I REMEMBER YO SAM CHOI
By Jonathan Davis
Sun, 06 Jan 2008
Yo Sam Choi, the former WBC Junior Flyweight Champion, died Wednesday night after being in a coma since retaining his WBO International Flyweight Title with a hard fought decision win over Indonesian Heri Amol. He collapsed shortly after his hands were raised in victory.
I first met Yo Sam Choi on September 15, 2007 during the weigh-in at a plush Korean Hotel in Gwangjingu, that I could not recall the name. He was contesting with Thailand?s Terdkiet Jandaeng for the then vacant WBO International Flyweight Championship, and I was appointed as a neutral judge. WBO Asia Pacific chair Leon Panoncillo recommended me for my first ever assignment in South Korea. I clearly remembered this small boxer, Yo Sam Choi, smiling, very friendly, confidently winging his fists, and moving from table to table, greeting friends, and bowing respectfully to officials and dignitaries. Then, someone motioned him to me, and as he slowly walked to my table and all eyes followed him, I felt uneasy because I wasn?t dressed for the occasion. The handler who fetched us from my hotel told us we will be just witness the weigh-in. As it turned out, the press conference immediately followed the weigh-in and everybody were in formal attire. I was in t-shirt and slacks. I remember later what my Thai colleague, Sawaeng Thaweekoon advise me, that ?when in Korea, just be prepared always, because you won't know what the organizers will have for you?.
When he was finally there, in front of my table, he smiled and gave me a very sincere and respectful look, then bowed. Then, he went and resumed with his usual cheerful self, waving his fists in the air. When, it was his time to talk, he drew the most applause interrupting his speech from time to time. He was well liked. I began to have a special liking for that boy afterwards. He was happy and so full of life, hardly showing anything suicidal or someone depressed and so scared to be lonely, contrary to what will be read later on in his diary after his death.
The next day, September 16, 2007, we were fetched at 6:30 in the morning in the hotel. This time, I wised up, and brought my coat and tie as we went to the gym. After a slew of advertisements and promotional announcements, the fights started, and two bouts later, Yo Sam Choi went up the ring for a foray at the vacant WBO International Flyweight crown. It was a close and bruising scuffle for 12 rounds with Yo Sam Choi winning with lopsided scores on all judges? cards, 120-107, 120-108, and in my score 119-108.
Atty. Epie Almeda?s gem of an article last December in Philboxing, so clearly explains how closely contested 10 or 12 rounds surprisingly end in blowout scores. What impressed me with Yo Sam Choi, was the speed he sustained for all of 12 rounds. The perpetual motion was hardly expected from the legs of an aging and comebacking warrior of 35 years old.
For a souvenir, I brought home a big poster of the fight, which I pasted inside my dresser. Other than it conveniently covered some pockmarks in the closet wall, I really can?t understand why I put it there. But somehow, it built a bond between Yo Sam Choi and me as I see his face everyday as I dress up for my office.
Three months later, I got an email from his Manager/Promoter, Hoya, who was scouting for a challenger for his ward?s first title defense. I said I would refer his request to my godson Salven Lagumbay, who has good rapport with the biggest managers and promoters all over the country.
Then, last December 25, 2007, I read the sad news that he was in coma following a knockdown in the dying seconds of the final round, and the sadder news the next day, that he was pronounced brain dead, and finally, the bleakest news, that he died, after being removed from the ventilator.
The Korean Times reported that Choi's heart, kidneys, liver and corneas were transplanted to patients on the Korean Network for organ sharing patient list. In life, he had given so much of himself to others; his gift of boxing skills to adoring fans, in death, he gave even more. He gave part of himself that others may continue to live.
Reflecting back, there are questions, I asked Salven to help me find the answers.
What, if we?re able to accommodate his manager?s request and he had fought one of our top-notch boxers instead of the Indon Hery Amol? Would the tragedy been averted and he would still have been alive today? He seemed to thrive on tough challengers, who bring the best out of him. He won the WBC Junior Flyweight crown from the very tough Saman Sorjaturong of Thailand, and handed our Bert Batawang his first loss. Yet, inexplicably, he lost to Federico Catubay. Maybe, he was the type of champion who fights to the level of his opponents. Personally, I felt, there were tougher foes for him than Hery Amol.
We may never find the answers. The boxing world has seen the last of Yo Sam Choi, a boy who wanted simple things in life, but who has instead carved a greater than life legacy as a boxer. His mother was quoted as saying, he lived a very hard life, I hope he will now go to a place he can rest and find peace. I wish the same prayer for Yo Sam Choi.
Editor's note: The author, Jonathan Davis, is a well-accomplished banker. He is the Assistant Vice-President and Area VI Coordinator of Banco Filipino whose duty is to oversee operations for all branches in the entire Cebu area. When he is not too busy as a banker, he finds time as a boxing judge, and has extensively travelled in Asia officiating big bouts. Mr. Davis is set to be permanently based in the US this year, and hopes to still get himself involved in boxing.
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