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10: Notable flyweight title fights

02
Sep

May 18, 1980 – Shoji Oguma KO 9 Chan Hee Park, Changchung Gymnasium, Seoul, South Korea

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Following the spectacular win over Espadas, Park continued to roll as he posted dominant decision victories over Arnel Arrozal and Alberto Morales. The South Korean’s career was in hyper-drive, for when he signed to fight Japanese veteran and former WBC champion Shoji Oguma, he had committed to his fifth title fight in eight months.



The Park-Oguma fight was just another example of a long-established boxing story line: The up-and-coming potential superstar versus the big-name veteran whose prime was in the rear view mirror. The reasons for Park’s status were self-evident and Oguma’s “B-side” status also was easily explained

The 28-year-old Oguma’s time at the summit was agonizingly short. Just 99 days after dethroning WBC champion Betulio Gonzalez as a 23-year-old in October 1974, Miguel Canto snatched it away via majority decision. Over the next five years Oguma received numerous opportunities to regain what he had lost but every time he fell short:

* April 21, 1976 – Majority decision loss to WBA titlist Alfonso Lopez in Tokyo

* January 4, 1978 – Split decision loss to WBC champ Miguel Canto in Koriyama, Japan

* April 18, 1978 – Unanimous decision loss to Canto in Tokyo (Oguma lost by one, two and three points on the cards)

* January 29, 1979 – Draw against WBA king Betulio Gonzalez in Hamamatsu, Japan

* July 6, 1979 – KO by 12 against Gonzalez in their title-fight rematch in Utsunomiya, Japan, which was actually the final fight of a four-bout series (Oguma trailed by two points on all three cards at the time of the stoppage)

An eighth-round KO over recent title challenger Chikara Igarashi in December 1979 was enough for Oguma to get a sixth opportunity to regain the brass ring. Would Oguma continue to experience Sisyphus-like frustration? On paper the answer was yes but happily for Oguma they would be fighting with gloves, not paper.

For all his meteoric success, close observers in the Orient noticed two fatal flaws in Park. According to Joe Koizumi’s ring report in the August 1980 issue of THE RING they were (1) a vulnerability to left-handers and (2) an inability to absorb body punches. As an amateur, Park, a 1976 Olympian, posted a 123-2 record. One of the two losses came against a southpaw, and the first of his two draws as a pro took place against Filipino lefty Siony Carupo just 28 days before dethroning Canto. The bad news for Park: Oguma was a southpaw who specialized in body punching.

Not only that, Oguma’s style presented a challenging puzzle. Unlike most left-handers Oguma not only fluidly moved to his left, he actually preferred going that direction. Also, his constant in-and-out and side-to-side movement threw off Park’s timing and forced him to constantly reset his feet and readjust his aim. As a result Oguma successfully reduced the bout to a series of skirmishes rather than extended exchanges that would have magnified Park’s youth, speed and power.

Oguma’s singular punches – most of which targeted the body – landed with sniper-like accuracy. A heavy left to the body in round three made Park grunt and a glancing hook off the top of the head proved to be Park’s only effective blow of the bout.

The energy and accuracy that was so evident in Park’s most recent fights was absent here, as was the overwhelming energy of the crowd. Another telling sequence unfolded near the end of round four: As Park rushed at Oguma to pin him to the ropes, the challenger spun away, landed an arcing right to the chin and a left to the pit of the stomach, then won a quick-fisted exchange that lasted until the bell.

Oguma continued to pile up points in the fifth while Park’s winging punches whizzed over the challenger’s head or were blocked by gloves and elbows. Late in the round Oguma began incorporating cluster of body shots as opposed to the one-and-done shots he previously utilized. Oguma’s biggest weakness – eye cuts – never came into play because he was barely touched.

The action picked up considerably in the seventh but only because the fight had suddenly become two-sided. First, Oguma opened a cut over Park’s left eye severe enough for the referee to stop the action and allow the ringside physician to inspect it. Second, moments after the action resumed, Oguma landed a thunderous right to the forehead that buckled Park’s legs, forced him to retreat to the ropes and hang on for dear life. An overanxious Oguma, hungry to continue the assault, sought to shake free from Park’s grip by flipping the champion over his right shoulder and slamming him to the canvas.

The already frustrated crowd expressed its fury by throwing papers and programs into the ring. As whistles blared in the background, the fighters retreated to their respective corners and did their best to avoid the incoming fire. Park’s corner men raised their arms and asked for calm, which they got a couple of minutes later. Shockingly, Filipino referee Larry Nadayag didn’t penalize Oguma for his blatantly illegal move but even if he had, Park was already near mathematical extinction.

Oguma turned up the pressure in round eight and his aggression paid dividends. A sharp right to the stomach visibly shook Park, who clinched tightly the first chance he got. With 10 seconds remaining in a dominant round, Park finally cracked. A thudding right-left-right to the body caused Park to grab Oguma’s waist before slumping to the canvas as much as from exhaustion as from pain. Up at three, Nadayag’s mandatory count burned off the round’s remaining seconds.

Oguma tore after the badly weakened Park in the ninth with a series of full-shouldered lefts that had the champion covering and almost cowering. A grimacing Park backed toward the ropes, where he absorbed a right uppercut to the face, a scything hook to the liver and a right hook to the top of the head. The blows caused two simultaneous actions: Park falling to the canvas for the second time and Nadayag waving off the fight. At the time of the stoppage referee Nadayag (78-73) and Japanese judge Masakazu Uchida (79-75) correctly had Oguma a wide winner while South Korean jurist Kwang Soo Kim, not surprisingly, had Oguma leading by just 78-77.

Knowing the crowd was already in a foul mood, Team Oguma wisely used the fighter’s robe as a mini-tent to shield them from potential debris and immediately hustled out of the ring. The usual post-fight ceremonies conducted during Far East title fights were dispensed with in the name of safety.

That Oguma won was considered a major surprise. That Oguma dominated while doing so was an even bigger shock. But the biggest stunner of all was that Oguma finally stood atop the summit again after so many disappointments. Before this bout some veteran observers felt Oguma should have retired in the face of his repeated defeats but instead the longtime campaigner found the necessary resources to persevere, then conquer. And that is what boxing at its best is all about.

April 25, 1987 – Fidel Bassa KO 13 Dave McAuley, Kings Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland

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From time to time, boxing is blessed with fights that rise to the level of epic. The first fight between WBA titlist Fidel Bassa and challenger Dave McAuley was such a fight, both in terms of in-ring action and beyond-the-ring atmospherics. The shifts in momentum were monumental and the reaction they engendered were even more so.

The 24-year-old Bassa was making his first defense of the belt he won from Hilario Zapata under bizarre circumstances. During the eighth round of a fight staged before thousands of Bassa partisans in Colombia, one of those partisans grabbed Zapata’s leg and tried to pull him out of the ring while he was pinned in a corner. While trying to fend off that fan, another struck him in the face. Instead of a DQ victory for Zapata, the champion was granted a five-minute time out to recover from his injuries. Once the fight continued, Bassa went on to win a 15-round decision.

Bassa, 17-0 (13), was a well-rounded boxer capable of excellent side-to-side movement and timely, powerful punching. The 5-foot-7 McAuley stood five inches taller and while he possessed the physical tools of a skillful boxer his temperament was that of a warrior. He entered the ring as the British flyweight champion, a crown he won in his most recent fight six months earlier against Joe Kelly (KO 9). His thirst for combat often resulted in early-round knockdowns but thus far his courage was enough to overcome every obstacle, as his 13-0 (8) record proved.

The 24-year-old Bassa weighed a stunningly light 109¾ pounds while the challenger, 18 months older, was a more robust 111¾. Equally robust was the throng that occupied the King’s Hall, whose thunderous vocals elevated the boxing match into a must-see event. Who knew that the event would turn into a full-blown melodrama?

Because of the political tensions that convulsed Northern Ireland no national anthems were played. The only song that was sung was “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” a tune that Rinty Monaghan, the last Irish-born flyweight champion, sung after every one of his fights – win or lose.

Just 43 seconds into the fight Bassa countered a McAuley jab to the body with a powerful overhand right to the jaw that sent the challenger to his knees. A sheepish McAuley arose at two, and Bassa roared in behind a volley to the body that forced McAuley to grab. Bassa continued to fire rights under and over in pursuit of the early KO and one particular right to the temple caused McAuley to sag into the ropes. A pair of hooks by the Irishman temporarily held Bassa at bay but the undeterred champion maneuvered McAuley to the ropes and unleashed a flood of punches. As if the pounding wasn’t enough of an issue, McAuley suffered a severe cut over the right eye.

“That’s a tragic three minutes for the British flyweight champion,” said ringside commentator Harry Carpenter after the first round ended. “This is his first fight since becoming British champion and he couldn’t have made a worse start. He dropped his left and he paid the penalty and he hasn’t looked right since. He’s been trying to get in the left hook – he’s got a good left hook – and, my word, he does need it right now. But psychologically can he recover from this? It seems highly doubtful to me.”

With the crowd singing “here we go” it was McAuley who arose from his stool early and defiantly stood at ring center to await round two. The Irish challenger gave the crowd plenty to cheer about as his hooks and crosses began landing with regularity. Bassa, frustrated at McAuley’s resurgence, violently and purposely butted the challenger to close out a stunningly difficult round for him.

McAuley again stood at the ready to begin round three while Bassa curiously sat on his stool for an extra 10 seconds, perhaps because he couldn’t hear the bell over the crowd’s extreme noise. Bassa, knowing his chance for an early KO had passed, concentrated on piling up points while McAuley, eager to further cut into his mathematical deficit, pursued doggedly.

The fight took its next incredible turn with 44 seconds remaining. McAuley winged a right that appeared to whiz over Bassa’s head, but the champion fell to the canvas as if he had been badly stricken. Up at two, Bassa wobbled around in a circle before facing referee Nick Morgan. With adrenaline flowing through his body, McAuley raced in with fists churning. A cuffing hook to the face sent Bassa down a second time, but Morgan called this fall a slip. Still, Bassa’s face wore a dazed expression as Morgan wiped off his gloves and when the action resumed he managed to survive until the bell by clinching at every turn. After the bell sounded, Bassa’s legs were so rocky that his chief second raced across the ring and half-dragged his charge to the corner.

The replay of the first knockdown revealed why Bassa reacted so shakily: McAuley’s head clipped Bassa’s temple during his follow-through on the initial winging right. The force of a skull striking a nerve center clearly took its toll on the defending champion.

“The champion is hurt and McAuley’s now got a golden opportunity to become the world flyweight champion here in Belfast,” a far more encouraged Carpenter said. The pumped-up crowd reveled in the turnabout and in the process they worked themselves into a verbal lather.

Once again, Bassa answered the bell late, this time by five seconds, but he managed to stem the rally by fighting on even terms. McAuley’s fortunes soured a bit in the fifth as he picked up damage around the other eye while his nose dripped blood. Despite his troubles, McAuley’s fighting spirit remained formidable and as a result he gave as good as he got, if not more so.

Round six saw McAuley repeatedly land right-left combinations but it was a short, straight left that nailed Bassa coming in that inflicted the major damage. The blow dropped Bassa to a knee and while most eyes thought it to be a legitimate knockdown, the eyes belonging to referee Morgan did not.

“If that’s not a knockdown, I’m a Dutchman,” the very British Carpenter declared.

Another hook nearly put Bassa down for real moments later but the champion mounted a brave counterattack that was punctuated by a strong right to the jaw as the bell sounded.

The hearty give-and-take continued throughout the seventh but late in the round the challenger appeared to hit his first wall in terms of endurance. A hook to the face propelled McAuley backward and prompted him to take a deep, telling breath. Late in the round, however, an accidental butt created a cut over Bassa’s left eye. Enraged, Bassa leaped in with his head, a move that drew a stern and very physical warning from Morgan, then a point penalty that was assessed between rounds.

Bassa dominated most of the ninth round and all appeared lost. But then the tale twisted again.

McAuley, with his back to the ropes, uncorked a massive hook that caught Bassa as he was throwing his own right. The punch drove the Colombian to the floor, and this time no one could deny what had just happened. Up immediately, Bassa tried to stop McAuley’s momentum but the roaring crowd and the challenger’s renewed strength couldn’t be denied. An overhand right, a left uppercut to the stomach, a cuffing hook to the ear and an explosive right to the jaw floored Bassa for a second time in the round and the third time in the fight. The dejected champion shook his head in disappointment before arising at six. Once the action resumed McAuley did everything he could to invoke the three-knockdown rule that would give him the championship but Bassa’s survival skills were enough to get him through the crisis. One final right by McAuley capped off a round for the ages.

“Would you believe it?” Carpenter asked with amazement. “Look at this crowd, listen to this crowd…and, come to think, listen to me because I’m going berserk, too. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life! It’s unbelievable! It goes one way and then the other and (color commentator) Herol (Graham) is laughing his head off. What on earth is coming next?”

What happened next was a monstrous right by McAuley that put Bassa on rubbery legs in the opening moments of the 10th and, true to form, Bassa again tried to stop the challenger’s momentum by blatantly and illegally using his head. This time Morgan chose not to deduct another point, though he probably should have. McAuley continued to swing for the fences but the resourceful Bassa managed to ride out the wave, and, most amazingly, began to regain his equilibrium. Even so, McAuley, despite all the facial injuries he suffered, appeared to be the fresher fighter as the championship rounds began.

The vigorous 11th begat a slower first half of the 12th. At that point it was Bassa’s turn to stage a surge as a series of hooks and hurtful rights weakened McAuley notably. A wicked left uppercut jerked the challenger’s head and this time the Irishman no longer had the strength to fend off Bassa. With less than five seconds left in the 12th, with McAuley again languishing on the ropes, Bassa connected with a devastating overhand right that nearly put the challenger on the floor. Only his massive heart enabled him to stay upright but the feeling was that he wouldn’t be up for long.

The exhausted McAuley breathed heavily in his corner and he looked a mess as he answered the bell for the 13th. And yet again, the fight would turn – and turn again.

McAuley summoned an overhand right to the forehead that shook Bassa’s legs and collapsed them in delayed-reaction fashion. Morgan, however, waved off the potential knockdown and – yet again – Bassa used the intentional head butt to earn a warning and a few seconds of rest.

Bassa’s follow-up blows took every ounce of remaining energy out of the valiant challenger. One massive right blasted against the challenger’s cheek and a second one caused McAuley’s head to roll sickeningly on his shoulders and his legs to crumble.

“Oh, isn’t this sad?” said Carpenter. “I think he’s over and I think he’s out. I don’t think he has any more to give, and, in fact, Barney Eastwood has thrown the towel in from the corner. It’s all over in the 13th round and the desperately sad sight of McAuley, who so nearly became flyweight champion of the world, and Bassa and his camp celebrate a truly amazing victory.”

This most theatrical fight ended with a Bassa explosion that likely saved his championship. Entering the 13th round McAuley was ahead 115-112 on one card and 114-112 on the other two. A rematch was a must and, after Bassa disposed of Zapata (a controversial D 15) and Felix Marti (a lopsided W 12), their second meeting was staged 11 months after the original. This time Bassa scored a close but unanimous decision, and while it was a good fight it would have been too much to ask for the second act to even come close to the greatness of Act One.

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