It's fair to say that 2020 was a year where Thailand shined with a lot of great shows and fantastic all-Thai bouts. The most notable of those often featured emerging talents and prospects looking to make a statement, move their career's forward and begin to show what they could do against decent opposition. The pandemic, whilst certainly an issue for Thailand, ended up being a partial blessing for their boxing scene with fighters from Indonesia no longer padding out cards and acting as easy wins for local fighters. As a result we ended up with several all-Thai Treasure Trove bouts from 2020 including today's compelling contest featuring two youngsters at 140lbs. It wasn't the most exciting bout we'll feature, but it was a compelling chess match that got better as the bout went on, and featured a young prospect who we suspect we'll be hearing a lot about over the next 10 to 15 years.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (8-0, 5) Vs Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai (2-1, 1)
In one corner was 15 year prodigy Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, a touted youngster who had won TL Promotion's "The Fighter" tournament in 2019 and had been building a reputation for himself as a young fighter with a lot of potential. He was young, really young, and had made his debut as a 14 year old child back in 2018. He had been impressive but had mostly fought limited opponents in the professional ranks, often novices and those without much of a fighting background. He had also never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 6 rounds, and had only gone beyond 3 rounds twice in his 8 bouts. Here however he was scheduled for 10 rounds against a fighter who had made his name in Muay Thai, where he was highly regarded.
In the opposite corner to the teenager was Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai, a kick boxing prodigy who had began to make his name all the way back in 2016, and had really become a bit of a star in 2017 when he began to pick up awards. He had continued to build a solid reputation in kick boxing circles with appearances at ONE and was a multi-time Lumpinee Stadium champion before turning his hands to professional boxing at the end o 2019. In professional boxing he took part in TL Promotion's "The Fighter" and reached the semi-final of the tournament, losing to Thosaphol Thongplew. Despite that loss their was still big hopes for him as a boxer, and the loss was expected to be a major learning experience for the youngster, who had bounced back from losses in Muay Thai and knew a defeat wasn't the end of the road.
Despite both men being youngsters and relative professional novices, TL Promotions made this a 10 rounder for a WBA Asia title at 140lbs. Giving the bout some extra allure, and setting us up for a regional champion who was 15 or had just 4 fights to his name. Either way the winner was going to be on the radar going forward.
From the opening bell things were tense. Kulabdam looked the bigger, stronger man and took center ring whilst Phoobadin looked to box at range, using his speed and jab to feel out what Kulabdam had. Despite the inexperience of both men this was a very technical start to the bout, with neither fighter wanting to slip up, and neither wanting to give their opponent an opening. Despite being high level stuff it wasn't the most entertaining, and it really was a tense, technical start from two men were surprisingly skilled for such novices.
In round 2 the pace began to pick up just a little bit, though was again not the most exciting with both men still trying to figure out what the other had in their locker. They were both playing very safe, and not wanting to dig into their arsenal too soon. In some ways there were probably still too respectful, but it was an improvement from the first round. The bout kept improving and round 3 saw the pace pick up again as Phoobadin got more active on the outside and Kulabdam's pressure moved up a notch, forcing Phoobadin to fire off some heavy shots in an attempt to get Kulabdam's respect. Although Phoobadin managed to land some solid shots himself it was Kulabdam landing a shot very late in the round that seemed to be the lasting memory before the start of round 4.
The pace picked up again in round 4 as Kulabdam's pressure really forced the action. It wasn't always the most successful of pressure, but it was pressure that was forcing Phoobadin to respond, and it was pressure that gave Phoobadin openings to land his own shots, especially when he countered. By the end of the round it was clear we had gone from a slow start to a bout that was warming into a really exciting match up between a pressure fighter and a pure boxer.
Through the middle rounds we continued to see the battle of pressure vs boxer, Kulabdam was determined to press, press and press. It was calculated pressure, based off his footwork, upper body movement and jab. Phoobadin was happy boxing off the ropes, soaking up the pressure, countering when the opportunities arose, and using his speed and polished skills well. Both men continued to have moments and success, and both continued to take the odd clean shot. It was making scoring incredibly hard, and the bout, by the end of round 8, seemed to be all up for grabs still, and really dependent on whether the judges preferred the come forward style of Kulabdam or the clean punched of Phoobadin.
Round 9 was more of the same, though it seemed like Kulabdam was landing some of his best shots of the fight, as his pressure ramped up even more. Phoobadin had moments, and forced Kulabdam back at one point, but it was certainly one of the most impressive rounds from Kulabdam, who landed some solid shots to both head and body. We were entering the final round expecting more of the same, pressure from Kulabdam, movement and counters from Phoobadin. The youngster however had a different plan in mind and after landing some good southpaw lefts early on turned the tables, backing Kulabdam up momentarily, creating more space than he'd seen in recent rounds and landing his left hands at will.
Through much of the contest it really was a case of "scoring what you like". You could see judges giving Kulabdam a number of rounds based on his intelligent, but conservative, pressure, but at the same time the defensive skills of Phoobadin and his counter punching was eye catching, and he looked in control for a lot of the bout, despite fighting almost entirely on the back foot.
In the end the judges gave it to the teenager, giving him a genuinely huge win at a very young age.
The bout won't go down as one of the most exciting bouts of 2020, though it was a very enjoyable contest through out and a compelling match up with styles that gelled well. It will, however, go down as the bout that helped put Phoobadin on the map, with the teenager taking the decision win and the WBA Asia title.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.