21 Sep 2007

What began with warm handshakes just before daybreak at Suvarnabhumi airport five days earlier ended in a crushing defeat in the chilly Los Angeles evening air.
The baying crowd around me rejoiced as Dutch heavyweight Ricardo van den Boss knelt on the canvas cupping his bleeding and battered head in his gloved hands.
Referee Dej `Nokweed' Sriampai waved the contest over while ringside physician Dr Paul Wallace rushed to tend to the stricken fighter.
In the other corner, hard-hitting American Shane 'Rocky' del Rosario celebrated wildly with his team at the unexpected capture of the WBC Muay Thai heavyweight title.
Two one-sided rounds and three knockdowns meant van den Boss dream had evaporated as though it never existed.
Although I was there to impartially report on the fights I couldn't help but share in his despair.
In the early hours of the previous Tuesday morning, I had just stepped out of my taxi at Suvarnabhumi airport when van den Boss' trainer Pieter Hoovers shouted my name.
We had all met briefly at a press conference in Bangkok a few weeks before but were now heading to the USA together in search of the biggest prize in WBC Muay Thai.
Since that moment, the three of us spent most of the trip together, eating, sightseeing and attending the various formalities required before fight night.
WBC middleweight champion Lamsongkram Chuwattana had been forced to delay his journey due to visa problems while super-featherweight ruler Kaew Fairtex headed to San Francisco instead to prepare for the outdoor bill at the Normandie Casino.
That left Pieter, Ricardo and I heading on a trip into the unknown in Los Angeles following a laborious passage through LAX airport.
Anyone who complains about the minor niggles at Suvarnabhumi should experience LAX, where everybody was shouted at by a series of obese American women while being herded into immigration lines that took almost two hours to clear.
Once that arduous process was navigated, and our check-in at the Hilton was complete, there was time to relax by the pool to try and stave off jet-lag.
Talk centred on the fight, with Hoovers guiding Ricardo through a number of scenarios while the fighter listened intently.
Ricardo was almost devoid of emotion when talking about the bout and spoke in simple, pragmatic terms of how he was going to win and what victory could mean in the long term.
There was no evidence of nerves, fear or excitement in his tone - only practicality centred on a job that needed doing.
French fighters Yohan Lidon (who was going to tackle Lamsongkram) and Fabio Pinca arrived later in the day along with Belgium's Jan van Denderen.
After snatching a few hours sleep, I woke up at 5am on the Wednesday and decided to go for a walk.
There was a 24 hour fast food restaurant close to the hotel and I ducked inside for a coffee and burrito. As I looked around for a place to sit I saw a familiar figure - Hoovers was already in there, nursing a hot drink and contemplating the coming events.
The Dutch trainer - who owns the Hoek van Holland cafe in Jomtien - has spent more than 20 years involved in Muay Thai and his stories fascinated me.
Soon it was time to travel with the fighters to San Pedro for their medical examinations.
In most places heartbeats and pulse rates are checked and that is it.
In California, the process took five hours and included mathematical questions, in-depth eye examinations as well as tests for all kinds of banned substances.
When that was completed everyone attended the press conference at the casino in the evening.
This was the first time van den Boss and Rosario - as well as the other fighters - had come face to face and the tension in the air was palpable.
Sneaky glances were exchanged with everyone trying not to appear too interested while sizing up their opponents.

There were civilized handshakes, cursory greetings and wishes of good luck but the reason why everybody was there lurked heavily in the background.
With Lamsongkram and Kaew missing, most of the attention focused on van den Boss and Rosario. They eclipsed nearly everyone else in the room and looked physically even, both standing around 191cm and weighing 101kg.

Rosario gave me a nod as I walked by and we had a brief chat. He was polite but had the unmistakable confidence of a man who knew his trade. I realised then that Ricardo had a real fight on his hands.
Many people in the room knew each other from trips to train in Thailand, or from other fights around the world, and friendships were renewed.
Popular Glendale gym owner Ed Tarverdyan was booked to fight Ben Yelle for the US welterweight championship on the bill and his team invited Ricardo for a light training session at their gym the following day.
What happened there considerably boosted confidence in Ricardo's chances of victory.
After a short time hitting the bags, trainer George Bastrmajyan elected to hold the pads while van den Boss practiced leg kicks.
Dull thuds accompanied every sweep of the Dutchman's thick shins before he unleashed a kick with full force that lifted Bastrmajyan right off the ground and sent him sprawling onto the floor.
It was an ominous sign and raised everyone's spirits significantly. There was no way Rosario could stand up to that, surely.

After a short trip around some of the tourist attractions Ricardo and I headed out to Santa Monica beach, while Pieter returned to the hotel.
There was hardly any talk about the fight. It was looming and important that van den Boss was distracted away from what was to come.
An Apple i-Phone store provided all the diversion we needed as we marvelled at the new technology.
Friday was much of the same, with a trip to Venice Beach following breakfast with Lamsongkram, his manager Takashi Aoshima and his promoter Chujaroen Raweearamwong.
The day of the fight was soon upon us all, and most chose to relax and count down the hours until we had to take the short journey back to the casino.
It wasn't long before everybody was back together, only this time the atmosphere was muted and serious.
Hand wraps were applied and final words of encouragement given.
I wished Ricardo luck and then went outside to take my ringside seat to prepare for the action. He was on first and the MC whipped the crowd up to make sure they were excited when the boxers emerged from the tunnel.
Van den Boss was first and looked his usual calm self. Rosario followed and although I sensed he was more nervous I was careful not to read too much into it.
Nervous energy can fire a fighter with real intensity if it is harnessed properly.
Yet despite the months - years even - of physical preparation and the endless intricate talk of tactics, Ricardo failed to get to grips with a lightning start from the American.
In so many fights the very first exchange plays an incredibly significant role and Boss was immediately bossed by the American southpaw with a series of hard left hands.
The Dutchman, who had trained at Fairtex in Pattaya, absorbed several more and was cut by a headbutt before the first round ended.

Two heavy knockdowns followed in the second round but brave van den Boss clambered to his feet to continue. Although he was being physically broken, he refused to give up and showed the true heart of a fighter to continue.
Just as it seemed he would make it to the temporary sanctuary of the interval, he was nailed by another hard left before a knee to the head put paid to his challenge.
There were to be no goodbyes as Ricardo and Pieter left immediately for the airport to return to Thailand while I remained at ringside to watch the rest of the card.
Lamsongkram and Kaew won in style but my mind couldn't banish the image of van den Boss being beaten so emphatically.
It had been an honour to spend time alongside him and my hope is that somewhere down the line this impressive young fighter will get the chance to show what he is really capable of.
That is the least his talent and dedication to Thailand's national sport deserves.

Writtten by : Julian Turner of the Bangkok Post daily newspaper

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