10: Notable flyweight title fights
Jan. 28, 1968 – Chartchai Chionoi KO 13 Efren Torres I, El Toreo, Mexico City, Mexico
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It was vicious. It was bloody. It was grueling. And it was fantastic.
The first meeting between Thailand’s Chionoi and Mexico’s Torres was named the 20th greatest title fight in history by THE RING in 1996 and the choice was more than justified. Each man forced the other to fight harder and dig deeper than at any other point in their lives, much less their boxing careers. Torres was forced to climb off the canvas while Chionoi was driven toward it a number of times. The fight’s cuts were so deep and so pulsating that the crimson covered their torsos and made portions of the canvas sticky. The blood-letting was only exceeded by the Mexico City crowd’s desire to have Torres crowned as the new champion.
The 25-year-old Chionoi, 46-10-2 (31) was making the third defense of the WBC title he won from Scotland’s Walter McGowan via cut-induced ninth round TKO in front of his home fans in Bangkok. Since then he had fought five times and won them all, four by KO and two in defense of his title (KO 3 Puntip Keosuriya and another cut-marred TKO 7 over McGowan). Chionoi wasn’t the most skilled boxer but he used his iron will and phenomenally heavy hands to carry him to the very top of his profession. The Torres fight marked only the second time Chionoi ventured beyond the Far East and because of what happened the first time around — McGowan led on points in their London rematch at the time of the stoppage — one had to doubt whether the Thai would walk out with the title still strapped around his waist. Another point of concern: Chionoi, who normally struggled to make the 112-pound limit, scaled a stunningly light 109¾, two full pounds less than Torres and 15¼ pounds lighter than his non-title go against Mimoun Ben Ali just 51 days earlier.
Torres, 48-4-1 (32), was a dangerous hitter, especially early as 23 of his knockouts had occurred in four rounds or less. His last three losses signified his quality as he lost two fights to Hiroyuki Ebihara (12-round split decision, KO by 7) and, in his first title opportunity 13 months earlier, pushed 72-1-6 WBA king Horacio Accavallo to the limit before dropping a close decision to the Argentine under an unusual 20-point must scoring system (Torres lost by scores of 297-294 twice and 298-293). The 24-year-old challenger had won four straight since then, including a five round KO over Octavio Gomez and, most recently, a 10-round points nod over perennial contender Joe Medel in a bantamweight contest.
The terms of battle were established right after the opening bell. Torres sportingly extended his left glove to touch Chionoi’s but the defending champ ignored the entreaty and unloaded a wild overhand right that missed the target badly and threw him off balance. From there they probed for openings and it was clear that the circling Torres was far more nimble than the flat-footed Chionoi. Torres’ quicker combinations and sharper punching enabled him to shade a close first round.
The second saw Chionoi accelerate the pace and unleash his full assortment of uniquely angled power shots. The Thai won a brief but explosive mid-ring exchange and moments later a thudding right to the jaw floored Torres along the ropes. Up at two, Torres quickly wiped his gloves on his trunks and brightly stared into referee Arthur Mercante’s eyes as he administered the mandatory eight. The visage that Mercante assessed also included a nasty cut over the left eye, a gash that would spill untold crimson on the canvas and would require 15 stitches to close. Determined not to let his circumstances get the best of him, Torres eagerly waded back into the fire and got in several effective hooks and crosses before the bell.
Chionoi again fanned on the big right to start the third but hit the target with his deceptively fast hammers as Torres moved and searched for openings. Less than a minute into the session the pair engaged in a vigorous toe-to-toe exchange that moved to all parts of the ring. Torres mixed his attack well between head and body while Chionoi’s attention was locked on worsening the cut. A huge right gonged off Torres’ chin but this time the Mexican’s legs held firm. As the round neared its end Torres connected with his own sweeping right that caused the champion to lean his torso back but little more.
The fourth started with another big exchange at ring center and this time Torres hit pay dirt as a compact right caused Chionoi’s right knee to buckle and the crowd to erupt in joyful waves. A double hook to the body and jaw drove the Thai to the ropes, sparking a torrent of blows from the challenger. Torres pelted Chionoi from every angle imaginable but the champion’s chin, legs and composure managed to remain strong. As he passed by Mercante glanced at Torres’ cut, whose byproducts now covered the challenger’s face, but chose to let the action continue unabated. Realizing the fight might be stopped at any time, Torres increased the pressure even more and worked over Chionoi with a succession of hooks to the head and body. Through it all Chionoi remained unflappable and near round’s end he landed with a tightly arced hook to the chin that served to stop Torres’ advance momentarily.
Chionoi missed with another overhand right to start round five – why he continued that tactic remained a mystery – but he fared better when he maneuvered Torres to the ropes and landed a good body-head combo. The faster Torres continued to pepper Chionoi with sharp punches that piled up points but unfortunately for the challenger the cut continued to bleed. A heavy one-two twisted Chionoi’s head but improbably ignited an energetic counterattack that prompted Torres to cut his surge short. Still, the blows prompted notice to the left side of Chionoi’s face, which was swelling noticeably.
Round six was a big round for Torres as he buzzed Chionoi twice with fusillades of close-range punches, some of which worsened the bulge above the champion’s left eye. Chionoi’s situation worsened early in the seventh when, following a fantastic mid-ring exchange, a Torres hook to the jaw sent him reeling toward the ropes. Under today’s rules his stumble would have been ruled a knockdown but here it just allowed Torres to swarm him uninterrupted. Only a champion’s pride kept the Thai on his feet.
With every passing round the blood cascading from Torres’ face became more of an issue, especially when the bout moved to long range in the eighth and ninth rounds. The taller Chionoi’s jab stabbed Torres’ face, which was now a bright red mask, but Chionoi’s growingly misshapen visage, which now saw blood coming out of the nose, wasn’t much better. The crimson covered both men’s torsos and trunks and one had to wonder how much longer either man’s body would hold up. At the start of round 10, a Torres corner man was seen wiping the blood off the sticky canvas.
Sensing time might be running out for him, Torres summoned a surge in the 11th that had Chionoi cut over the left eye, tottering about the ring and bent at the waist. Once again, the ultra-tough Thai survived without hitting the floor but that said, he still absorbed a frightful beating.
That beating continued throughout the first two minutes of the 12th. But in between taking bombs Chionoi slipped in enough punches to keep the blood flowing from Torres’ face. A stupendous hook-cross to the face caused Torres’ legs to buckle, forced the challenger into instant retreat and quieted Torres’ boisterous fans.
Entering the 13th the scoring couldn’t have been more divided. Mercante had Torres a huge 116-107 winner while one judge somehow had Chionoi up 115-111. The third jurist had neither ahead as the tally read 113-113. As the fighters prepared to answer the bell they looked as if they had spent the afternoon at a slaughterhouse.
Chionoi jolted Torres’ head with a tightly delivered hook early in the round but an even shorter hook caused the champion to pause. Seconds later Mercante stared into Torres’ face and didn’t like the damage he saw. He led the challenger to a neutral corner and summoned the ring physician, who briefly dabbed the blood with a tissue before waving his arms and stopping the contest at the 1:15 mark of round 13.
The instant Chionoi realized he had won he ran toward Torres’ corner, dropped to the floor and wrapped his arms around the challenger’s shins, which may well have been a gesture of humility and respect for a fight well waged.
“He’s the toughest man I ever fought,” Chionoi said through an interpreter. “He is definitely the second best flyweight in the world.”
Torres probably begged to differ, for it appeared that had he not been cut he would have had a good chance of lifting the title. The only way to settle the score was to have a second fight, and perhaps a rubber match.
That’s exactly what happened. Thirteen months later they returned to the El Toreo in Mexico City and this time Torres benefited from a Chionoi injury. A horribly swollen left eye slammed shut, prompting Mercante and the ring doctor to stop the contest in round eight. Thirteen months after that, they met in Bangkok, where Chionoi regained the title by close but unanimous decision.