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Veeraphol on a mission in land of rising son : On March 21, 2006

Veeraphol Nakornluang may train above a cinema but he must be hoping his sequel with Japanese WBC bantamweight champion Hozumi Hasegawa this Saturday doesn't end with the same plot twist as their original meeting last April. Then, the Thai veteran travelled to Tokyo as the long-time boss of the division aiming for the 15th defence of his title against the relatively unknown young southpaw.

Twenty-five-year-old Hasegawa was a light puncher and couldn't come close to matching 37-year-old Veeraphol's credentials.

Hasegawa had won 17 fights (seven KOs) against two losses at that stage while the Nonthaburi-based boxer had reigned as a world champion for six years and had built up a worthy 47-1-2 (33 KOs) tally.

In his previous career in Muay Thai Veeraphol had won 150 of 180 contests and captured the Ratchadamnoen stadium title three times.

But boxing history is littered with accounts of old hands being toppled by those making their first tentative steps onto the world stage.

Sonny Liston was trounced by Muhammed Ali, Julio Cesar Chavez was hammered by Oscar de la Hoya and Joe Louis was destroyed by Rocky Marciano when their once-magnificent skills had been jaded with age.

Veeraphol added his own name to the list when he was expertly hustled out of his crown with a close unanimous decision at the hands of the quick-handed and fleet-footed Hasegawa.

Now the Thai aims to make amends with the rematch he has craved since that shocking upset last year.

''I didn't think he had much chance of beating me last time,'' admitted Veeraphol.

''I took him lightly and I wasn't at my best, physically or mentally.

''But I'm sure I will beat him this time. He is quick and has good basic skills but doesn't punch very hard.

''I know how quick he is and there isn't anything I can do about that, I expect him to be just as fast this time.

''I just have to make sure I make the fight how I want it.''

In the first match Hasegawa started at a blistering pace and put the first four rounds in the bag before Veeraphol finally sprang into life.

The heavy-handed Thai nearly stopped the Japanese in the middle rounds before Hasegawa gained his second wind down the stretch on the way to the 115-113, 115-113, 116-112 scoreline.

Many observers feel Veeraphol has to impose himself quickly this time and make his world-class power tell early on to have a chance of winning.

Veeraphol has beaten five men since that fateful night and all were left-handers, just like Hasegawa.

The Thai has clearly had just one thought on his mind since being beaten.

Most recently, African novice Scari Korori was blasted out in the opening round last month in Nonthaburi.

That means the married father-of-two will be sharp for the biggest fight of his life, but nobody will know until the first bell sounds whether Father Time has really caught up with the Thai legend after all those accomplished years at the top.

Hasegawa has only fought once since toppling Veeraphol, when he stopped Mexican Gerardo Martinez in seven rounds last September in the first defence of his new belt.

Veeraphol said he has watched that contest several times on video and said he was impressed with the fledgling champion's skills.

''He looked good and he looked fast,'' said the Thai.

''I know what to expect from him but I have worked out ways for me to be better this time.

''I certainly won't be giving rounds away as easily as I did before.''

The Nakornluang Promotions-sponsored fighter said if he wins this weekend in Kobe he wants to avenge a defeat suffered last October by fellow Thai Ratanachai Sor Vorapin for the WBO version of the bantamweight crown.

Ratanachai was stopped in seven rounds by Jhonny Gonzalez as part of the inaugural Country Cup against Mexico in the USA and Veeraphol is looking to even the score.

''I'd love to go to America and fight Gonzalez,'' he said.

''I've watched a lot of Thai fighters go over there and I would like to do it too.

''But first I have to beat Hasegawa and get my belt back again.

''I am going to show him that things will be different between us when we meet this time.''

Focused Veeraphol is now in Japan awaiting Saturday's big showdown _ which will be shown live on Channel 3 at 4pm.

The scene is set for another thrilling contest and fans will soon find out if Veeraphol's new plan goes to script or if he is, again, forced to play a supporting role to another superb Hasegawa performance.INDEPENDENT WORLD RANKINGS

1 Rafael Marquez (Mexico), 2 Hozumi Hasegawa (Japan), 3 Jhonny Gonzalez (Mexico), 4 Veeraphol Nakornluang (Thailand), 5 Silence Mabuza (South Africa), 7 Wladimir Sidorenko (Ukraine), 8 Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Thailand), 9 Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (Thailand), 10 Ricardo Cordoba (Panama)


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