight title against experienced Filipino Lee Escobido in Bangkok. At the time Escobido had 68 fights and had fought for the WBU flyweight title, but that wasn’t enough to stop Poonsawat claiming the title for himself.
Poonsawat defended his PABA title in Thailand 17 times and in doing so beat Moises Castro (he also picked up the WBA Fedelatin bantamweight title with this win), Obote Ameme, Simon Ramoni and Joel Junio.
After 22 straight victories, he faced a name familiar to Irish fans in Ricardo Cordoba. If Team Dunne were under the illusion that Poonsawat is a one dimensional brawler then the Cordoba fight showed that he can boxing and move as well.
The 5′ 3½″ Thai looked like a different fighter and showed a lot more movement in the Cordoba fight then previous fights, picking his shots and moving in and out of range of the 5′ 8″ Panamanian to outpoint Cordoba and earn a split decision points victory for the interim WBA World bantamweight title.
Some solace will be garnered from the fact that when Poonsawat then made his one and only trip outside of his native Thailand he lost to German-based Ukrainian Wladimir Sidorenko is a convincing points defeat for the WBA bantamweight title.
But Poonsawat made the big breakthrough of his career two years later when he moved up to the super bantamweight division to take on fellow Thai legend Somsak Sithchatchawal in an eliminator for the WBA title.
‘The Little Tank’ looked to have matured and was back to his scintillating best as he bullied southpaw Somsak from the first bell sending the Lampang man to the floor in the third and eighth rounds before finishing him off in the eleventh, Somsak lay crumpled on the canvas like a crushed can of Coke, still suffering from the effects of a sharp combination of left hooks to the head and body delivered by Poonsawat. A win over Rafael Hernandez forced the WBA to give the Sakon Nakhon native his well-deserved shot at Dunne’s title.
Poonsawat will be in peak physical condition for the fight with potential sparring partners such as the interim WBC flyweight title holder Pongsaklek Wonjongkam and PABA featherweight champion Saohin Srithai Condo. Poonsawat seems set to engage Dunne in a toe-to-toe encounter.
If the Irishman may have underestimated the ability of the Thai to switch styles, then it would appear that the Poonsawat has also mistaken the ability of Dunne. From viewing the Dunne-Cordoba videos the Thai seems to think that Dunne is a brawler who will be keen to stand and trade with the Thai but this would betray the slicks Dunne learned as an amateur. The Dublin Dynamo will seek to keep the Thai at distance, to box and move and build up and points lead without committing himself to fighting in close with the strong squat challenger.
Although Dunne is the current 8/13 favorite with Irish bookmakers, The Ring magazine and BoxRec both rate Poonsawat higher than Dunne in their current rankings. Poonsawat has stated that he will knock Dunne out inside seven rounds. If Dunne fails to keep his right hand high he may be visiting the canvas - in fact, due to Poonsawat’s power, Dunne will probably visit the canvas at some stage of the fight and it will be McGurn’s job to ensure Dunne is conditioned to survive this eventuality. This won’t worry the Dubliner who is confident that whilst he still holds the strap everything is going to be ‘Hunky Dory’.