It's been a few bad weeks for Thai boxing with several fighters suffering unexpected stoppage losses. There was another of those today with Indonesian youngster Iwan Zoda (7-1, 6) claiming the biggest win of his career, and picking up a WBO Pan-Pacific title with a stoppage win over Petchchorhae Kokietgym (13-1, 8). The question now needs to be asked, is Thai boxing going through a crisis, or is it just a coincidence that two previously unbeaten fighters, a highly ranked world contender and fringe contender were all beaten in the space of just a few weeks.
In the past we have bemoaned the quality of match making in Thailand. The country airs cards pretty much weekly but all too often the shows are predictable mismatches that resemble boxing's equivalent to "squash matches" found in professional wrestling. The recent run may well be a wake up call to those in Thai boxing, who have padded the records of many fighters over the years rather than really getting them to develop the skills. It may also serve as a wake up call to visitors who will have seen these results and be encouraged to fight to win rather than go into "journeyman mentality".
The best thing it could do for Thai boxing is force the match makers to change their attitude to the sport. These may be hits to their contenders and prospects but it'll serve them well and show what they need to work on in the future. Hopefully it will also lead to better match ups for their genuine contenders, such as Suriyan Sor Rungvisai who has been force fed a steady stream of weak opposition since losing to Shinsuke Yamanaka last year. Guys like Suriyan would develop much better from Nakornloung bringing in solid fighters and hopefully that will happen in the future.
The current run is unlikely to continue much longer but we've got to admit that we've enjoyed seeing fighters travel and fight to win and hopefully that will continue, win or lose. Boxing needs fighters coming to fight not just coming to make up the numbers, as fighters like Domi Nenokeba, Samuel Tehuayo, Boido Simanjuntak and Johan Wahyudi have done in recent years. Bouts with those guys have served little purpose to the men other than to notch up an easy win against an opponent unwilling to give a fight to the home guy.
All videos courtesy of the brilliant tko.in.th
*Pigmy was #5 ranked by the IBF who had the #1 and #2 spots vacant
**We did consider including Espinos Sabu's draw against Inthanon Sithchamuang on August 11th, despite the fact Sabu only got a draw. The reality however is that Sabu is another fighter who comes to win and gets our utmost respect for his attempts in the ring.
Over the last few years we've seen the Thai boxing scene hit the bottom of the barrel. At one point they had no world champions and very few fighters than any but the most hardcore of fans would recognise. Today however they find themselves mid-way through the rebuilding process. They have a couple of world champions, in the form of Amnat Ruenroeng (IBF 112) and Wanheng Menayothin (WBC 105) as well an interim champion, Knockout CP Freshmart (WBA interim 105). They also have a host of prospects and number of highly ranked contenders. In fact I'd go as far as to say Thailand is set for a Golden Age.
It probably goes with out saying that Amnat isn't the best Flyweight and neither Wanheng or Knockout is the most proven fighter at Minimumweight but all 3 are solid fighters in their own way. Amnat is a true boxer and although we assume he's going to lost his title in March to Zou Shiming he has proven himself to be a very capable boxer. Wanheng has proven to be a world class pressure fighter and appears to be getting better whilst Knockout looks like a raw but promising fighter with a lot of potential.
As for contenders the country has the destructive Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the indomitable Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, the brilliant Jomthong Chuwatana, former champions Oleydong Sithsamerchai and Pungluang Sor Singyu and contenders such as Nawaphon Por Chokchai and Paipharob Kokietgym.
I'm going to ignore those contenders and champions for now and focus on the emerging talent. The men at the beginning of their careers, the men who make up the next generation of champions and contenders.
For me the most naturally gifted Thai coming through the ranks is the baby faced Kongputorn CPFreshmart (7-0, 5). Kongputorn is the current WBC Youth Flyweight champion and a man who makes everything in the ring look natural. He combines blurring hand speed, good defence and vicious power with a really impressive ring IQ. I'm unsure on his age but with the youth title and his baby-ish looks it's clear that he's a youngster and with his potential it's clear he has the ability to go incredibly far. In regards to his competition he has been up against poor opposition but he has made his performances look so natural and destructively easy that it's impossible not to be impressed by the potential of youngster, who recently destroyed Zhang Fang Yon.
A similarly promising fighter, who also takes the CP Freshmart name, of Kongfah CP Freshmart (11-0, 6) who is the WBC Youth Light Flyweight champion. Kongfah has been battled hardened a bit more than Kongputorn, and his bout with Cris Alfante last year was a real struggle, however I can't help but be impressed by his power, especially in his uppercuts which have been potent so far as seen memorably in his bout against Sangthong Cho Pakdee. I suspect Kongfah will be a long way from a world title bout but aged just 19 I don't see any reason for his team to rush him, instead he needs to face more southpaws, like Alfante, and go up against more varying fighters to try and develop his overall experience. If he does that then he really could go a very long way.
Whilst Kongfah and Kongputorn are both aggressive and heavy handed fighters there is also a room for some lesser punchers to be involved in the conversation as Thailand develops it's newest wave of fighters. One of the most promising lighter punches is the talented and savvy Nop Kratingdaenggym (12-0, 1). Nop is fast, skilfull and unlike many Thai's he's defensively cute and capable of fighting either on the front foot or the back foot. His lack of power may become an issue but at the moment he's shown himself good enough at winning rounds to not worry too much about the stoppages.
Going back to heavier handed fighters Super Flyweight prospect Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi (7-0, 6) has really caught our eye. He's not the most defensively aware but here seems to have belief in toughness, his hand speed and his power and has shown a willingness to take one to land one at the lower levels. What has really impressed about Eaktawan is his explosiveness in combinations, similar to Kongputorn, and it was this that excited me when I saw him destroy Chamuakpetch Kor Kamolwa on his debut.
One final man that I'm excited about is the very young Stamp Kiatniwat (12-0, 5) who has shown glimpses of brilliance and is already being given tough tests on a regular basis. The first of those tests saw him beating former world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng last year, in a very testing 12 round affair, whilst already this year he has been in with Espinos Sabu, in what was a risky bit of match making against an Indonesian who really does test good opponents. At the moment Stamp does look like a boy in a man's world, albeit a very talented boy, though it's clear that this kid will develop into a very good fighter and may well be competing on the world stage before he turns 20.
Whilst it might seem silly to predict that Thailand is on the verge of a golden generation I'm pretty confident that the country is set to become a major force on the world stage in the next 5 or 6 years, especially if the fighters mentioned here can stay out of trouble and continue to develop their skills which are already very advanced for fighters at this stage in their careers.
(Image courtesy of Kongputorn CPFreshmart's facebook account)
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features