Forced to re-earn rightful title shot, Zamboanga suffers controversial defeat
The pain of defeat, of a campaign’s abrupt end, was still raw when Denice Zamboanga virtually took on reporters’ questions on Saturday midnight from her hotel room in Singapore.
“I’m speechless right now,” she said.
The top-ranked contender was made to run the gauntlet in an Atomweight Grand Prix just to challenge champion Angela Lee, a privilege she already had back in late 2020 but lost through no fault of hers—Lee went on hiatus because she got pregnant.
Zamboanga took on the challenge but lost in controversial fashion to Korean Seo See Ham, one of the deadliest strikers in Asia, in the all-female Empower card at the Singapore Indoor Stadium late Friday night.
“If they can review [the] fight and they can redecide who really won, that would be great,” said the 24-year-old Filipino, her voice creaking.
Zamboanga lost to Seo by way of split decision despite an assertive showing across all rounds, shooting for one takedown after another and even connecting a couple of crisp strikes.
But all of those—along with an emphatic double leg takedown—hardly convinced two of the three judges of the bout.
“For me, I really did my best—and everything. Even if you (guys) reviewed the fight, she didn’t do anything,” Zamboanga said.
“I had the control. I even took (away) her striking. I still can’t believe it,” she added.
The result raised eyebrows on social media as well, with some foreign fight scribes even awarding the fight to Zamboanga, who entered the clash with an immaculate 8-0 pro record.
There was, however, no doubt in Seo’s mind that she won the contest.
“I really don’t understand why this is causing some controversy,” the Korean ace said with the aid of a translator.
“Just look at our faces,” she noted in reference to the gash in Zamboanga’s forehead. “Faces speak the result.”
It is worth noting, however, that cut on Zamboanga was the result of an inadvertent butting of heads and not anything inflicted by Seo.
The Asian promotion uses the global martial arts ruleset, which scores a fight in its entirety, as opposed to judges scoring the fight round-by-round. ONE judges’ criteria are as follows: near knockout, damage, striking and ground control, with takedowns and aggression bearing least weight.
“In my opinion I think she (Zamboanga) should go and study the rules first,” Seo said.
“Because if she knows the rules from the start to the end, I believe she would agree I won the fight,” she added.
Chatri Sityodtong, ONE’s founder and head honcho who is usually quick to share his postfight thoughts on Facebook, has yet to comment on the contest.
It could be recalled that Sityodtong also invoked the global ruleset during the third flyweight title clash between Team Lakay’s Geje Eustaquio and Adriano Moraes back in January 2019.
“I had Geje winning a very close fight until the moment where Adriano locked on the kneebar,” he once wrote in a lengthy post. “Adriano won the fight on that kneebar (because the rest of the fight was very close). If you see the criteria above, a near KO or submission is the most important criteria (apart from an actual KO or submission).”
Lee was expectedly closely monitoring the fight. She was, however, not one to add salt to Zamboanga’s wounds despite their storied history of talking trash.
“This is why it’s important to always finish your opponent and never leave it in the hands of the judges,” Lee wrote on Instagram.
Interestingly, it was nearly the exact quote from Zamboanga, who remains hopeful that a crack at the belt still comes her way.
Zamboanga is expected immediately return to Thailand, her current stomping ground, and undergo mandatory quarantine. But isolation is the farthest from her mind.
“I will spend the quarantine eating a lot of donuts,” she said.
When asked about how soon she expects to be back in the ONE circle, the Quezon City native said, “tomorrow.”
Earlier that night, Filipino-American Jackie Buntan claimed her third straight pro victory in the Muay Thai event at the expense of Daniela Lopez.
Meanwhile, Xiong Jing Nan retained her strawweight title with a one-sided performance against multitime jiujitsu world champion Michelle Nicolini.
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