THAIFIGHT 2012-The Finals

Posted on: December 27th, 2012 by Philip

Now in its third year THAIFIGHT continues to make great strides toward achieving one of its most important aims; to increase and widen the interest in Muay Thai inside Thailand. The Quarter and Semi Finals had been broadcast live on Thai TV Channel 3 and had attracted the station’s biggest audiences. The 3 round format and matching top international fighters with Thailand’s best, together with the spectacular staging/light and sound effects have all contributed to this success. I would also argue that the tournament format has enabled the Thai public to get to know the fighters and, in the case of their own Thai representatives to understand and appreciate them and invest a real pride in them. This is especially the case with Buakhaow. The Surin fighter was front page news when he went missing earlier in the year, when he surfaced the story of the problems with his management emerged. Buakhaow’s story was one all too many Thais can identify with. That Buakhaow dealt with his problems with pride and honour and that he seems to be the embodiment of all things that are good in the Thai character have made him an incredibly popular figure in Thailand, arguably the most popular boxer in the eyes of the general public since Kaosai Galaxy. That Buakhaow is an absolute master of Muay Thai is highlighted every time he enters the ring as he sweeps aside the challenge of every opponent with skill and heart and bravery, the embodiment of Thai character indeed. Earlier that day Google Thailand had announced which searches were the most popular in Thailand in 2012,‘Buakhaow Por Pramuk’ was one of the frontrunners.
And so there was great anticipation in the air as we counted down the days to the Finals, as last year the Finals were staged at a temporary arena constructed in the shadow of the statue of King Chulalongkhorn. It is in this square that Thai people gather in their hundreds of thousands to pay homage to His Majesty the King of Thailand; an important place, fitting therefore that Muay Thai, a cornerstone of Thai culture be staged here.
Thousands came and none were disappointed by a series of thrilling bouts. Over the last few months the THAIFIGHT organisers have found a number of Thai boxers who were not just supremely skilled but great showmen too. The first preliminary bout featured one of these fighters, Ikyusang Kor Rungthanakeat. Ikyusang hails from Surin, he confuses opponents with fakes and shimmies before delivering kicks and punches with the utmost force. Ikyusang really plays to the crowd, he mixes in moves from Muay Boran-the original form of Muay Thai, few opponents last long. We looked at his opponent, Angelo Valerio from Spain as he waited patiently in his corner……we feared the worst….he didn’t look ‘up for the fight’ and indeed, the fight didn’t last long. At the bell Ikyusang leapt at his opponent who fortunately sidestepped out of the way, Ikyusang was irresistibly on the hunt and within seconds he had his man pinned on the ropes, he got out but Ikyusang stayed on top of him, another attack floored the helpless Spaniard, but there was no let up, Ikyusang was weighing up his chances, thinking time and motion, he didn’t want to just win but give the watching millions something incredible to remember, then ‘bang’, a chopping right , somewhere between a forearm smash and an elbow crashed down on Valerio’s chin and sent him into the middle of next week, the crowd rose as one already in raptures.
Next up, another THAIFIGHT regular Sudsakorn Sor Klinmee. Another extremely strong, extremely dangerous fighter who always boxes with a smile on his face and always aims to similarly put a smile on the face of all who are watching. Sudsakorn similarly throws every shot with maximum power, often intimidating his opponents who often clam up, this was pretty much the case here in his match with Gustavo Mendez from Brazil who just didn’t know what to do with the Thai………A comfortable win for Sudsakorn, the crowd lapped it up.
To further entertain the watching millions the THAIFIGHT organisers brought together some of the World’s leading Super-Heavyweights for a 4 man tournament. The afternoon had started with these two semi-finals, huge men-weighing up to 120kg slugging it out. The winners of those two bouts Dimytro Bezus and Patrice Quarteron now met to decide the THAIFIGHT Super Heavyweight Champion. There was no doubt who the locals were gunning for. Patrice, from France had endeared himself to them by appearing with a banner in Thai and English professing his love for His Majesty the King, he played to the crowd and succeeded in getting them on his side. His opponent Bezus was a double World Champion but did little to live up to that billing looking uncomfortable against Patrice. Interesting watching these huge and powerful men, how little of that power was put into their shots; whatever Patrice was the clear winner of an entertaining bout. This unleashed in him a burst of euphoric ecstasy, he ran into the crowd, kissing all in his way- all, including the Thai commentary team with Samart Payakaroon looked decidedly bemused, but couldn’t help but smile given the Frenchman’s bonhomie.
And so to the 2 main events. The THAIFIGHT 2012 finals.
First up in the 67kg weight category representing Thailand was Singmanee Kaewsamrit. His opponent Andre Kulebin of Belarus. At the announcement of the line-up for the 2012 tournament many in the Muay Thai world were pleased to see Kulebin’s name in the hat, here was a genuine World class performer who really could challenge the Thais. Singmanee has his own rich pedigree being a former Rajdamneon Stadium champion, he had taken the long and testing route to the THAIFIGHT Final by firstly winning the demanding Isuzu Cup series at Omnoi Stadium and then winning an eliminator against Sudsakorn.
Some Thais wondered how Singmanee would cope with the different, sometimes unorthodox approaches of the International fighters. Some of those doubts seemed founded when he lost one of his fights on the THAIFIGHT road shows. Indeed in both his Quarter and Semi Final Singmanee had seemed to need a wake-up call, in the semi he took a really solid shot to the jaw and lost the first round against Zatout from France. In both of those fights though he upped his performance several gears to take convincing wins against dangerous opponents.
Interestingly Singmanee and Kulebin have met before, over 5 rounds, earlier this year with Singmanee getting the judges’ decision. For this final Singmanee had evidently learnt his lesson and looked sharp from the off. Kulebin adopts a classic Thai style high guard and stance, and like them, is patient waiting for the precise moment to pounce with precision attacks. In rounds 1 and 2 we saw a superbly skilful, even encounter with the boys trading kick for kick, punch for punch. In round 3 though Singmanee’s shots seemed to impact a little cleaner, again he used his devastating left round kick to get through Kulebin’s guard and help gain him the ascendancy. He got the judges’ decision but it had been a superb final with skill and competitiveness, just right to mark the occasion. Singmanee as champion, Kulebin as runner up.
And so to the big one, the one the whole nation was waiting for, the 70kg final featuring Buakhaow. His opponent was Vitaly Hurkov again from Belarus. Vitaly had looked the boxer most likely to trouble Buakhaow as he cruised to the Finals with wins which showed him using his long reach to advantage and also revealed him as a particularly able clinch fighter. He was introduced to the by now massive live crowd and waited patiently for the arrival of his opponent. The THAIFIGHT team are masters of the big entrance and Buakhaow is perfect as the warrior hero to be revealed out of the darkness. The excitement built to fever pitch as fireworks whizzed around the ring-this was the show these people had come to see and how they loved it. Somehow Vitaly kept his cool as it must have seemed that he would have to fight a whole Nation. As ever Buakhaow bowed with total respect before a portrait of His Majesty the King and strode toward the ring, his face a picture of total focus on the fight ahead. As ever he performed the wai kru beautifully, further building up the anticipation of the thousands packed round the ring. A last blessing from his manager as he removed his mongkol, the bell sounded and we were away. Round 1, Buakhaow’s concentration total, the experience of over 400 fights had only underlined what every boxer is told in his first lesson, ‘keep your hands high and your chin tucked in’, Buakhaow has an excellent defence, necessary against dangerous punchers such as Vitaly. In his 2 previous bouts Vitaly had been able to keep his opponents at a distance using his long reach but Buakhaow negated that advantage by working inside, his feet as quick as his thinking. All credit to Vitaly, he wasn’t fazed, he kept coming forward trying to launch his punch combinations, but with Buakhaow’s defence, nothing got through. When the fight went to the clinch Buakhaow showed his mastery of that area too, repeatedly turning Vitaly off balance and gaining an advantage to the extent that one struggled to remember how good Vitaly’s clinch work in the semi-final had been; Buakhaow making him look like a novice at close quarters. Vitaly never gave up though, he kept coming forward but as the fight went on and he became more fatigued so his technique became more ragged and he left gaps. Buakhaow was always cool and patient, picking Vitaly off, whenever he had the opportunity, he continued to build up the points looking more and more convincing as the fight went on. He surged ahead on the judges’ scorecards, there could never be any doubt about the winner. The announcement was made to a crash of rockets and roars from the delighted crowd. The winner Buakhaow, Vitaly as runner up.
Vitaly had given Buakhaow his stiffest test in a long time but the Surin fighter’s response highlighted his excellence, his performance was just what the audience had come to see. Buakhaow remains their champion.
This fight crowned a day of great boxing savoured by everyone present and by the millions who watched on TV, all will be looking forward to THAIFIGHT’s next outing.
Philip Wilson
December 2012

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