In recent weeks, 23-year-old Club Koh Kong fighter Phon Panna has emerged as the lightweight division’s hottest new prospect, yet he is anything but green
TWO months ago, few boxing fans had ever heard the name Phon Phana. The 23-year-old from Club Koh Kong Province had not fought in Phnom Penh since he was a teenager.
On Sunday, he scored an easy decision victory over Van Chanvait, a former national champion, in a tune-up match at the TV5 boxing arena in Takhmao.
It was Phon Panna’s fifth victory in nine weeks. The biggest of them came in early January against 2008 national champion Eam Vutha, who at least had the skills to turn in five sturdy rounds. The others hardly stood a chance.
Chanta Sarim, a scrappy veteran from the Takhmao Meanrith camp, was the first to greet the Koh Kong native upon his return to Phnom Penh. The two met at the Bayon TV boxing arena December 20 last year. Bloodied and knocked down twice in the third round, Chanta Sarim declined to continue in the fourth after catching a vicious spinning back elbow in the teeth.
Then came Eam Vutha. And after him Sung Sovan, who went down twice in the fourth but managed to hang on until the final bell.
The prospects of Eam Vichet, a top-notch veteran from the highly touted Krud Meanchey stable, lasted less than six minutes. A knee to the stomach late in the second round doubled him over. An elbow to the head flattened him.
And like that, in the short space of four fights in just seven weeks, Phon Phana had emerged from provincial anonymity to stake his claim as the brash new king of the lightweight contenders.
A product of the famous Koh Kong fight scene, Phon Phana spent most of his early 20s fighting in Thailand, largely in the rural areas around Pattaya. He says he has fought in Bangkok too, nearly a dozen times, with three fights at the storied Lumpini stadium.
Phon Phana decided to return home late last year, when diplomatic ties between the countries began to sour.
His emergence in the lightweight ranks energises an already red-hot division and sets up at least half a dozen tantalizing prospective bouts – Long Sophy, Chan Virea, Eam Litho, Seun Chanvireak, Kao Roomchang and Lao Sinath, to name but a few.
Sunday’s match against Van Chanvait might have been more competitive under different circumstances. Both fighters are scheduled to appear in international bouts this weekend, and neither man wanted to jeopardize the prospect of a lucrative payday.
Still, Phon Phana’s dominance was evident early. In round two, easily his best round, he kicked Van Chanvait around the ring with apparent ease, displaying lightening-fast hand speed, impressive stamina and nearly impenetrable defence.
Van Chanvait showed remarkable durability but landed little of substance.
“He didn’t dare fight too hard,” suggested Van Chanvait’s corner man, Khum Pichchenda. “He was afraid of hurting the other guy.”
Said in jest, apparently, there was still some truth to the crack.
“I hurt my hand with those punches in the third round,” Phon Phana said, referring to three consecutive straight right hands that landed flush to the head.
A disappointed Van Chanvait shrugged off the loss. “I didn’t really use my knees well,” he said. “But nothing is hurt; my body is fine. I can fight again next week no problem.”
Van Chanvait faces a Spanish fighter listed only as Arturo, and Phon Phana takes on a Japanese fighter named Yuki, this coming Saturday at the TV3 boxing arena. Fights start at 3:30pm.