Elephant’s Leg


SIX OF THE BEST: BOXING EVENTS IN THAILAND

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)

Pongsaklek and Suriyan have a domestic

Pongsaklek and Suriyan have a domestic

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)

Champ and challenger weigh in

Champ and challenger weigh in

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)

Kompayak wins the war

Kompayak wins the war

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)

Eto fends off Kompayak

Eto fends off Kompayak

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)

The infamous "bear pit" inside Lumpinee Stadium

The old stadium

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)

Me (blue) vs Felix

Me (blue) vs Felix

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.

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See also: SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

SIX OF THE BEST: BANGKOK RESTAURANTS



SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

With late April marking the anniversary of my move to Thailand, and with this year marking my sixth anniversary, I have decided to compile a series of “Six of the Best” features encompassing my hobbies and interests, which I have enjoyed during my time here. I will start with films made in, or set in, Thailand. The list is in chronological order of the year of production.

1. MUAY THAI CHAIYA (2007)

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The first Thai film I saw after moving here remains one of my favourites. I watched Muay Thai Chaiya (simply Chaiya/ไชยา in Thai) almost as a token – “I’m in Thailand so I should watch a Thai film” – but I had a similar experience to when I watched Fight Club for the first time. Expecting a simple beat-’em-up, I was given so much more. Chaiya is, on the surface, a martial arts movie, but its narrative charts the coming of age and moral corruption of three pugilistic brothers as they move from the idyllic southern district of the film’s title to ’70s Bangkok to chase big bucks in the ring.

The three brothers’ fates take differing turns; one’s boxing career is cut short through injury, another pursues legitimate championship aspirations, and the third is drawn into Bangkok’s lucrative but increasingly dangerous underground fighting circuit. Organised crime influences all three, and their competing egos and influences make for a blood-soaked morality play of love triangles, sibling rivalries and childhood bonds. Chaiya culminates in an absurdly violent climax that some of Japan’s more notorious splatterhouse directors would be proud of, yet it is testament to director Kongkiat Khomsiri’s work that it somehow doesn’t come across as unrealistic. (Kongkiat would later direct another of my favourites, Slice – see next entry).

- Continue reading



FINAL BELL TOLLS FOR LUMPINEE BOXING STADIUM
The infamous "bear pit" inside Lumpinee Stadium

The infamous “bear pit” atmosphere inside Lumpinee Stadium

One of the world’s most iconic sports venues closed last Friday, with the ringing of the final bell for Bangkok’s Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

It was to muay Thai what Madison Square Garden is to boxing and wrestling – a venue steeped in history that fans would make pilgrimages to and competitors would dream of fighting in.

Opened in 1956, Lumpinee would go on to rival the older Rajadamnern Stadium in terms of prestige, both as a venue and a championship (the championships of Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums are among the most respected in the sport).  However, I always preferred Lumpinee. My first visit there remains one of the most vivid cultural memories I have had.

Back in 2005, while backpacking with my step-brother Andy, we attended a Lumpinee fight card just days into our two-month stint in Thailand. On a budget, we opted for the cheapest tickets, the so-called third-class section, and we were so glad we did. Continue reading



ANOTHER YEAR IN PARADISE

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.

FAMILY

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

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!

Continue reading



MOMENTS, EVENTS AND PEOPLE THAT DEFINED 2012

As the end of last year approached and people started talking resolutions and fresh starts, and so on, I thought I didn’t really have much to report from 2012. My work had remained much the same, I had no new love interests, I continued to live in the same place, I had only one visitor and I’d only taken one foreign holiday. However, I had a browse through my Facebook friends list and phone contacts to jog my memory and it turns out 2012 was actually pretty packed, albeit mostly with small moments, but perhaps a long list of different – and mostly happy – moments is a good year after all. On that note, in no particular order, I present the people, places and things that shaped the past year for me. Continue reading



TRAVEL WRITING: BUTARITARI ISLAND, KIRIBATI

Butaritari, Kiribati

As far as desirable jobs go, travel writer must be up there with sports reporter, beer taster or porn star – in other words, what could be better than to be paid for doing something you love?

So you can imagine how pleased I am to finally get published as a travel writer, in yesterday’s South China Morning Post. The piece covers a wonderful adventure I had on the remote island of Butaritari in the Republic of Kiribati.

It was a real buzz when I got the message that they had bought my article, and even more so when it was printed yesterday. While I have never (not yet?) been a porn star, and while my beer-tasting experience is extensive but never recompensed, I have done my fair share of sports reporting, namely in boxing, which is a sport I love. There was a big buzz when I made my paid-for boxing writing debut, too, but travel writing is an even bigger deal.

Continue reading



CATCHING UP: BOXING
trainer_jitti

Jitti Damriram

I had a handful of amateur boxing matches when I was teenager and the sport has remained a passion for me ever since, even though I have not competed since I was 19 – 13 long years ago! But with boxing a national obsession in Thailand, I decided to start training again last year – not with the intention of actually fighting again, but as a means to keep fit while enjoying my favourite sport.

I started attending Jitti’s Gym on Ratchadaphisek Road last October. It offers both muay Thai and western boxing tuition and boasts a number of pro fighters. The coaches are all ex-pros, most in both codes, who can speak enough English to guide the foreigners who attend. There are sessions in the mornings and afternoons, the latter of which I attend, and the workout area is in the open-air. Now, boxing training is among the most physical of sports workouts at the best of times, and the intensity increases dramatically when conducted under the blazing tropical afternoon sun – for three hours!

If anyone else is interested, I do recommend Jitti’s. It’s easy to find, very close to Ratchadaphisek subway station, and more details can be found at the gym’s website.




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