Now that 2016 is in the books, Combat Press is taking a look back at the best that the sport of kickboxing had to offer. Over the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the ring to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.

Robbery of the Year – Yi Long vs. Buakaw Banchamek

The “Robbery of the Year” comes to us from Wu Lin Feng, a promotion notorious for putting its homegrown talent above any respect for sportsmanship. It may be harsh to say such a thing, but let’s make one thing clear: the promotion has a history of putting entertainment and promotion over genuine sporting values. These actions have drawn so much negative attention that fans have contacted us with their displeasure of clear favoritism, and promotions have attempted to distance themselves from Wu Lin Feng’s partisanship toward its top Chinese stars. Not only is the winner of this award a Wu Lin Feng bout, but the promotion has another entrant among the top five candidates, and the same fighter is involved in both.

Yi Long, also known as the “Shaolin Monk,” has become a household name in his home country of China. He began his fighting career in 2009, but made his rise to fame after defeating former Rajadamnern and Thailand champion Kem (formerly Sitsongpeenong) with his unique fighting style in a closely contested fight. He picked up big wins and continued to grow his star power under the Wu Lin Feng banner. The promotion has fully invested in “The Fighting Shaolin Monk” product, with reports of a six-figure salary per fight. That relationship has led to some less than authentic decisions in favor of the company’s star over the past few years.

Long lost his first meeting with the legendary Buakaw Banchamek (formerly Por. Pramuk) in a bout dubbed the “Fight of the Century.” The fight featured a number of exciting exchanges with the former multiple-time K-1 MAX champion Buakaw getting the better of a large majority of the exchanges throughout the three-round affair. The rematch was a much-anticipated bout for most of the Chinese faithful, as Long’s career has been riddled with second bouts with familiar foes. The fight was billed as the “Fight of the Century 2” and was accompanied by a reality TV show surrounding two of the most popular fighters in the country.

The second fight played out not unlike the first. In the first bout, Long started every round off strong. He threw hard combinations, but their effectiveness dwindled as the seconds ticked off the clock. Buakaw endured the initial onslaught and completely controlled the exchanges in all three rounds, with his work in the first and second round being the most one-sided in his favor. Despite controlling much of the first battle between them, Buakaw wasn’t confident as the cards were read. However, Buakaw was rightfully awarded the decision with two rounds clearly in his control.

As the rematch began, the story hadn’t changed from their first match-up. Buakaw was still the faster, sharper, more skillful fighter. The Muay Thai legend expertly evaded Long’s aggressive attacks and began to counter with beautiful strikes while displaying excellent defense. Buakaw found a home for his massive arsenal of offensive attacks. He made Long over-extend and leave an opening to pounce. Buakaw went to the body with a powerful left knee, a solid right middle kick and multiple switch left kicks to the body. He found Long’s chin with his front kick and more than a few well-timed counter left hooks and right hands. As the first round came to a close, there was no doubt that Buakaw was running away with the fight, an even more impressive performance than in their first encounter.

Buakaw came out aggressively in the second frame. He took advantage of Long’s sluggishness against the ropes and threw a high-flying double knee before continuing to push forward with strikes. Buakaw’s slick movements were on full display when he made Long miss and then fired back with his own attacks that stung his opponent to the body. Buakaw returned his aim to Long’s head in the latter part of the round with an emphasis on throwing head kicks in between his consistent strikes to punish his opponent’s body. The defensive aptitude of Buakaw opened up his opportunities to score.

Heading into the final round, the rematch seemed even more one-sided than the first fight. Long had a sense of urgency once the third round began. That didn’t help him solve the puzzle of the current Kunlun Fight Muay Thai champion. As the round transpired, the common theme in the fight continued: Long attacked, but Buakaw moved and scored more efficiently and effectively. Buakaw continued his domination as he tossed Long around the ring despite the referees frequent warnings to both fighters. Buakaw won the fight on his consistent and damaging middle kicks, effective counter striking and supreme defensive awareness and ability to minimize damage absorbed. However, the judges were watching a different fight. Long stole the unanimous decision victory on a night when a judge gave him every round.

Egregious decisions like this are not uncommon in the kickboxing world, and the evidence that judging will improve in the future has yet to be seen, especially after multiple questionable decisions and missed knockdown calls at one of Wu Lin Feng’s biggest events of the year. There is hope for the future, though. Promotions like Enfusion and Lion Fight have had controversial decisions overturned either through appeal or commission re-evaluation in 2016. The hope is that scorecard consistency reaches every country of the world, especially ones that hold such potential for the future as China.

Other finalists: Yi Long over Enriko Kehl (Glory of Heroes 1), Filip Verlinden vs. Ibrahim El Boustati (Enfusion Live 41, Fang Bian over Cedric Doumbe (Wu Lin Feng Championship 2016), and Kronphet Petrachapet over Gaston Bolanos (Lion Fight 27)

Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2016 Kickboxing Award winners.