In recent "Controversial Clashes" we've looked at questionable judging and going a big further back referees allowing fighters to bend the rules with fouling and spoiling to the point where very limited boxing took place. Today we look at something else, something where the controversy wasn't immediately obvious, and where it probably deserved a review, and a rematch, with no one being truly at blame, but the finish perhaps wasn't the most fair. Thankfully this bout wasn't too overshadowed by the controversy, and it was a genuinely good bout. As always we'll look at the fighters, the fight and the controversy.
Katsunari Takayama (28-7-0-1, 11) Vs Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (27-3-1, 15)
We roll back to April 22nd 2015 for this bout, which took place at the Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka. A venue that had previously been known as the "Bodymaker Colosseum" and is now known as the EDION Arena Osaka.
In one corner was Japanese veteran, and cult boxing fan favourite, Katsunari Takayama. At the time Takayama was enjoying a reign as the IBF Minimumweight champion and was making his first defense since recapturing the title in December 2014, when he beat Go Odaira for the IBF and WBO titles. At the age of 31 Takayama wasn't an old fighrre in terms of years, but was an old fighter in terms of damage. He had been in a lot of tough bouts and had taken a lot of punishment during a hard 36 fight career. Win or lose he was always in amazing fights, but his body, and particularly his skin, were showing signs of his long career.
In the other corner was second generation fighter Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, who was 21 years old and boasted a 29-3-1 (17) record and was looking to claim a title that his father had held in the 1990's. A win for Fahlan would have seen him and his father become the first father-son champions in Thai boxing history, and he had full belief and confidence that he could pick up the win. Added to that confidence was the fact that last time he fought in Osaka, at the end of 2013, he scored a career best win and upset Ryo Miyazaki in one of the big upsets of 2013. In fact not only was that in Osaka, but it was actually at the same venue that he was fighting Takayama in. Despite having a lot of fights to his name he was young, hungry and hadn't taken much punishment in his 33 fights.
Like many Takayama bouts the fight started with Japanese fighter looking to find his rhythm before coming forward, using a lot of energy with his bouncing footwork. There wasn't too much to get excited about in the opening minute, but then the bout began to get going with a handful of eye catching exchanges. From there the bout began to build and as the final round closed out you could feel the fight catching fire, very quickly. The round had gone from first gear to third gear in the final minute or so. Not only was the bout catching fire, but both men looked up for it.
In round 2 the pressure from Takayama started to show it's self, pushing Fahlan backwards, and occasionally getting him on to the ropes, where he began to unload. The bout continued to go through the gears and the bout began to settle into this round with Takayama pressuring, getting Fahlan on to the ropes and the two men letting their shots go.
The dynamic between the two fighters and their styles, with Takayama pressing and Fahlan boxing off the ropes, slipping and sliding, made it feel like a smaller version of the legendary bout between Somsak Sithchatchawal and Mahyar Monshipour. Not quite the same intensity, but a very similar fight from a stylistic point of view. Whilst some will appreciate the skills that Fahlan showed with his back on the ropes, and they were very smart moves and counters, it was also easy to be impressed by Takayama's aggression, output and intensity.
Despite being on the front foot so much Takayama was taking some clean counters and his face was starting to swell around the eyes quite early on. It wasn't threatening to stop the fight, but it was clear that he was taking shots himself, and that his eyes were marking up. Then the swelling became a cut, with Takayama having blood pouring out of of his left eye. Despite the cut, and the real risk of making it worse, Takayama continued to press on, trying to break down and stop the Thai challenger. By the time he went to his corner at the end of the round the damage was clear. This was a nasty on the eye lid, a cut that Takayama's mentor Hiroaki Nakade couldn't stop. By the time the fighters came out for round 9 it was clear the bout wasn't going to last long. Just over 20 seconds into round 9 Takayama was taken over to the doctor for the first time, his face a swollen mess, with cuts on both eyes. The fight was allowed to continue but time was ticking and a second inspection, with less than a minute of the round remaining, saw the doctor halting the contest.
The question however was what caused the cut?
There was no clear indication from the referee, when the bout was stopped Takayama looked close to tears. It seemed that he felt his title was gone. He had been fighting like a man who needed a stoppage, surely he assumed the cut was from a punch. He fought that way at least and his post fight emotion seemed to show as much. Fahlan also seemed to think he had scored a huge stoppage win. The crowd also booed the decision to stop the bout.
After the bout was stopped we then, to the surprise of everyone, went to the scorecards. The news of that drew a loud roar from the crowd, who realised their man should retain his title. Unsurprisingly, given the action we saw, the cards ended up favouring Takayama, who got the nod with a technical decision to retain the title.
The decision was met with annoyance form the Thai's team, who could be seen shaking their heads as Takayama's arm was raise and when they realised what had happened.
What made the whole situation worse was that, there had been no clear indication that the cut was caused by anything but a punch. The replays, which were shown by the Thai's team in the days that followed the fight, seemed to make it very clear that the damage was from punches, and given the way Takayama had fought it seemed obvious that he too thought it was from a punch.
Sadly we never got the rematch. Fahlan would later move up in weight, losing to some of the top Light Flyweights of the time, whilst Takayama would defend the title against Ryuji Hara before losing the belt, in another decision, to Jose Argumedo. Incidentally Takayama seemed to deserve the technical decision win over Argumedo a lot more than he deserved this win.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features