By Derek Bonnett: The Kingdom of Thailand, once known as Siam by outsiders, is the country located at the center of the Indochinese Peninsula. It is the fifty-first largest country in the world, but rates among the twenty most populated regions in the world with approximately sixty-six million people. The capital city is Bangkok, it’s most populous. Thailand shares borders with Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Politically, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but has recent history as a parliamentary democracy and military junta, with the most recent coup taking place in 2014.
The elephant is Thailand’s national symbol. However, since 1850, the population of this animal has drastically dwindled from 100,000 to a mere 2,000 due to poaching. The primary exports which drive the Thai economy are rice, textiles, rubber, and cars. In fact, the Thai automotive industry has become the largest in Southeast Asia in 2012 with an annual output of about 1.5 million vehicles.
Thailand’s signature sport is Muay Thai which is a native form of kickboxing. Numerous participants of this sport have been able to transition to traditional boxing and earn success at both the Olympic and professional level.
Historically, Thailand has crowned fifty-two world champions in the sport of boxing since 1960. Thailand’s first world champion was Pone Kingpetch, who defeated all-time great fighters such as Pascual Perez and Fighting Harada. Kingpetch held the World Flyweight Title as well as a couple of reigns under two alphabet titles. The great Khaosai Galaxy was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999. At present, Thailand boasts two alphabet world champions both competing at 105 pounds, boxing’s lightest division for males. The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board rates seven active boxers from Thailand in their respective top-ten listings.
At this moment in time, Thailand continues to produce a number of world class fighters, who frequently contend for top honors in world title bouts. The following four boxers are the best of Thailand:
4.) Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep, 44-3-0 (29), won a number of youth and regional titles before becoming an interim titlist at flyweight. Saengthep, from Muak Lek, cruised to victory over a host of opponent level fighters such as Donny Maboa, Jack Amisa, Crison Omayao, and Jerry Tomogdan to establish himself as a contender worth watching. However, in 2013, he stopped the exciting Koki Eto in a fabulous bout to earn his interim title holder status beneath champion Juan Carlos Reveco. Saengthep, a capable body puncher like Reveco, scored his biggest win to date when he outpointed Japan’s Takuya Kogawa under narrow circumstances and scores. Saengthep received his first world championship bout against Reveco and dropped the stocky champion in round two. However, Reveco hurt Saengthep to the body in the fifth, dropping him. Saengthep rose, but was soon swarmed for a TKO loss. Saengthep, 26, has fought and won ten times since the defeat, but has not faced any world class opposition to really bolster his record other than aesthetically. Still, Saengthep is a worthy top ten contender and is presently the mandatory challenger for titlist Kazuto Ioka.
3.) Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, 41-4-1 (38), is a former flyweight titlist from Si Sa Ket, who made just one successful title defense before being dethroned narrowly by Carlos Cuadras via technical decision back in 2014. Rungvisai defeated a highly talented champion in Yota Sato to claim the title by eighth round stoppage. Sato retired following the bruising loss. Activity is Rungvisai’s game along with huge power. After winning his title in May 2013, Rungvisai fought four more times that year including his lone title defense over Hirofumi Mukai. Since his loss to Cuadras in May 2014, Rungvisai has won fourteen times including thirteen KOs. The highlight of this run is a fourth round TKO of Jose Salgado, who drew with Cuadras in a title bout. Rungvisai, 30, made his debut against Akira Yaegashi, then a former world title challenger. He met Kenji Oba in his fifth bout. Oba was just a year from a world championship bout. Once again, on March 18, Rungvisai will not be taking it easy as the number ranked challenger meets Roman Gonzalez for the title at Madison Square Garden. This will be the biggest stage for Rungvisai, but there are those backing him to unseat the Pound for Pound king.
2.) Wanheng Menayothin, 45-0-0 (17), misses the top spot, by just a hair. The Bangkok resident is thirty one and an alphabet titlist at minimumweight since dethroning Oswaldo Novoa in 2014. Menayothin has amassed six title defenses which include victories over SecondsOut and TBRB rated contenders Saul Juarez and Melvin Jerusalem to highlight his resume. However, Menayothin also hold relevant wins over Ardin Diale, Florante Condes, Crison Omayao, Jerry Tomogdan, and Go Odaira. Menayothin may not be known for his power, but he is far from a pure boxer. He can pressure his opponents and find well-placed counters in the outside. His last defense over Jerusalem was a close call, but if nothing else the champion showed there is no quit in him and he plans to reign for as long as he can. With one bout down in 2017, Menayothin has about three more to go if he sticks with his recent averages. A rematch with Jerusalem is warranted, but a unification bout with Knockout CP Freshmart is a top fight in the sport which few are talking about.
1.) Knockout CP Freshmart, 14-0-0 (6), has done as much or more as Menayothin, but on the fast track. Also a fellow titlist at minimumweight, Freshmart may not live up to his sponsor created name, but he certainly has proven himself against the best of his division in a short time and was highly overlooked as a 2016 Fighter of the Year candidate. Freshmart rose through the ranks with much attention on Channel 7 in Thailand, but his opposition was that of a young prospect until he met Carlo Buitrago of Nicaragua in 2014 to earn interim recognition. The bout was close and could have gone to the Nicaraguan, but Freshmart silenced critics in 2016 with a comprehensive victory over his rival. In addition, the Surin native defeated Byron Rojas on points for full recognition as a titlist. He capped off the year with a decision over Shin Ono. Freshmart also holds wins over once SecondsOut rated Alexis Diaz and old war-horse and former two-time champion Muhammad Rachman. Freshmart finished Diaz in four, but went the distance with the granite chinned Rachman. The natural match-up is unification and minimumweight supremacy. That can only come from a bout with Menayothin. Freshmart will fight about three times this year, but has yet to schedule his debut having just fought in December 2016.
In terms of boxing in Thailand, less (weight) is more. Some names for honorable mention are Amnat Ruenroeng whose future is still uncertain after his Olympic failure and rematch KO loss to Johnriel Casimero, but not long ago it would have possibly been his name atop the heap from Thailand. Suriyan Sor Rungvisai is on the downside of his career, but he still contends for titles with regularity and gives consistently strong efforts. Tepparith has toiled actively in obscurity since losing to Kohei Kono, but the former champion had a strong run at 115 to suggest he’s still dangerous as a bantamweight.