Singapore boxer punches above weight to reach last four
He picked up boxing only because he wanted to experience competition in a "manly" sport.
Unheralded Singapore boxer Leong Jun Hao could now find himself in the ultimate David vs Goliath scenario on Wednesday, in the final of the light welterweight (64kg) category at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
In one corner could be the 24-year-old Leong, a fitness instructor who lives in Jurong West.
In the other, Thailand's 25-year-old Asian Games champion Wuttichai Masuk.
First, though, Leong has a tricky semi-final to negotiate today against Cambodia's Ratha Ven.
"Yeah, I know if I get to the final I could face Wuttichai, but I want to take things one step at a time," said Leong yesterday, after his 2-1 quarter-final win over Malaysia's Khir Akyazlan Azmi at Expo Hall One.
"I've seen his (Wuttichai's) fights and he's very composed, a very good boxer.
"But I have the Cambodian to beat first."
Thailand boxing coach Omar Puentes Malagon was impressed by what he saw of Leong.
When The New Paper asked the Cuban what he thought of the Singaporean, he said: "The one that will fight the Cambodian tomorrow?
"I saw him, I think he can win.
"Good boxer, intelligent. If you have brains (boxing smarts), you can win."
This is Leong's second SEA Games.
In Myanmar in 2013, he lost in the quarter-final after a split decision defeat by Indonesia's Ericok Amanopunyo.
He insists he has improved.
"That SEA Games was an eye-opener," said Leong.
"I think the main difference now is my confidence level. And the fact I've gotten a lot of exposure (in international competitions) since."
Leong is one of six Singaporean boxers assured of at least a bronze medal (see list below).
The hosts' great hope for a first gold medal since 1985, bantamweight (54kg) Ridhwan Ahmad, had to contend with a spirited challenge from Cambodia's Samie Suon in his quarter-final, but a sweet uppercut in the second round and a left hook in the third gave him a unanimous win.
Ridhwan faces Thailand's King's Cup winner Tanes Ongjunta in the semi-finals today.
After two successive bronze medals, the 28-year-old is fired up to win gold on home soil, although he admitted the raucous home support yesterday took some getting used to.
"I mentally expected it, but I guess there were a few nerves," he said.
"But I stayed calm and didn't react to the crowd, and that's important. I've got to keep my cool.
"I'm here to go all out, and I'm going to test (Tanes) with whatever I've got - skill, willpower, heart... Hopefully it's my destiny to win gold."
SINGAPOREANS IN TODAY'S SEMI-FINALS
- Women's light-flyweight (45-48kg): Leona Hui v Josie Gabuco (Phi) - 2pm
- Women's flyweight (51kg): Ang Fen Ni v Nguyen Thi Yen (Vie) - 2.30pm
- Men's flyweight (52kg): Hanurdeen Hamid v Maung Nge (Mya) - 4.30pm
- Men's bantamweight (56kg): Ridhwan Ahmad v Tanes Ongjunta (Tha) - 6.15pm
- Men's light welterweight (64kg): Leong Jun Hao v Ratha Ven (Cam) - 7.15pm
- Men's welterweight (69kg): Tay Jia Wei v Henrique Pereira (Tls) - 7.30pm