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Legendary Koh Kong club returns

Illustrious Kong Angreach boxing club returned after two-year hiatus for Khmer New Year holiday with fighters winning seven out of 10 bouts in rare action at Radio Koh Kong arena

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Suong Panya stands in front of the Radio Koh Kong boxing ring – located on the banks of the Koh Pao river in Koh Kong province – ahead of his fight in the main event against Somruth Sopheap on April 15.

Koh Kong
NOT since April 2006 had Koh Kong fight fans seen such action.

That was the last time fighters from Kong Angreach boxing club fought in the club's home ring, the Radio Koh Kong boxing arena.

Known as Club Koh Kong beyond provincial borders, Kong Angreach closed its doors two years ago. Although many fighters still fight under the Club Koh Kong name, in truth they train elsewhere, and Radio Koh Kong had not held fights since Khmer New Year 2006.

However, for this year's New Year holiday period, the radio station brought home many of the club's top names. In 10 bouts split over two days, nearly a dozen hometown fighters climbed into the ring at Radio Koh Kong, burnishing Kong Angreach's illustrious reputation by winning seven of the fights with five knockouts against a group of challengers from Phnom Penh.

Widely regarded as Cambodia's fiercest fighting club, much of Kong Angreach's reputation stems from the club's most celebrated fighter, a local boy from Mondol Seima district named Ei Phouthong.

Now 36 years old, Ei Phouthong dominated Cambodian kickboxing in the 1990S and early 2000s. Known for bone-breaking kicks and deadly elbows, he racked up nearly 200 wins with less than 10 losses during his 17-year professional career.

Ei Phouthong's equally dominating younger brother Outh, with 180-plus victories and counting, also fought for Kong Angreach. So did Meas Chanta, the current ISKA world welterweight champion, as well as a long list of other top-name fighters.

"Club Koh Kong fighters are very, very strong," says Pich Sophan, one of Cambodia's toughest boxers, with reverence in his voice. "They train very hard and fight even harder."

As the centrE of Koh Kong boxing, the club's closure in 2007 put an end to the local-fight scene and left hometown fans with little reason to cheer.

But for two days over Khmer New Year all that changed, and with most of the club's current best featured on the holiday card, local fight fans packed the Radio Koh Kong arena for a rare chance to witness live action.

In the event's featured fight card on Wednesday night, K'ang Angreach went 4-1, with three knockouts and only two fights continuing past the second round.

In the main event, Koh Kong powerhouse Somruth Sopheap beat up Suong Panya of Kampong Cham to earn a convincing points victory.

Somruth Sopheap showed off his kicking strength in the early rounds and then rocked Suong Panya in the third with a series of punch combinations, but could not put the experienced Kampong Cham fighter away, and ended up with the club's only points victory of the evening.

Further up the card, Kong Angreach's Phorn Panna and Leang Sipich, both of whom train and fight in Thailand, looked impressive in quick victories over wildly overmatched opponents.

Phorn Panna finished Khon Ratha with a left hook to the body to win in the second round by TKO. Phorn Panna scored an early eight-count after catching Khon Ratha against the ropes, landing a flurry of punches and kicks to send the Phnom Penh fighter tumbling into the corner. Immediately after the action restarted, Phorn Panna landed the body shot that sent Khon Ratha back to the canvas. The fight was then stopped.

Leang Sipich took even less time to finish Bin Kosal, ending the contest in the first round with two vicious elbows.

"The kicks, the knees, the punches - those didn't hurt," Bin Kosal said afterwards. "But the elbows are so sharp. There was nothing I could do."

Earlier in the night, charismatic southpaw Mat Chwaing, or Left Punch, stopped Ok Sarun in the second with low kicks.

"He likes to punch with the left hand, so they call him Mat Chwaing," explained trainer and referee Chhit Sarim of the fighter's unusual name.

Isle Yeah, who dropped a decision to Put Mony, had the club's only loss of the night.

In action from the previous night, Kong Angreach went an earthly 3-2 in fights featuring many familiar faces from the Phnom Penh boxing scene.

In the main event, Chhlarm Sor - or White Shark - dropped Soy Phirum with an elbow in the third round to win by TKO. Working in the clinch, Chhlarm Sor wrestled Soy Phirum into the corner and connected with the elbow just as referee Chhit Sarim was stepping in to pull the fighters apart.

Soy Phirum stood frozen against the turnbuckle just as the referee turned and pushed Chhlarm Sor back to centre ring. Blinking hard and shaking his head, Soy Phirum took a step forward and stumbled. Instinctively, he reached out and clung to the top rope, and for an instant it looked as if he might remain standing. Then he collapsed.

Referee Chhit Sarim counted three before ending the contest.

"He could have counted to 100," laughed Soy Phirum afterwards, massaging his chin.

In the co-main event of the night, Chan Vireak rocked Koh Kong's Sok Sovan in the third round with a four-punch combination on his way towards earning a points victory.

Chan Vireak landed the harder kicks and punches throughout the fight and largely overpowered the Koh Kong fighter through five rounds. The strength advantage was most visible in the clinch, where Chan Vireak throws sent Sok Sovan flying across the ring and crashing to the canvas.

Notable young fighters on the night's undercard included Koh Kong's 18-year-old Ly Chin Hour, who outclassed a scrappy Put Hut to claim a decision victory, and up-and-coming Royal Cambodian Armed Forces fighter Sarim Nga, also aged 18, who battled to a draw with Koh Kong's Ra Narong.

Somruth Sopheap picks up New Year's decision

Koh Kong powerhouse Somruth Sopheap rocked Suong Panya in the third round with punches to cement a decision victory April 15 at the Radio Koh Kong Boxing arena.

Trading punches early in the third round, Somruth Sopheap caught Kampong Cham's Suong Panya with a straight right hand that briefly caused the fighter to wobble.

A minute later the 19-year-old Koh Kong southpaw landed three more hard punches: a left uppercut, straight right, and left hook. The final punch spun Suong Panya full circle, leaving him briefly dazed and looking for his opponent.

Sensing an opportunity, Somruth Sopheap picked up the pace. The punches came quick, in threes and fours.

Suang Panya covered up well. He took many of the punches on the gloves,

but several got through. Somruth Sopheap moved away and looked his

opponent up and down.

Suong Panya glared back and raised his hands, as if to ask "Is that all you got?" His opponent stepped in and

Somruth Sopheap relaxes after the first round against Suong Panya. ROBERT STARKWEATHER

unleashed another flurry, adding kicks and knees to the body, but failed to put the Kampong Cham fighter on the canvas.

When the bell rang Suong Panya turned to his corner and gave a slight pump of his fists, apparently satisfied with the small victory of avoiding the knockout.

Suong Panya, who fights for the Angkor Youth Boxing Club in Phnom Penh, had come out strong in the first round pushing forward in old-school style with sparse handwork and big roundhouse kicks.

But the difference in power between the two fighters quickly became obvious.

After blocking several high kicks in the first round, Somruth Sopheap fired a high roundhouse kick back.

Suong Panya got both arms up to block, but it hardly mattered. The kick knocked him off his feet and flat on his back.

Somruth Sopheap then did it again in the second round.

After missing with a right roundhouse, Suong Panya followed through with a spinning left back kick. He had barely planted both feet when Somruth Sopheap's left roundhouse smashed him in the face.

The kick landed so hard and with such ferocity that it floored Suong Panya and silenced the cheering crowd.

Showing remarkable durability, Suong

Panya jumped back to his feet, stuck his chin out and waved his hands

in front of his face.

The gesture said "That didn't hurt," but the blood trickling from his mouth said otherwise.

After the third round it was obvious Somruth Sopheap would win the fight. The only question was how.

With a victory clearly in hand, and breathing slightly heavy, Somruth Sopheap put it in cruise control. He used the front kick to keep Suong Panya away, doing almost nothing else in the fourth round, and even less in the fifth.

With the only hope of winning the fight coming by means of a knockout, Suong Panya stalked Somruth Sopheap around the ring. With his hands held high, he fired the occasional jab, but it was clear Suong Panya was looking for one good punch to end the fight.

Despite landing a few punches hard enough to snap the Koh Kong fighter's head back, the knockout never came for Suong Panya with Somruth Sopheap smiling as he kept backpedalling.

Suang Panya was originally scheduled to fight in a different bout, and as former roommates, neither fighter cherished facing an old friend.

"He is like a little brother to me," Suong Panya said after the fight. "It wasn't easy.

"But that's boxing," he added.



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