This week's "What a Shock" is one from an historical bout that was a genuinely thrilling bout, but saw the bookies get it very, very wrong... along with a referee who wanted to play his part in an historic occasion.
Kohei Kono (30-8-1, 13) Vs Koki Kameda (33-1, 18)
In 2015 we saw the first ever All-Japanese world title fight to take place in the US, as WBA Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono travelled over to Chicago to take on mandatory challenger Koki Kameda. The bout was a politically confusing mess, due to the fact Kameda was banned in Japan due to a licensing situation with the Japan Boxing Commission, but was able to box away from home. As a result Kono went on the road, for his first bout away from home.
Coming in to this Kameda was the clear betting favourite, priced at 1/9 to win and become the new champion. He was already a former world champion at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and Bantamweight, albeit only the WBA "regular" champion at Bantamweight. He had been a huge name in Japan, and along with his brothers Daiki and Tomoki the Kameda's had been stars at home. Controversial stars, admittedly, but still big names.
Although he was the favourite Kameda really hadn't looked good in recent bouts. At Bantamweight his struggled against pretty much anyone. His power wasn't enough to keep fighters honest and his work rate lacked. It was however assumed that Super Flyweight was going to be a weight well suited to him, and against Kono it seemed that Kameda had a lot of advantages. Kameda was 28, he was naturally quicker than Kono, he was a southpaw and he was fighting outside of Japan for the 5th time.
Kono on the other hand was a 34 year old dubbed the "Tough Boy", technically Kono was never an outstanding boxer. He was however an excellent fighter, who rugged, had a great work rate and always came to fight. Against movers he struggled, and he could be out boxed, but few were going to win in a rough house fight against him. On paper his style was made for Kameda, who was a good mover with fast hands and a tight guard. Although Kono had 8 losses to his name they had, typically, been at world level and 7 of his 8 losses had come before he had won a world title.
Although he was a gutsy, brave, aggressive fighter, Kono's limitations had long been known about. If you moved, used your feet, and had good speed you should be able to beat him. If you tried to have a tear up with him it was going to be a toss up.
Amazingly Kameda selected to have a war with Kono. From the opening stages the bout was being fought at close quarters and this was a very different type of fight to many of Kameda's bouts at 118lbs, where he sat back. This worked well in the opening round with Kameda's aggression and speed being far too much for Kono through the first 3 minutes. In round 2 however it began to turn around with Kono having the success in a rather dramatic and action packed round. The round saw Kameda land a number of low blows, with Kono going down from a series of them, and being given time to recover. Only seconds after the bout resumed Kono dropped Kameda with a straight right hand down the pipe.
From there on the bout became an all action war, with Kono's pressure forcing the action and dragging Kameda into a brawl. Kameda was deducted 2 points in round 3 for repeated low blows whilst the action continued to heat up due to Kono's pressure.
Referee Celestino Ruiz was really involving himself in the action, but that didn't really change the tempo of the fight, which was dictated by Kono. Not only was he dictating the action but by the start of round 4 Kono was already in a comfortably lead, thanks to the knockdown and the two deductions from Kameda. The momentum of Kono continued to press and pressure and force the fight with Kameda left to try and respond, despite being in a hole.
Round 5 was a really good back and forth round as the two fighters traded shots on the inside. It was a much better round for Kameda than the previous 3, and began a good rally from the Osaka, who also seemed to do enough to take round 6. He had began to find his rhythm, used his hand speed well, tightened his guard and countered well, forcing Kono back at times.
The momentum then swung backward to Kono who won rounds 7 and 8 before being deducted a point himself in round 9 for pushing Kameda down. By then it seemed immaterial to the scoring, Kono was in a comfortable lead and Kameda, who had scored 1 stoppage in his last 6, needed a KO...against a man who had never been stopped. Instead of Kameda going for the stoppage we actually saw Kono dominate after his deduction in round 9, our working, out punching and out battling Kameda in the championship rounds.
With the bout going the distance Kono ended up taking a unanimous decision, with scores of 116-108, 115-109 and 113-111, a score that is truly appalling.
With the win Kono not only retained the WBA Super Flyweight title, scoring the second of 3 successful defenses during the ring, scored a major betting upset, and also sent Kameda into retirement. Kameda did continue to be involved in the sport, and held some exhibition style events including one against Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, but never again fought as a professional.
As for Kono he went 2-4 after this bout, losing to the likes of Naoya Inoue, who stopped him in 6, Rex Tso, in an under-rated classic, and Jason Moloney, before retiring with a 33-12-1 (14) record.
The bout, although a fantastic 12 round battle fought at an excellent pace on the inside, was marred by a referee who didn't speak the same language as either fighter. He also tried to over-control the fight, which probably actually needed a Japanese referee, for both language issues and styles issue with Japanese fighters typically allowing more inside work than Western referees. Despite that no one can take away a career defining for Kono and a bout that was a massive upset.
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).