One thing we often think about when we do these articles is whether or not fans will realise just how big some of the shocks were. Sometimes we know they will, the records and reputations of the fighters involved make it impossible not to see an upset as an upset. Sometimes however the upset is less obvious when we look back over something from the past. That usually happens when the fighter who scores the upset goes on to be better known than the fighter they beat. Today we look at one such example, and in fact this is an example where the supposed favourite was deemed the very clear favourite. They had a world title, they had the momentum, they seemingly had everything going in to the bout. That was except for the fact the under-dog knew their career was over if they lost again here.
December 31st 2012
Ota-City General Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan
Tepparith Kokietgym (21-2, 13) Vs Kohei Kono (27-7, 10)
In May 2011 Thailand's Tepparith Kokietgym began to make a name for himself, beating Drian Francisco for the WBA "interim" Super Flyweight title. In the months that followed he was promoted to "Regular" champion and in December 2011 he beat Daiki Kameda to make his first defense of that title. That was a solid win for the Thai who then return to Japan 4 months later and stopped "Champion in Recess" Tomonobu Shimizu, to unify the WBA title. That was again a really good win for Tepparith who was starting to build a reputation as an under-rated fighter who was enjoying Japanese rings. That reputation grew further still when he beat 2-time WBA champion Nobuo Nashiro. That was a third straight win against a Japanese fighter in Japan, and saw him being dubbed a Japan Killer.
Not only was Tepparith riding a real hot streak in Japan, and the WBA champion but he had won 18 in a row, having last lost in more than 4 years earlier, in a bout against Suriyan Sor Rungvisai. The 24 year old appeared to be a man with a seriously bright future.
In the opposite corner was Japan's Kohei Kono, who was barely in the WBA's top 10. He was a 32 year old, who had lost in two previous world title fights, including one to Nashiro. He was seen as being beyond his best years, and even at his best he was nothing special, despite being regarded as incredibly durable which lead him to being dubbed the "Tough Boy". With 7 losses form his 34 bouts it seemed like this would be a final shot at the top before retirement, something that seemed almost certain if he lost...again. It wasn't like he was even losing to the best in the world, or that all of his losses had come early in his career either. Whilst he had lost on debut he had also lost 3 of his previous 5 bouts coming into this one, including a loss to the then 2-0 Yohei Tobe.
Of the Japanese fighters involved in world title fights on December 31st 2012, he was the one given the least chance. He was seen as the one true under-dog for the day, with the fantastic Boxmob holding a poll that saw 77% of people favoured Tepparith, 1%going with the draw. The least likely outcome was an early win for Kono, with only 9% of those polled going with that outcome, not a suprise with Kono having just 10 stoppages in 34 bouts.
The first round saw the champion looking to get behind his jab, though to his credit Kono did start fairly fast, and was busy from the off. After a very good opening minute for the Japanese challenger the champion began to settle, landing some solid shots of his own, and took the center of the ring. It was a close and competitive round, but one where the extra class of the champion seemed to do just enough to nick it.
In round 2 we again saw some nice back and forth, but the crisp boxing of the champion, and more consistent approach to his work seemed to again be the difference. Kono wasn't there to lose, but just seemed to be getting caught by the better shots as the skills from the Thai caught the eye. Both offensive and defensively Tepparith just seemed that bit better better than the hungry, and tough, Kono.
Kono continued trying in round 3 and landed some good shots, as he had in every round, but was being out landed and had his head snapped back mid way through the round. He seemed to be working much harder for every moment of success, whilst Tepparith looked calm, relaxed, and almost like he was doing things effortlessly. The last shots in the exchanges seemed to come from the Thai who looked in control, for the most part.
Then we get to round 4. As if out of no where Kono managed to find some really clean and effective shots. Just seconds into the round he landed a jab and forced Tepparith back, a left hook on the jaw landed not long afterwards then a right hand. The a body shot. He was putting his foot on the gas and landing solid shots, and soon afterwards came a beauty of a left hook sending Tepparith down. The Thai got up but looked wobbly as Kono went for the kill, sending a still wobbly Tepparith down for the second time. Their was no doubting the fight in the champion, who got to his feet a second time. Kono knew this was his chance, and refused to let Tepparith off the hook pressing, pressuring, putting on the jets and dropping the Thai for the third time. That forced the referee to stop the bout, under the three knockdown rule.
The emotion of the new champion was on show immediately as he celebrated with his team, in the corner, before going over to thank promoter Hitoshi Watanabe. He had managed to shock us all, and, at the age of 32, scored a career defining win, taking a world title against all the odds. Ending not only the reign of Tepparith but also Tepparith's streak as a Japan killer.
For Tepparith this was the end of him as a top tier fighter. Strangely he sort of just drifted in the sport, winning 14 more bouts before leaving the sport with a 35-3 (22) record, this being his only stoppage loss. As for Kono his reign was a short one,losing the title in his first defense, before recapturing it in 2014 and making 3 defenses, including one against fellow Japanese fighter Koki Kameda in Chicago. He would continue on until 2018, facing the likes of Naoya Inoue and Rex Tso, before hanging them as a 2-time world champion with a 33-12-1 (14) record.
Although never the best in his weight Kono would become a fan favourite, and one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.
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).