Photo by: Robert Starkweather
Military Police Boxing Club's Phal Sophat (right) swings a kick Saturday at Royal Cambodian Armed Forces's Sarim Vonthon.
THE final 63.5-kilogram championship fights ended in an upset Saturday when underdog Phal Sophat, 27, outscored Sarim Vonthon, 29, to win the light welterweight division.
The double-elimination tournament began in September with 12 fighters and ended Saturday at Bayon TV with two fights to settle the top four. In the co-feature, Ministry of Interior Boxing Club veteran Pich Arun earned a points win over Club Preah Khan Reach fighter Kao Bunheng to take third place.
Heading into Saturday's main event, Phal Sophat had lost just one match in the tournament on points, in the first round, against rising star Khon Reach. Bookmakers's favourite Sarim Vonthon entered the ring Saturday with a perfect record, but Phal Sophat, a southpaw from Kampong Cham, was confident beforehand that he would box his way to the title.
"I've got good hands and I'm taller," said Phal Sophat, who has fought Queensberry rules. He held numerous physical advantages too - his reach longer, height taller and age younger than his opponent.
After a typically uneventful first round, the tempo quickened in the second. Fighting from the red corner, Sarim Vonthon was the driving force, firing right-left-kick combinations and diving headlong in to clinch to overpower his taller opponent with knees and elbows.
The strategy worked early on, but by the middle of the round Phal Sophat began to find his range. He answered his red adversary with repeated combinations of hooks before stepping away. And, as the man in red charged in, the Kampong Cham southpaw began landing with elbows.
By the end of round two, whatever advantage Sarim Vonthon carried into the ring had evaporated. It was anybody's fight.
Determined to take control, Sarim Vonthon continued to pressure at a furious pace, chasing his opponent around the ring while relentlessly trying to get inside his guard. But Phal Sophat only got stronger and harder to find.
After round three, the bookmakers saw the tide turn, abandoning the man in red for his blue opponent as the early favourite took on underdog status.
And in the fourth, Phal Sophat took complete control.
He caught Sarim Vonthon with a huge knee to the body, and then a minute later the Military Police Boxing Club fighter cut Sarim Vonthon with an elbow, prompting referee Meas Sokry to pause the action to inspect a gash above his right eye.
An ecstatic Phal Sophat danced his way to the neutral corner and raised a fist into the air. The crowd erupted with raucous applause: "Keo, keo, keo (blue, blue, blue)," they chanted.
Sarim Vonthon could perhaps sense the fight slipping away and frustration set in.
Referee Meas Sokry cautioned him twice in the fourth and once again in the fifth for clearly late blows - once for a kick to his downed opponent. But by then it was too late.
When the closing bell rang, Phal Sophat leapt into the air and ran in circles around the ring.
"Keo, keo, keo," the crowd chanted again.