One thing we don't usually get in Asia are bouts involving the big lads, the Heavyweights. They are few and far between in the Orient, and many of the Heavyweights from Central Asia are off making their name in the US, with very few of them really being involved in memorable bouts. Back in November 2020 however we got a rare Korean Heavyweight fight, and man was this a spectacle we got the intensity and action of a typical Korean bout but with men who were much bigger than fighters who typically fight in a Korean style.
With that in mind lets look at this weeks Treasure Trove bout! And it's a good one, even if it's just a touch unusual for a bout in Asia!
Sung Min Lee (7-1, 2) vs Hyun Tae Bae (6-1-1, 4)
In corner was Korean Heavyweight champion Sung Min Lee, who was looking to make his first defense around 17 months after winning the title. Lee's reign had been a weird one outside of the ring, due to various bouts being cancelled and Covid19 scuppering various plans including a bout in Japan. Despite not defending the belt for over a year he had remained, arguably, the best in Korea in the weight class, and won his last 6 bouts. Although not a world beater he was a decent fighter, he came to fight and typically came in decent shape, typically weighting in around 220lbs. This bout however saw him come in at a career heaviest, 234¾lbs, after a career longest lay off.
In the opposite corner was 31 year old challenger Hyun Tae Bae, who had debuted way back in 2013 but had had a very stop-start career. Typically Bae had been fighting at Cruiserweight, where he had won a Korean title, and in fact it was possible that he could have made Light Heavyweight had he needed to, something backed up by a 2016 bout where he weighed in at 176lbs. Coming in to this he had very little momentum. He had fought just twice in the previous 4 years, was only a few bouts removed from a TKO loss to Quintin Carey. Despite being a natural Light Heavyweight-come-Cruiserweight he was the taller man, and was, in many ways, the more natural boxer, whilst Lee was a natural fighter.
From the off it was clear that Bae was in the ring to take the title from Lee. He had looked over the champion at the final instructions and quickly got behind his jab. Lee, however, had ambitions to keep his title and was all out on the offensive, pressing forward, through some wild shots, and letting his weight and physical strength play a factor. Within a minute or so it was clear. Bae was the skilled boxer, the more well schooled and polished man, and Lee was the supposed puncher, looking to make up for his crude technique by landing the big shots. Despite Lee looking like the puncher he was the only one to be staggered during the round as Bae's clean head shots shook Lee for a moment.
It was a great round of action to kick off the bout and it set the stage for what would become a genuine fantastic, and easily over-looked war.
In the first half of the bout Bae's skill, movement, and technical skills were on show, as he out landed Lee and made the champion look super crude. Even more crude than he actually is. Huge right hands from the challenger crashed into the champions head, and it seemed like Lee was going to eventually crumple to the canvas. The champion looked unfit to begin with and he couldn't avoid the power shots of the challenger, who had him backing up time and time again. The head of the champion was being used as target practice by the challenger.
As the rounds went on however the challenger began to tire. His more polished skills couldn't make up for the energy he was using to keep up a relatively high output and the chin of the champion wasn't cracking as expected. The huge shots that Bae was landing had shaken the champion but not dropped him, and Lee himself was landing plenty of solid shots of his own. The challenger had put a lot in to the first few rounds and had won them, but not won the bout.
Then we saw Lee begin a real comeback. As Bae slowed Lee began to come on strong. He began to dig deep like a champion, and was pushing the challenger back. Bae went from bossing the fight with his power shots at mid-range to being beaten on the inside, and force to hold, lean on and do what he could to catch his breath. Things had gone from easy for the challenger to a struggle in the middle rounds. He was still having success, and landing plenty of shots, but was being out worked, and was having to fight Lee's fight more and more regularly.
With the fight turning in Lee's favour, and Bae seemingly fighting through exhaustion it seemed like we could end up seeing the challenger dig deep, but dig too deep and eventually fold with his body seemingly running on fumes. And then Lee began to tire and as a result boxing became a second thought. The primary thought was to fight. The resulted in some sensational back and forth in the middle of the ring as both men started to fight in a very flat footed manner. When we saw some glimpses of boxing they favoured the challenger, who was clearly the more intelligent boxer, but they were merely glimpses before his energy tank ran low and he was forced into a fight, which saw the tide turn back to Lee.
As the rounds flew by, it was getting harder and harder to tell who was in the lead. In many ways however it felt like it didn't matter. It seemed inevitable that one, or the other, would collapse before the final bell. They had both looked exhausted for much of the fight. They had both eaten shots like it was an addiction and they had both been biting down hard on their gumshields a lot more often than either guy would have wanted. Amazingly however we saw rounds 8 and 9 tick by, and we somehow entered round 10.
The final round was another gruelling 3 minutes for the two men who seemed determined to leave every ounce in the ring. Both had slowed, drastically, both seemed to be fighting out of instinct, and yet both refused to take the easy option and accept defeat. But were still willingly going through serious punishment in the hope of taking the Korean title home with them. Both seemed out on their feet. Both seemed off balance, and both were looking like they needed a long rest, but neither was willing to wave the white flag.
In the end the two men managed to stay up right, and neither ended up suffering a loss as the judges had this even, ending a great fight by leaving the door wide open for a rematch. Something we, as fans, want to see, but something that the fighters may wish to avoid given the punishment they doled out on each other here.
For those who like the sweet science this is probably not for you, but for people who enjoy seeing big guys punching lumps out of each other this is a perfect way to spend 40 minutes of your day.
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.