In the land where Manny Pacquiao lost his first ever fight Filipino prospect Drian Francisco faced the toughest test of his fledgling career.
Francisco is highly rated in the Philippines but was facing a serious step up in opposition when he traveled to Thailand to take on Duanpetch Kokietgym with the interim WBA World super flyweight title at stake.
Kokietgym is a veteran of 53 fights who has lost only once, back in 2007, while Francisco has a burgeoning reputation and was unbeaten in 20 fights. It was the first time that Francisco, who is currently ranked as the No. 7 super flyweight fighter by The Ring, had fought outside of his native Philippines.
In the end, the Filipino prevailed, but he had to dig deep in the face of a grueling onslaught from the experienced Thai fighter.
It was a clash of styles as Francisco looked to stay on the outside and pick his opponent apart, while Kokietgym’s tactic was to pressure the Filipino into infighting.
Francisco made the stronger start but Kokietgym came on strong in Round 3 in front of a partisan home crowd in Nong Kharn. The Filipino fighter looked extremely uncomfortable as his opponent roughed him up with a combination of legal and illegal blows.
Holding and hitting was a feature of the fight and Kokietgym also repeatedly landed intentional low blows.
In the end, this tactic probably backfired as, with Kokietgym appearing to have the momentum in a scruffy contest, the referee finally saw fit to deduct a point in Round 6.
After being given time to recover, Francisco came out all guns blazing and knocked Kokietgym down with a left-hook, right-uppercut combination.
The Thai fighter needed the full 10 seconds to recover and Francisco set about finishing the fight, dropping him towards the end of the round with another right hook.
Kokietgym was probably saved by the bell but he recovered. Round 7 saw him back on the front foot and pressuring Francisco, who looked extremely uncomfortable fighting at close range.
The knockdowns had clearly slowed the experienced Thai down but he still looked slightly the fresher of the two fighters.
Francisco came back strong in Round 8 and landed another big uppercut. He was finding a home for his right cross against the southpaw, and Kokietgym was repeatedly on the receiving end of some solid shots which, to his credit, he took well.
Another clearly deliberate low blow by the Thai fighter in Round 8 saw the fight paused yet again but surprisingly with no point deduction.
Kokietgym set about Francisco when the fight was restarted, but a straight right hand stopped him in his tracks. The Filipino probably had an insurmountable lead on the scorecards by this stage but looked visibly exhausted and slightly unsteady in his feet as the bell sounded.
It was turning into a war of attrition and Francisco probably only needed to hold on for the final four rounds to win the fight but he ended it in emphatic fashion in the ninth.
Once again, it was the right cross which did the damage, although he landed an uppercut as Kokietgym was on his way down just for good measure.
The Thai fighter was down and out for only the second time in 54 fights, and Francisco was crowned the interim WBA World super flyweight champion.
This win will probably propel him toward the upper echelon of the super flyweight rankings, but he looks a long way off being ready to challenge the likes of Vic Darchinyan.
However, Francisco deserves tremendous credit for emerging victorious in such a tough contest, particularly given that he was on the receiving end of repeated low blows and hit-and-hold tactics.