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10: Notable flyweight title fights

02
Sep

Jan. 2, 1973 – Masao Ohba KO 12 Chartchai Chionoi, Nihon University Auditorium, Tokyo, Japan

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Chionoi’s career following the first Torres fight was as chaotic as the action that unfolded in that ring. Less than five months after beating Torres a 116-pound Chionoi lost a non-title 10-round decision to Eduardo Mojica, retained the belt against Bernabe Villacampo (W 15), then lost back-to-back fights to Torres (KO by 8) and Willy Del Prado (L 10). Two fights later Chionoi regained the belt from Torres, notched a non-title win over Al Diaz, then lost the championship a second time at the hands of Erbito Salavarria, who starched him in two rounds. A 10-round draw to Snappy Asano indicated Chionoi might be done as a top-flight campaigner but the Thai proved them wrong by rolling off five straight wins to earn a shot at WBA champion Masao Ohba.



Ohba experienced his share of in-ring chaos because he had a Danny Lopez-like tendency to suffer early knockdowns. But, like “Little Red,” the Japanese possessed the inner grit to haul himself off the canvas and walk out of the ring with the victory.

Ohba achieved boxing’s highest summit at an extraordinarily early stage. He was just one day past his 21st birthday when he knocked out Thailand’s Berkrerk Chartvanchai in 13 rounds to win the WBA title, and over the next 21 months Ohba assembled an excellent reign while also including several non-title wins. He turned back the excellent Betulio Gonzalez (W 15), Fernando Cabanella (W 15), former champion Susumu Hanagata (W 15) and Orlando Amores (KO 5) to establish himself as the man to beat in the division. After disposing of Natalio Jiminez in a five-round non-title bout, Ohba signed to fight Chionoi, the most experienced and dangerous challenger he had yet faced. With a victory, Chionoi, 57-14-2 (35), would join countryman Pone Kingpetch as the only fighters ever to earn a third flyweight championship reign.

As was the case during the weigh-in for the Torres fight, Chionoi raised plenty of eyebrows when he weighed just 109¼, eight-and-three-quarters pounds less than when he stretched Esteban Rangel less than three months earlier. The 34-2-1 (15) Ohba scaled a more conventional 111¾.

Ohba began the fight cutting tight circles around the stalking Chionoi and firing plenty of quick jabs, but just 20 seconds into the fight Chionoi produced the first shock of the night by landing an overhand right that sent Ohba careening toward the ropes. Moments later Chionoi’s potent right hand produced the fight’s first knockdown.

Only 38 seconds had elapsed to this point and it quickly became evident that Ohba was in a world of trouble. As he was floored, Ohba’s right foot had folded awkwardly beneath his torso and after rising at five the champ limped toward the farthest corner. As referee Yusaku Yoshida ordered them back into battle Ohba tried to shake some life into his injured foot.

Chionoi rightly recognized this situation as a golden opportunity to make history. A winging right and a follow-up one-two forced Ohba into the corner pad and the champion’s legs remained wobbly after Chionoi spun him toward the champ’s corner. A short hook to the chin made Ohba’s legs shudder again, prompting many minds to ponder the probability of an unusually quick title change.

But Ohba had been through this drill before against Amores among others, and the resourcefulness that served him well then helped him here. Although his bag of tricks didn’t include clinching, the champion nevertheless made it through the first three minutes.

Because Ohba was more boxer than puncher, he had little choice but to keep testing the foot by moving around to start round two. He showed enough mobility to convince Chionoi that the initial crisis had passed and he punctuated that point 49 seconds in by landing a heavy right to the chin. Ohba’s precise jabs snapped back the challenger’s head with regularity while also helping Ohba to set up effective rights to the ribs. Chionoi did land another big right near the end of the round, but this time Ohba took it in stride.

Ohba impressively bounced back in the third and he carried that momentum into the fourth as a left to the stomach and a right to the chin buckled Chionoi’s legs. That event marked a vital turning point psychologically for Ohba for despite his modest power he showed it was enough to hurt the challenger. Instead of gunning for the KO as Chionoi had, Ohba used his opportunity to pick his shots wisely. He landed a one-two to the face, a counter hook to the body and landed plenty of jabs. It was a formula that Ohba practiced regularly: Slowly breaking down opponents with skills, speed, smarts and patience.

By the fifth Ohba’s foot appeared to be fully functional while Chionoi shifted tactics by furiously working the jab, quadrupling it up at one point. The challenger landed his heavy right from time to time but Ohba answered with a left-left-right and a second right over the top a few moments later. Ohba’s frequent jabs produced a noticeable swelling under the challenger’s left eye and his high cheekbones made that injury appear even worse. Though Chionoi’s jabs still carried jolting power, he was forced to operate under Ohba’s rules of engagement.

With his early-rounds crisis long behind him, Ohba’s confidence surged in the sixth. Midway through the stanza he bulled Chionoi to the ropes and popped him with a right-left-right before darting back to long range. He constantly stabbed Chionoi with jabs and followed with beautifully delivered hooks, crosses and uppercuts that carried more power than at any other point in the contest thus far.

Chionoi, however, remained dangerous and he proved that in the seventh with a looping left to the chin that snapped Ohba’s head and forced him to back toward the ropes. Another snappy one-two got through, as well as a solid jab and a meaty right to the ribs. The unfazed Ohba answered Chionoi’s rally with one of his own as he landed a right over the top, a right uppercut to the jaw and a left-left-right-left as the round closed.

In the eighth Ohba came over Chionoi’s lazy jab with a furious 12-punch salvo that showed the champion that his challenger’s gas tank had ebbed somewhat. A right to the jaw caused the weakened and discouraged Thai to back toward the ropes and the opportunistic Ohba jumped in with lightning-fast but feather-fisted combinations that threatened to drown his rival in leather. The pounding continued for the remainder of the round and it marked the most sustained dominance by either man in the fight to that point.

Although Ohba won the ninth in fine style, Chionoi sensed the tide was ready to turn again. Those senses turned into positive action in the 10th as several strong hooks to the body and head followed by a jarring jab to the jaw forced Ohba to pause. Another hook crashed into Ohba’s face but the resourceful champion replied with a ripping one-two and a searing combination as Chionoi languished on the ropes. A heavy right to the ribs forced Ohba to draw in a deep breath but the champ stopped the mini-rally by landing two big rights and a hook upstairs.

As the fight swung into the championship rounds of 11 through 15, both had presented strong cases and inflicted heavy punishment. They also knew that one of them had to produce a will-breaking surge in order to secure victory.

That man ended up being Ohba. Seventy-six seconds into the 11th a lead right to the temple caused Chionoi’s torso to bend horizontally and his legs to stumble. Though Chionoi did his best to clinch his way out of trouble Ohba continued to calmly tenderize his challenger for the final kill. With five seconds remaining Ohba landed three crushing rights to the jaw as Chionoi was propped against the ropes. The challenger managed to stay on his feet until the bell, but now he – and everyone else – knew the end was near.

With 56 seconds remaining in the 12th, the beginning of that end arrived. A chopping right off the tip of Chionoi’s chin prompted the challenger to turn away and seek the safety of the ropes. But there was no safety there as the white-hot champion chased after him and unleashed an animalistic 34-punch assault that ended only after Chionoi fell to the canvas.

Chionoi somehow pulled himself up but with the pro-Ohba crowd in hysterics their hero was poised to finish the job. Another 23-punch explosion sent the challenger stumbling toward Ohba’s corner, then collapsing in a heap. Once again Chionoi rose to his feet and by the time Yoshida commanded the action to resume only seven seconds remained in the round.

A frothing Ohba used every moment of that time to inflict maximum damage. The relentless assault prompted Yoshida to pull Ohba off his helpless challenger at exactly the 3:00 mark of the round. At the time of the stoppage Ohba led 53-48, 53-49 and 52-50 under the five-point must system.

A triumphant but exhausted Ohba celebrated his extraordinary performance, which certified him as a fighter ready to embrace true greatness. At age 23 he had not yet reached his peak and the boxing world looked forward to witnessing the next chapters of his burgeoning story.

That story, however, was cut short in tragic fashion. Just 22 days after beating Chionoi, Ohba was driving his Corvette down a Tokyo expressway when he hit a truck going the other direction. He had planned to vacate his flyweight belt to pursue a title at 118 but the accident that would claim his life left the world to ponder what might have been.

As for Chionoi, he earned his historic third flyweight reign when he stopped Fritz Chervet in five to capture the crown left vacant by Ohba’s death. He retained the belt against Hanagata (W 15) and Chevret (W 15) before losing it for the final time against Hanagata (KO by 6). He retired two fights later with a 61-18-3 (36) record that featured more than its share of plot twists and ring adventures.

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