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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kao Bunheng sends Loek Vibol packing Sunday

Kao Bunheng sends Loek Vibol packing Sunday

Kao Bunheng knocked off veteran Loek Vibol to secure a spot in the semifinals of the light-middleweight tournament


Kao Roomchang (right) outpointed Sarim Vonthon in their inconsequential light-middleweight tournament bout Sunday at TV5 boxing arena. AFP

KAO Bunheng outpointed Loek Vibol Sunday to clinch a semifinal spot in the light-middleweight tournament at the TV5 boxing arena in Takhmao.

Kao Bunheng kicked relentlessly and used his superior fitness to power past the 32-year-old veteran, who started strong but faded and fought the final two rounds largely in survival mode.

The eight-man light-middleweight (63.5 kilograms) tournament began in January. Group A concluded the opening stages Sunday. Kao Bunheng and Kao Roomchang will advance. Loek Vibol and Sarim Vonthon will not.

For Kao Bungheng and Loek Vibol, who both entered the ring with 1-1 tournament records, the Sunday bout was do-or-die.

Loek Vibol, a southpaw, came out strong early, attacking in the first round with hard jab-low kick combinations, and by the end of the round Kao Bunheng’s left leg was red and welted above and below the knee.

Kao Bunheng responded in the second, pressing forward with kicks to the body and forcing Loek Vibol to fight from the back foot.

Loek Vibol tried to retake the momentum with a series of head-snapping left hands to open the third round. But Kao Bunheng, among the most durable fighters in the division, dismissed the attack with a nod of the head and a continued assault of kicks.

By the fourth Loek Vibol looked tired, and his offensive output dwindled to nearly nothing. In the final round he stood at times with his gloves at his side, visibly spent.

“I’m exhausted,” he said afterward, his shoulders slumped with disappointment.

Sarim Vonthon goes fighting
In the second tournament match Sunday, Sarim Vonthon lost a decision to Kao Roomchang in a bout of little significance.

Kao Roomchang had secured a spot in the semifinals two weeks earlier with a win over Kao Bunheng, and Sarim Vonthon, winless in two tournament fights, had no chance of advancing.

Still, Sarim Vonthon, bleeding from a cut on his chin before the fight even started, refused to go quietly. With the crowd behind him, he caught Kao Roomchang with flush overhand lefts and hard knees in every round, and made Kao Roomchang battle until the final second of the fight.

Kao Roomchang showed little trouble maintaining the pace. He thrilled the crowd with flashy spinning back kicks and surprising displays of power.

A front push kick in the second round sent Sarim Vonthon across the ring and crashing into the turnbuckle so hard he nearly tumbled to the canvas. A face kick at center ring in the fourth landed with such ferocity that Sarim Vonthon ended up halfway through the ropes.

Sarim Vonthon took it all and kept coming. Even in the final minutes, with the fight largely decided and little on the line but pride, he gave an inspired fifth-round charge, scoring with hard lefts and strong clinch work, and forcing Kao Roomchang to defend until the final bell.

There are no tournament fights scheduled for next week. Group B returns Feb 21.

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