When we look over the history of a fighter it can be hard to imagine them being an under-dog in some fights. Today we however we look at the first in a number of big upsets scored by one of Asia's greatest ever fighters. It was a win that sent ripples through the lower weights, and the Asian scene, and began the ascent of a true being star.
December 4th 1998
Tonsuk College Ground, Phuttamonthon, Thailand
Manny Pacquiao (23-1, 14) Vs Chatchai Sasakul (32-1-1, 23)
In December 1998 Manny Pacquiao was a relative unknown in the boxing world outside of Asia. Even there he was only really known as an Oriental level fighter who had won the OPBF Flyweight title in 1997 and defended it once. Whilst his OPBF title win had been a good one, stopping long term champion Chokchai Chockvivat, he was still only a teenager and had done little other than stop Chokchai.
The man Pacquiao was up against was 28 year old Thai Chatchai Sasakul. The once beaten Sasakul had avenged his sole loss, he was in prime, at home in Thailand and the WBC and Linear Flyweight champion.
The Thai had beaten the man who had beaten the man who had beaten the man. The line to Sasakul had dated back more than 20 years, from the brilliant Miguel Canto.
The sole loss on Sasakul's 34 fight record had been a close decision loss to Arbachakov in 1995. Just over 2 years later Sasakul avenged that loss, in Japan, by beating Arbachakov and sending the Russian great into retirement. The only other mark on his record was a technical draw in 1996.
Since winning the title Sasakul had defended the belt twice, against Korean challengers, and was expected to be too good for the 19 year old Pacquiao, who was fighting away from the Philippines for just the second time in his career.
Early on Sasakul did indeed look too good for the Filipino teenager. The skills, footwork and movement of Sasakul was too much for the crude, straight line offense of Pacquiao. The Filipino was all too happy to trudge forward, following Sasakul around the round, whilst the Thai moved smartly, landed single shots and retreated.
Round after round the Thai just looked so much smart against the aggressive, but technically flawed, Filipino. Pacquiao had energy, and no one could fault his will and desire, but he didn't seem to have the skills to cut the ring off, or the boxing IQ to land his left hand. His lead hand essentially looked useless, jabbing at the air with no real conviction. Even when Pacquiao did have success, something he had a little bit of in round 4, he couldn't close the distance quick enough to follow up before Sasakul was out of range.
Through 7 rounds it seemed like the champion was on route to a clear decision against the hungry and powerful teenager. There was plenty to like about Pacquiao's effort, but it seemed like he was simply too raw, too crude, too young, at this point to claim a world title. He looked like he was showing enough raw ability to become a champion, down the line, but like this wasn't going to be that night for him. He was proving to be tough and a real trier but a technically limited trier.
Then we got into round 8 and Sasakul's good work early on, establishing a lead was all deleted in an instant.
Early in round 8 Pacquiao began to find the target and Sasakul began to hold his feet just a touch more. The pressure from Pacquiao was likely to blame, but the movement of the Thai was slowing, it stopped him from escaping at will, and made him fight back more. This was giving the taller, longer Pacquiao more chances to land. With just over 30 seconds of the round left Pacquiao landed a left that seemed to hurt Sasakul, who stumbled. This time the Thai wasn't able to get away, backing on to the ropes as Pacquiao pressed forward. Only seconds later Pacquiao landed a dynamite left hand that dropped Sasakul face first. The champion tried to beat the count but struggled, falling again as he ended up being counted out.
The win netted Pacquiao the first of his many world titles and at the age of 19 he had ripped up the pre-fight forecasts.
Of course during his career Pacquiao would make a career out of scoring upsets, recording notable future upsets over Lehlo Ledwaba, Marco Antonio Barrera and Oscar De La Hoyam but they are all for another day.
As for Sasakul he was never really the same after this loss. He would go 31-2 after the bout, but had to wait almost a decade for another world title fight, losing that to Cristian Mijares. By that point he was well past his best.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).