10: Notable flyweight title fights
Dec. 16, 1979 – Chan Hee Park KO 2 Guty Espadas, Busan South Korea
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For most of the 1970s, names like Miguel Canto, Betulio Gonzalez, Guty Espadas, Shoji Oguma, Chartchai Chionoi, Alfonso Lopez, Erbito Salavarria, Venice Borkhorsor and Susumu Hanagata were fixtures on the world title scene. As the decade drew to a close, however, a new generation of stars seized the reins with stunning swiftness.
On March 18, 1979, an obscure South Korean named Chan Hee Park shocked the boxing world by ending Canto’s majestic four-year, 14-defense WBC title reign via 15-round decision in Busan. That a fighter with just 10 pro fights could beat the wily 64-fight veteran was difficult to believe but his whirlwind attack over the first 10 rounds was more than enough to hold off Canto’s determined late-round rally. The 22-year-old Park consolidated his new status by decisioning Chikara Igarashi two months later and drawing with Canto in their September rematch. Meanwhile, in November, Panamanian southpaw Luis Ibarra ended Gonzalez’s third and final flyweight title reign via 15-round decision before the champ’s home fans in Venezuela.
One month after Ibarra’s surprising triumph, Park met Espadas, who, at four days short of age 25, was the youngest member of the “old guard.” Espadas earned that status more than three years earlier at the Los Angeles Sports Arena when he battered the WBA crown off Alfonso Lopez’s head over 13 rounds and KO defenses over Jiro Takada, Lopez, Alex Santana and Kimio Furesawa had fans dreaming of a Merida vs. Merida unification showdown against Canto. It would have made for a magnificent spectacle, for while both were diminutive (Espadas 5-foot-0, Canto 5-foot-¾ inch) their styles were diametrically opposed. Canto was the ultimate points boxer who dazzled opponents with footwork, hand speed and superb timing while Espadas was the quintessential Mexican bomber. That dream match, however, was snuffed out in August 1978 when the veteran Betulio Gonzalez turned back the clock and defeated Espadas via majority decision.
Since then Espadas resumed doing what he did best – scoring knockouts. Over the next six months he stopped Ruben Mancilla, Robby Ruiz and Jose Luis Cruz to set up the showdown with Park, which, given the respective styles, promised plenty of fireworks. But even the most optimistic fans couldn’t have hoped that Park and Espadas would give them what they eventually saw – the most intense five minutes and 42 seconds in flyweight championship history.
Espadas immediately assume the role of aggressor by throwing wide hooks at the circling Park, who, as expected, snapped plenty of quick jabs. Only 33 seconds into the fight, Espadas took a short step forward, planted his left hook and hammered Park with a perfect lead hook to the jaw that dropped the champion on his behind. That sight instantly silenced what had been a wildly enthusiastic crowd and even as Park scrambled to his feet without a count the level of concern was palpable.
Instead of using his lively legs to give him room to clear his head, Park opted to dive right back in and exchange with the hard-hitting challenger. Given what had just happened, Park’s move appeared to be an insane choice but the champion soon proved he knew exactly what he was doing. A right to the body and a hook to the jaw landed flush and two more hooks connected before Espadas, looking to consolidate his advantage, bulled Park to the ropes, slapped on a clinch and dug three hooks to the body.
The furious action was exceeded only by the intensity of the crowd, whose verbal explosions reverberated around the gymnasium. With two minutes gone in the round Park connected with a lead right-left hook combo, a second right-left and a follow-up overhand right that sent Espadas to one knee. The dramatic turn of events ignited a nuclear-level reaction from the Park partisans – an arm-waving, full-throated, jumping up-and-down frenzy that threatened to level the building.
Like Park, Espadas popped to his feet instantly and skipped toward a corner to shake out some of the sting that had infiltrated his legs. Park blasted a right off Espadas’ chin and the Mexican answered with a lead right and a pair of trademark hooks. During a rare clinch, Park maneuvered Espadas to ring center and landed his pet combination – the lead right-left hook – to score his second knockdown and the third of an incredible opening round.
Once again, Espadas arose quickly but this time his legs belied his compromised condition. He stumbled sideways along the ropes, then hooked his left arm over the top rope before finally regaining enough equilibrium to continue the battle. The hollering crowd sensed a finish was near, but the round-ending bell sounded only moments after the pair resumed action.
Park began round two with a sharp jab to the chin while Espadas missed with a looping right. Park connected with a lead hook but Espadas absorbed the blow well and advanced behind punches that missed the target. Park’s huge advantage in hand and foot speed was graphically evident as he landed a right-left, then nipped away before Espadas could even react. As Park connected with another overhand right, Espadas accidentally landed a hook below the belt, prompting the champ to back away holding his groin. The referee, however, did not grant Park a time-out. Once they resumed, the two fighters continued to exchange power shots with incredible ferocity.
Park’s right-left combinations connected with staggering frequency while Espadas scored with his trademark hooks to the body. The action was robust and showed no signs of slowing down.
The champion’s superb timing reaped huge dividends moments later. After Espadas missed with a hook, Park countered with his own hook and then applied the finisher – a looping right and a pinpoint hook to the point of the chin that caused Espadas to fall forward on his face.
Up at six, the wobbly Espadas emerged with a new injury – a long, deep gash over the left eye. The Mexican nodded to the referee and took a step forward in the hopes of resuming the action. But the official waved his arm, grabbed Espadas’ left arm and led him toward his corner. Park looked confused as his seconds lifted him into the air, but his hesitation turned to unvarnished joy when the referee lifted his right arm and declared him the TKO winner.
It was a most tumultuous but also a most rewarding victory for Park, who notched another big name to his brief but growingly impressive resume.