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Group stages open on tourney

Kao Roomchang (left), a 22 -year- old Battambang native, defeated the older Lek Vibol, 32, with his relentless fighting style and flashy technique.

Matches began Sunday at the TV5 boxing arena in light-weltertweight boxing championship with eight contendors for the winner’s belt

KAO Roomchang and seven others began a fresh march to glory Sunday, as a contest to crown a new light-welterweight champion got underway at the TV5 boxing arena in Takhmao. In Sunday’s opening card, Kao Roomchang scored an 8-count in the fifth round against former champion Lek Vibol to clinch a decision victory, and Kao Bunheng outworked Sarim Vonthon through the later rounds to earn the same.

With less than a minute left in the fight, Kao Roomchang landed a left kick to the body that forced Lek Vibol to turn his back.

“He kicked me right on the rib,” Lek Vibol said, poking gingerly at the right side of his rib cage as two friends blew plumes of cigarette smoke into the sweaty, dressing room air. “It really hurts.”

Lek Vibol, now 32, held the light-welterweight title more than a decade ago. But in recent years, his career has been marked mostly with long stretches outside the ring.

“He used to be really, really good, with very sharp elbows,” said Nuon Soriya, a veteran fighter and coach, pointing to a dark scar across his left cheek put there during a title fight back in the late nineties with Lek Vibol. “Even if he hasn’t been training much, he will still be very dangerous.”

Kao Roomchang, 22, wasted no time getting to work, coming with jumping front kicks, elbows and hard roundhouses from the opening bell.

Lek Vibol showed few problems keeping up in the early rounds, using slick defense, good hands and hard low kicks to stay even.

But as Kao Roomchang began pushing the pace in round three, Lek Vibol could not match the work rate, and the youngster’s power shots began to get soften the veteran’s defence.

Kao Roomchang scored with several left elbow-right hook combinations in the third, and he pounded away at the body with knees and kicks throughout the middle rounds.

Lek Vibol, sensing the fight slipping away, came out hard in the fourth, easily his best round. He scored with several clean, back-bending punches and finally landed the devastating left elbow for which he is famous.

But the flurry only prompted Kao Roomchang to fight even harder, and he rocked Lek Vibol late in the fourth with his elbow and had him wobbly with punches when the bell rang.

Kao Roomchang was in complete control and cruising in round five when he scored the knockdown.

With the win Kao Roomchang improved to 41-7-2. Lek Vibol dropped to 66-6-6.

In the earlier fight, Kao Bunheng, 23, came on strong near the end to snatch victory from Sarim Vonthon, 30, who had led through the early rounds.

“Oh, my brother,” Kao Bunheng said afterward, wrapping his sweaty arms lightly around cornerman Chan Ratana, “I am so happy to get one win already.”

The win improved Kao Bunheng to 39-14-2. Sarim Vonthon fell to 52-11-0.

During the first stage of the tournament, the eight fighters are split into two groups. Group A fought Sunday, while group B will match up this coming Sunday, with Nuon Phireak facing Long Sophy and Les Tuk taking on Pom Saray.

Fighters earn three points for a win, one for a loss. The top two point scorers after the group stages will advance to the semi-finals, with the ultimate winner laying claim to the light-welterweight belt.

In Cambodia, division titles are sponsored by private companies and held in conjunction with television stations. They are sanctioned under the Cambodian Amateur Boxing Federation, which overseas all boxing and Kun Khmer fights in the Kingdom.

The practice often results in competing titles in the same weight division, and belts are often identified by their sponsors. K Cement is the sponsor behind the light-welterweight tournament at TV5.



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