Cambodian kickboxer Kan Meng Hong was left wondering what could have been after a disappointing showing at an invitational event in Japan on Saturday night.

A 2023 SEA Games gold medallist, he was unable to match his Japanese opponent Akihiro Kaneko, who dominated their bout at the K-1 World MAX 2024 – World Championship Tournament Final, in Tokyo, Japan.

He was not alone, as each of the three other international boxers who competed in the 55kg class were defeated by home-grown talents.

Another of the high-profile fights on the card saw Thai kickboxing legend Buakaw Banchamek lose to a younger Bulgarian fighter.

Ahead of his July 7 match-up, Meng Hong was visibly pale, with his corner suggesting that the Japanese climate did not suit his constitution.

However, he began the bout well, landing a series of heavy blows in the first two minutes of the first round. Near the end of the round however, disaster struck when the wily Japanese fighter landed a well-timed left kick to Meng Hong’s knee, sending him to the canvas. 

He survived the referee’s first count of the match, returning for the second round in an aggressive mood. Despite his best efforts, Kaneko’s technical ability was too strong for the Khmer fighter, who was once again knocked down and forced to take a count by the referee, this time as the result of a perfectly right hand.

Facing a clear loss on points due to the two standing counts, Meng Hong had no choice but to attack. The risky strategy did not pay off, however, as he was knocked out less than a minute into the third round by the three-time Japanese champion.

While he was disappointed not to qualify for the next round of the K-1 World MAX competition, the plucky young fighter accepted his loss. The bruised and battered Meng Hong explained that while he did his best, he was unable to keep up with Kaneko.

“I apologise to everyone for my performance in the match. I lost to the number one Japanese contender, and have to admit that he is a very strong fighter,” he said, before explaining his strategy for the third round.

“Because I was forced to undergo a count in the first and second rounds, I knew I had to attack in the third round if I was to have a chance of a victory. I don’t remember getting knocked out, but I apologise to my family.

Srey Chanthorn, head of the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF), who counts himself as one of Meng Hong’s most zealous supporters, took to social media, suggesting that he will attempt to arrange a re-match.

“When Meng Hong returns to the Kingdom, his experience will ensure he trains harder, especially since he now has a firm grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent,” he said.

“I will propose that he prepares for a rematch with the Japanese fighter,” he added.

The other three foreign fighters in the 55kg qualifiers all suffered losses to Japanese fighters, with Greece’s Angelos Martinos defeated by Riamu in the fourth round after a tied first three. Spaniard Antonio Orden was knocked out by Masashi Kumura in the first round, with China's Zhao Zhendong losing to Rui Okubo. This means that all four September 29 final spots will be filled by Japanese boxers.

Thai veteran Buakaw Banchamek also tasted defeat on the night, with the 42-year-old losing to Bulgarian fighter Stoyan Koprivlenski on points in their 70kg bout.

Thai veteran Buakaw Banchamek (right) appears dejected after his loss to Bulgarian fighter Stoyan Koprivlenski in the 70kg K-1 class. Supplied

Buakaw was twice warned by the referee for violating the specific kickboxing rules of the K-1 event. It is possible that this tempered his legendary aggression and led to a knockdown in the second round after a spectacular head kick by his 30-year-old opponent.