Filed under: Culture, Expat life, People, Six of the best, Sport | Tags: Adrian Broner, Adrian Hernandez, amateur boxing, Arturo Gatti, Bangkok, Bangkok Throwdown, boxing, boxing training, charity, combat sports, Dusit Thani, Dusit Thani Hotel, Edgar Sosa, Felix Schrick, flyweight, Japan, Koki Eto, Kompayak Porpramook, Kostya Tszyu, Lion's Head, Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, Lumpini, Marcos Maidana, Mexico, muay Thai, Operation Smile, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Ricky Hatton, Si Sa Ket, Sport, Sukhumvit, Sukhumvit Road, Suriyan Por Chokchai, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Thailand, The Lab, training, WBC
Continuing my “Six of the best” series marking my six years in Thailand, I present my pick of boxing matches and events I have experienced while living here (in date order).
1. PONGSAKLEK WONJONGKAM v SURIYAN SOR RUNGVISAI (October 8, 2010)
This rare all-Thai derby unfolded in deepest rural Si Sa Ket, with established legend Pongsaklek fending off a ferociously dogged challenge from young upstart Suriyan. It was expected to be a comfortable afternoon’s work for the massively more experienced WBC flyweight champion Pongsaklek, but Suriyan – little-known at the time, and fighting as Suriyan Por Chokchai – fought his heart out, pushing the older boxer to the brink over 12 exhausting rounds. Such was the level of desire exhibited by Suriyan – just 21 at the time – that when his body verged on collapse to the point that he vomited in the ring – and over Pongsaklek – in the midst of a draining 10th round, he took only the slightest of pauses before waging back into battle.
At the time, the feeling was that Pongsaklek must have past his peak to have been pushed so hard by the unheralded youngster, but in fact he would go on to score one of the signature wins of his career (see No. 2), while Suriyan would refine his crudely effective aggression and end up winning a world title of his own.
2. PONGSAKLEK WONJONGKAM v EDGAR SOSA (October 21, 2011)
I was privileged to be ringside for Pongsaklek’s last great performance. As ever, the vultures were circling, ready for the fall of an ageing champion thought to be ripe pickings. Sosa, a former world titleholder himself and top-5 mainstay, represented Pongsaklek’s sternest challenge in years, and was seen by the majority as favourite to unseat the greatest Thai champion of his time.
But Pongsaklek, at 34, put on a marvelous mix of effective aggression and crisp counter-punching, bulwarked by sharp defensive reflexes that had Sosa missing by fractions. By the end of the 12 rounds, the Mexican challenger had long since been drained by his frequently futile attempts at offence, and by the punishment he had received in return, and Pongsaklek was a handsome winner on the cards. It would be his last world championship victory.
3. ADRIAN HERNANDEZ v KOMPAYAK PORPRAMOOK (December 23, 2011)
There are some fights when one boxer just won’t be denied, regardless of what the form book suggests. Examples such as Ricky Hatton suffocating Kostya Tszyu and, more recently, Marcos Maidana running over Adrian Broner spring to mind when thinking of how a lesser skilled boxer can beat one with seemingly all the advantages just by the sheer force of his will. And yet, Kompayak’s breathtaking rout of defending WBC light-flyweight champion Hernandez trumped even them.
Kompayak would go on to have a vulnerable world-level career afterwards, and Hernandez would gain emphatic revenge 10 months later, but the Thai’s title-winning performance was the result of one man just refusing to be beaten. Kompayak exhibited a cast-iron chin, walking through tremendous offence to land even better of his own, but Hernandez’s greater skill and sharpness threatened over and over again to put him on the ascendancy.
In an unrelenting contest fought under the unforgiving afternoon sun, Kompayak finally cracked the Mexican once their war dragged on into the deep end. A furious assault that should not have been possible after such effort had already been expended dropped Hernandez in the 10th, and having given so much himself, hauling his body back up was beyond his capabilities.
4. KOMPAYAK PORPRAMOOK v KOKI ETO (August 1, 2013)
Watching how Kompayak won his first title, and how he defended it, two things were clear. One, I could imagine him losing to a more skilled boxer, but I certainly couldn’t imagine losing to someone who worked harder than him. But that’s exactly what Eto did.
The Japanese challenger boasted a six-inch height advantage and a prohibitive reach, yet he inexplicably chose to slug it out with the squat Thai, trading rapid combinations. His edge in speed got the better of Kompayak’s extra power, which at times threatened to cancel the looming upset. But Eto never wavered, and inexplicably never tired.
Many foreign boxers have wilted under the Bangkok sun in these draining open-air afternoon fights, but Eto not only lasted the distance with ease, he even finished stronger than the local. Perhaps all the hard fights finally caught up with Kompayak, but it was a magnificent effort from both men, with Eto’s workrate at times jaw-dropping, and Kompayak pouring Arturo Gatti-like levels of heart and resiliency into proceedings.
In some ways, I selfishly wanted to see a rematch, but in other ways, it is a relief that Kompayak hasn’t fought since, enjoying a very well-earned rest, or perhaps even an as-yet unannounced retirement.
5. FINAL NIGHT AT LUMPINEE BOXING STADIUM (February 7, 2013)
Lumpinee Stadium was one of the country’s two most historic muay Thai venues. It closed earlier this year, but not before hosting a gala farewell promotion.
The name and championship lineage continues at a new site, but a modern facility can’t possibly replicate the history and atmosphere of the creaking old stadium.
I covered the last night at Lumpinee in full detail in a previous post.
6. BANGKOK THROWDOWN 2014 (June 13, 2014)
For personal reasons, this was a landmark event (and the reason for the pause in posts in my Six of the Best series). This night represented my return to competitive boxing after 17 years out of the ring. While I have trained on and off for most of my adult life, I’d not had an actual match since way back in 1997. My more relaxed working schedule in Thailand, combined with the number and quality of boxing gyms in Bangkok, combined to allow me to pursue the sport diligently once again after moving here, culminating in a match at this inaugural promotion at The Lab gym on Sukhumvit Road.
Bangkok Throwdown was the latest boxing event staged to raise money for the excellent children’s charity Operation Smile Thailand, the local branch of an outfit which provides free surgery to poor children afflicted with cleft lips and palates. Previously, three annual gala events have been held at the Dusit Thani Hotel, and while The Lab’s fight night was of a smaller scale, it nevertheless did handsome business for Operation Smile and proved a popular night out for those in attendance.
As for my part, I fought a stablemate called Felix Schrick. In case you don’t know the result, I won’t spoil the video below, but I enjoyed the match and all the training leading up to it, and felt honoured to do something for a humbling charity which does such good, literally life-changing, work. With The Lab now expanding its combat sports schedule, as well as the recent opening of Lion’s Head, a rarity in that it’s a gym dedicated to western boxing in a land where there’s a muay Thai facility in every neighbourhood, amateur boxing is finally on the up in Bangkok, and I’m very happy to be a part of it.
See also: SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES
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Sorry to use a cliché, but the past 12 months have continued to be spent in tropical Thailand, and while Bangkok lacks the beaches and tranquility that most would associate with an earthly Eden, it has, for the most part, been a year that was good to me.
What a shame that the country’s political scene is once again threatening to spoil 2014 almost as soon as it starts, but for now my focus is on what did happen, rather than what might, as I sum up 2013.
Thankfully, all my loved ones remained fit and well last year, including my three 80-something grandparents. Most importantly, my Scottish Grandma, who has always been full of vigour, has remained so since the death of Grandpa in 2012. If anything, she has thrived, having now been freed from the duties of caring for him virtually full time in the decade or so before he passed away. She has travelled, met her great-grandchildren and been busier than ever in her community. On top of this, when I visited her in June, we enjoyed some brisk walks amid the glorious Highland scenery and she set a pace that would put many people half her age to shame. Long may this continue!
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Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.
My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading
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Everybody needs somebody… to look down on, and few lifeforms get less respect than the lowly tourist. In Bangkok, they are easy to spot – bright pink skin, dripping in sweat, wearing a Chang Beer T-shirt and scratching their heads over folding maps and the BTS ticketing system. Tourists are naïve, vulnerable, confused and trusting – everything that the noble expat is not! But to the average Thai conman and opportunist, every foreigner is a potential tourist, and to every tourist, anyone of their same colour is likely one of their kin. But the resident farang is a wiser, nobler and all-round higher class of foreigner, and we must flaunt our status with our behaviour and habits. However, this is something that can only be cultivated over time, with experience – unless you consult my handy guide to…
10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS
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If it’s the people that make a place, then Ko Lanta’s beauty is merely superficial.
An Andaman Sea island district in Krabi province, inevitably it boasts clean, warm sea water, miles of beaches, countless palm trees and a laidback atmosphere that attracts many visitors.
However, such assets lose their allure once a visitor experiences human failings on Lanta that range from merely unprofessional through to dangerous and even criminal.
I love Krabi. In fact, I’d probably rank it my favourite Thai province outside of Bangkok. So I will doubtless return, although I’ll lose no sleep if I never set foot on Lanta again after a shambolic final day which involved worry, danger, frustration, anger and eventually the police.
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“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown, around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel. Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.
There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.
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Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.
For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.
Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.