Earlier today we saw Kazuto Ioka (14-1, 9) fail in his attempt to become a 3 weight world champion as he was defeated by Thailand's Amnat Ruenroeng (13-0, 5) in a decision that has certainly raised a few eyebrows, notable due to one baffling card.
Ruenroeng, defending his IBF Flyweight title for the first time since winning it, with a decision victory over Rocky Fuentes earlier this year, was a big under-dog. He was priced, with British online bookmakers Bet365, as a 3 to 1 under-dog though he had a real reason to win, a rumoured huge money clash with Chinese star Zou Shiming.
Unfortunately neither man started the fight like they wanted to win it. The opening round saw very little from either man. It was effectively a stalemate with neither man landing more than 1 or 2 shots of note. The second was somewhat similar though it did seem like 2 combinations from Ioka won the round for him. It was a weird to the fight tactically from both men. Ioka applied somewhat ineffective pressure, staying just outside of range and following Amnat whilst Amnat moved around the ring with out throwing much of note. It was frustrating to watch and it seemed like we weren't going to see a fight breakout.
In round 3 the action began to take off with Amnat finally letting his hands go with some sort of offensive work. It was amazing to see the visiting fighter take until round 3 to get going but when he did throw his shots looked lovely, they were crisp, fast and accurate even if they did lack any major power on them. It was with out a doubt an Amnat round and the first clear round of the fight
Following the loss of round 3 Ioka kicked in to gear and seemed to turn up the heat a bit in round 4. Amnat was equal to it with his lovely jabs, effectively and relaxed defensive work. Although Ioka seemed to be stepping on the gas he still didn't do enough to clearly take the round and there was a possibility that he was 3-1 down after 4 rounds. We had it 38-38 but could have under-stood someone having it 3-1 Amnat.
The fifth was another close one with Amnat's defence and fast rangy punches working well whilst Ioka was starting to land his own right hand and solid shots to the body. It was, at times, messy but the action was slowly building with both men finding their feet in the bout and both managing to go through the gears. It was still strange however that Ioka's pressure was still rather subdued as if he felt he was tiring Amnat out without putting his own foot fully on the gas.
In round 6 Ioka managed to cut the distance off and landed nice shots to both the head and body of the defending champion. The pace suddenly rose from the challenger and he was finding a desire to take the fight to Amnat, despite being tagged with a monster right hand. The best punch of the round was a right from Amnat but over-all the better and more sustained work was from Ioka who looked like he was coming good in the fight. The same success for the challenger was seen in the seventh round as Amnat began to look a little bit tired and sluggish. It was as if Ioka could sense Amnat was struggling and was going totry and turn the screw whilst he had an opportunity.
After 7 rounds we had the bout even 66-67 to Ioka and at worst you had to have given Ioka at least 3 rounds, 2,6 and 7. He had clearly won that trio whilst Amnat had clearly won rounds 3 and 4.
The eighth round was another clear round, this time for Amnat who stopped Ioka's momentum with his busy jab and and quicker hands. It was really impressive from Amnat who, at 34, looked smooth and rapid fire despite being ancient for a Flyweight. This rund saw the bout tied up on our scorecards as we went into the final 4 rounds of the bout.
In round 9 the fight started to progressively turn uglier. Ioka started to walk in a bit more and whilst he was fed a steady diet of jabs he managed to land solid body shots and a cracking left hand before the Thai began holding. The holding resulted in Amnat taking a shot to the back of the head, which he complained about, and was then followed by some wrestling as Amnat seemed to prove his physical strength over Ioka. The early jabs from Amnat were forgotten by the bell as Ioka landed yet another notable body shot with Amnat trying to hold him. It seemed clear that Amnat was struggling and the holding was a result of the Ioka getting to him more frequently than he had earlier.
Despite the holding Amnat didn't seem to be tired, he was standing in his corner between rounds whilst Ioka was looking the more tired man, almost as if the men had traded ages. The 25 year old Ioka was working harder for his successes and did seem tense, both could have resulted in his more tired look, but Amnat at 35 looked as fresh as a daisy stood waiting for the next round.
The holding from Amnat continued in round 10 and finally the referee had had enough and took a point from the champion. The rest of the round was pretty close though Amnat did flirt with a second deduction as he wrestled with Ioka before the challenger mounted a late offensive charge. It was another of the bouts many close rounds, though could have been scored either 9-9 or 10-8 to Ioka.
With a possible 10-8 in round 11 it seemed almost certain that Amnat needed to pick up the pace, especially fighting away from home against a popular and unbeaten fighter. Instead Amnat did the same as he had in a number of the later rounds. He held, he spoiled, he complain about being hit and he fought negatively with Ioka bringing the fight and action to him. It seemed almost impossible to give Amnat the round and, when added to the 10-8 round from the previous round, it seemed likely that Amnat's title was slipping away with out the champion caring too much about it.
Amazingly there was no urgency from the champion in the following round and this was punctuated by Amnat basically running around the ring inthe final few seconds before landing an uppercut. It seemed like one of two things had happened in his head. He had either given up his title willingly or had been tipped off that the fight wasn't being score closely. It was impossible for him to have felt that comfortable in the final round on foreign soil with out one of those two things going on in his hand. He had countered well through much of the fight but had also lost a number of rounds clearly and there was no way to argue that this was anything but close.
The score cards were read out relatively quickly, the first card favoured Ioka, the second was to Amnat and then the third was to Amnat as he secured a split decision.
What we didn't full know immediately after the fight was what the cards actually said, though moments later TBS showed the cards which read 114-113 Ioka, a close score that demonstrated the competitive nature of the fight, 115-112 to Amnat, another close and competitive card even if they did feel Amnat won 8 of the 12 rounds. The other card however read a frankly ridiculous 119-108 to Amnat, a card that has to go down as the worst of the year so far.
Although we had felt Ioka had done enough the fact two judges disagree is fair enough, it was a close fight. What we learned from watching the fight however was interesting. Firstly Ioka's lack of head and upper body movement was mystifying, his head was, round after round, a stationary target making it easy for Amnat's rangy shots to land. As for Amnat he looks like a nightmare for anyone. He's rangy, tricky, calm, relaxed and has very fast hands which could well see him beating anyone in the division on his night.
Another thing that needs mentioning is the Shiming bout. That is rumoured for November in Macau and would be a major pay day for Amnat, we don't mean to start conspiracy theories but there was no chance Ioka was going to go to Macau so could the 119-108 card have possibly been a political card with that bout in mind? Something to think about and if Amnat/Shiming happens it'll be interesting to see if the same judge is anywhere on the show.
One final thing to note, promise this is the last one, this is the second notable win for a Kiatkreerin fighter against an Ioka fight in the last few months following Amnat's stablemate Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr's victory over Ryo Miyazaki on New Years Eve.
(Image courtesy of Johnny Chaichotchuang)