It's rare to see a huge number of Western fans tuning in to a bout from Thailand, or a bout at Minimumweight but today it seemed like they did just that and saw a changing of the guard at Minimumweight, albeit a controversial and debatable one, in Thailand.
The bout in question saw long term WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (54-1, 18) [วันเฮง มีนะโยธิน], aka Chayaphon Moonsri, finally fall to his first defeat and in the process pass the WBC title, along with proverbial torch for Thai boxing, on to Panya Pradabsri (35-1, 22), aka Petchmanee CP Freshmart. Albeit in very debateable fashion and very, very exciting fashion.
Prior to the bout we'd never seen so many people come to us for a stream for a fight from Thailand, and boy did they manage to tune in to one worth watching.
Wanheng came out like a man with a point to prove, pressing the action, as he typically does. Early on however it was the body shots of the challenger which were catching the eye, and seemed like the better, cleaner, more powerful blows. Wanheng tried to put his foot on the gas more in round 2 but again took some solid body shots, as the challenger looked to be fighting to a very smart gameplan. He was forcing Wanheng to work hard, was landing solid body blows and trying to take the gas out of the tires of the 35 year old champion. This continued through the first 4 rounds, with Panya doing enough to make sure he was in the lead when we went to the open scoring for the first time.
After 4 rounds the scores were shown was 39-37, 38-38 and 38-37, though there is a feeling the final score there was a mistake.
Having his nose in front after 4 rounds Panya had a strong 5th round, and it seemed the tempo and body shots were taking their toll on the champion. It seemed like Wanheng's 6 year reign was coming under real threat. And then the champion dug his toes in and began to fire back, having a very strong round 6, which saw him move through the gears, laying it all on the line and taking the fight to the challenger. This was first of a number of amazing rounds from the bout, as Wanheng fought like a man possessed. It was a huge effort, and one which yielded some real results, but couldn't force any cracks in Panya. Round 7 was another fought at an amazing pace, with Wanheng again setting the tempo, though Panya landed the better single shots, in a scintillating 3 minutes of ferocious action.
It seemed that Wanheng, who had looked tired in round 5, was going deep into his reserves and was going to burn himself out. But he didn't and he seemed to have another solid round 8, though in fairness the tempo was slowing again, and it was a close round. Wanheng was the busier man, but his success was often stifled by Panya holding, spoiling and trying to man handle the champion. Despite a good stretch for the champion the judges saw the bout the other way, with all 3 having the challenger 77-75 up after 8 rounds.
Those scores seemed harsh against Wanheng, but with them being open it seemed clear, he needed to go big in the final 4 rounds and that's exactly what he did. He set electric pace again in round 9, as if he knew he title was slipping away, and he gave a huge effort again, despite some late body work from the challenger. It was a close round than we had seen, but another that seemed to be in favour of the champion. Then we saw the pace, from both, go through the roof again in round 10. Although down on the cards Wanheng didn't want to let that title go and he fought like a man desperate to hold on to it. That drew a great response from the challenger, who finished the round strongly, and may have done just enough to edge it. It was very close round.
We again saw Wanheng go to the well in round 11 as he once again applied intense pressure, letting his hands go, and forced Panya to fight back, which he did in some eye catching bursts. Wanheng again did the better work over all, but there was enough eye catching moments from the challenger to potentially sway the judges, who would have seen him move around the ring, landing eye catching clean single shots. It probably shouldn't have been enough but it could have been if the judges were looking for a reason to give the challenger rounds.
Wanheng started round 12 fast, it seemed like he knew he had to win the final round big, he had to drop the challenger, he had to make sure there was no way the judges could deny him. He had to fire off bombs and drown the challenger. The challenger however soaked it up well in the first minute, then began to create space, and work at range, making Wanheng chase him around the ring. In the final half of the round Panya then began to turn it on, and tried to steal the round again. It was a very strong finish to the round from the challenger, but we had also been a sensational start to it by Wanheng.
The great effort late by Wanheng had seen him finish strong, but was it going to be enough as we headed to the score-cards? The general feeling was that he maybe deserved a close win, but that's not what the judges saw, giving the bout to the challenger, and the new champion.
With this win Panya will be the new torch bearer for Thai boxing, along with stablemate Knock CP Freshmart and the aging Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. This was a close win, a controversial win, but a career defining one, and one which moves Thai boxing on to the new generation. Panya isn't the best of the new of Thai's, and trust us there is a lot of promising Thai's coming through, but he is, for now, the face of the new wave of Thai's.
As for Wanheng he put in a fantastic effort, but he fought like a man who knew the deck was stacked again him. It was as if his promoter told him he needed a knockout to win and he fought like it. That's not to say he was dominant here, but he certainly put in a big shift through out, a surprisingly big effort for a 35 year old Minimumweight with numerous niggling injuries who had stated that he wanted to retire in the summer. We suspect this was his farewell to the sport, and what a farewell it was. This was a fantastic bout, and one that we suspect many waking up in Europe to watch, genuinely enjoyed! This was a fantastic battle and proof, if anyone still needed it, that the Minimumweights can bring the heat and give us great action bouts!
One of the talking points will be the judging, and it's one of those where we don't really want to cast accusations on the judges. Though we do suspect they'll be aware of Wanheng's comments regarding retirement, and his age, and will know that the 29 year old Panya keeps the title in Thailand, something that that a Wanheng retirement may not have done. That may, may, have influenced some of the scoring in closer rounds. Either way we have a new champion, we have seen Wanheng's reign ended, his unbeaten run falling at 54.
Fans of Mayweather rejoice, you can finally point at Wanheng and his "1".
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.