A fight night billed as kickboxing coming home exceeded even the wildest of expectations as two Cambodian kickboxers landed the first-ever world titles for the country in Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Thursday night.
Both regarded as underdogs prior to their fights, Meas “The Dragon” Chantha cruised to victory over British fighter Frankie Hudders, while Battambang’s Vorn Viva had a tougher time of it, before eventually coming out on top against his German opponent Alban Ahmedi.
An initially nervous looking Vorn Viva grew in stature as his fight progressed and in the end he could even afford a couple of cheeky grins as his opponent flagged badly in the final round.
The judges awarded the 75-kg International Sport Kickboxing Association title to Vorn Viva, and the estimated 5,000-strong crowd at Olympic Stadium rose to acclaim their new champion.
It had all looked very different a half hour earlier as the first-ever official world title fight to take place in Cambodia got under way.
Even after the preceding flag-waving entrance of the home fighter, an oddly subdued crowd seemed to instinctively realize that the stony-faced German was a different proposition than the poorly prepared foreign fighters that tend to come to a quick end in Phnom Penh’s boxing rings.
Their worst fears appeared to be realized as the blond-haired Ahmedi, all coiled poise, edged forward, picking off the looser-looking Vorn Viva with some well-aimed jabs and hooks.
After looking like he would be overwhelmed, Viva rallied in the second round but still looked like he was trailing as he went back to his corner.
Midway through the third round though, the crowd exploded into life as Vorn Viva took the fight thrillingly to the German, who suddenly looked rattled.
As it went into round four, the 21-year-old punished Ahmedi ruthlessly for missing a couple of spinning kick attempts. By the end of the round, the look Ahmedi gave his coach was that of a beaten man and in round five, as Vorn Viva landed a thrilling flurry of right hooks into the side of his opponent’s head, the crowd knew it too.
In the end, the international and local judges all awarded Vorn Viva the decision with a few points to spare.
Meas Chantha’s 67-kg title fight with Frankie Hudders, 32, meanwhile, was a scrappy affair with the Englishman never really at the races and surviving a standing eight-count in the fourth round.
“This was the biggest event for me, winning this belt,” Meas Chantha said later.
Though their future earning potentials are unknown this morning, some decent paydays could await Meas Chantha and Vorn Viva as reward for taking the world titles.
Both were paid just $500 for last night’s fight, compared with the $10,000 given to the incumbent champs.
In the other fights on Thursday night’s bill, Australian Jacob Marks lost narrowly to an efficient Ek Vatha in the 57-kg category, while a powerful Tim Thomas from the UK beat Pan Sophan in the 67-kg category.