When we first started this site, heading towards over 6 years ago now, the Thai boxing scene was one of the most active. In 2013 there was 148 shows in the country, many of those were televised with, Channel 7 (CH7) showing fights pretty much weekly and Channel 3 (CH3) also doing regular broadcasts.
To put that number into some perspective Japan had 233 shows in 2013, Philipines had 126, Indonesia had 95 and South Korea had 31.
There wasn't just an incredible level of activity but that activity was mostly about developing fighters as part of the next wave of the Thai boxing scene. An example of that was between January 25th and January 28th 2014 there was fights for Yodmongkol Vor Saenghtep, Wanheng Menayothin, Petch Sor Chitpattana, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Nawaphon Por Chokchai.These men were allowed to be active, were allowed to fight frequently on television shows and build their profiles.
In that year alone Wanheng and Srisaket, two of the biggest Thai names right now, each fought 7 times. They weren't the only busy fighters, but are certainly the two who appear to have benefited the most from that high level of activity.
As well as the emerging fighters, which also included Amnat Ruenroeng and Knockout CP Freshmart, we also saw the end of the legendary Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, who fought 3 bouts during the year before his retirement. Yes he came back in 2018 for 2 bouts, including the infamous rematch with Koki Kameda, but his career really ended in 2013. Like wise it was the last year that Denkaosan Kaovichit scored a win of note,
It was a transition year for the country, but a great year all the same, and a year that gave us some amazing fights, such as Kompayak Porpramook's FOTY contender with Koki Eto, and the entertaining bout between and Pornsawan Porpramook abd Rey Loreto.
At the time it seemed like the Thai scene, along with the Filipino and Japanese scenes, was amazingly healthy and as we entered 2014 we also seemed to be on the verge of a break out year for Fahlan Sakkreerin, Jr, who had stopped Ryo Miytazaki in Japan at the very end of 2013.
Sadly though things have gone backwards for Thai boxing since then. Activity has dropped, with no year since ever having the same amount of shows. Although 2015 boasted 140 cards that numbers declined to just 99 in 2016 and 2017 wasn't much better with 105. Although it climbed slightly in 2018, when there was 115, it was still a massive reduction from what we had seen just 5 years earlier.
That decline is despite the huge success of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the 52 fight unbeaten streak of Wanheng and the emergence of Knockout CP Freshmart.
Worryingly yet, there has only been 31 Thai shows this year as we write this. That's less than 8 a month and it doesn't appear that the trend is set to change, in fact the upcoming scheduled seems to be worryingly scarce. We are well on course for the lowest number Thai shows since the millenium, and we need to go all the way back to 1998 for a year with less than 8 shows a month. That was a year where there was only 71 shows in Thailand, and even then there was unique circumstances behind things. After all 1998 was a year that had followed a massive financial crisis through out Asia, a financial crisis which began in 1997 in Thailand.
Thailand has long been one of the Asian boxing powerhouses, but right now it's a country floundering and a country that is paying for it's mistakes in the sport. Despite the attention given to Srisaket.
For years it has delivered awful match ups, packing records with wins, but not developing fighters. The focus has seemingly been to turn away from fighters carrying the name of top gyms, and instead to carrying the name of a sponsor, showing a shift in focus. Gone are the days of regularly seeing fighters reprresent OnesongChaigym, Kokietgym and Kratingdaenggym, and now are the days of seeing fighters carrying names like CP Freshmart or Ruawaiking. There are a few exceptions, but the gym names being part of a fighters identity are a lot rarer than they used to be.
The TV companies, including long time boxing support CH7, have gradually changed their view on the sport. In fact CH7 have changed their policy on the sport so much that what were once weekly broadcasts are now a near rarity, with the channel only airing world title bouts. We've gone from having shows aired on different channels at the same time, to waiting weeks for a televised show, and even longer for one with some intrigue. The main channels of the past have fallen by the say side in some ways and been over-taken by a relative new comer who have raised the production standards and quality expected of a Thai show
That new channel is WorkPoint, who have really managed to step in, put money into the sport and been putting in what resembles quality control. That had been lacking at times, but was really needed when they moved into the sport last year. In 2018 Work Point put on 11 shows under their "WP Boxing" banner, and despite not always being huge shows, they were consistently worth watching. They were different to what other channels were putting on, and were a shining light in what was becoming a rather dark and dreary Thai sign.
With Workpoint it's not all doom and gloom, and boxing in Thailand isn't dead. It's not like Korea, where it's hanging on by it's finger nails. But it is hard in seeing what the next wave of Thai contenders is going to look like, and just how long their top names of today can remain relevant.
At the moment the top 3 fighters in Thailand are Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who is 32, Wanheng Menayothin, who is is 33, and Knockout CP Freshmart, who is 28. Srisaket, of course, lost last time out to Juan Franisco Estrada, Wanheng is 52-0 but is showing signs of aging in recent fights and will likely see his perfect record come to an end sooner rather than later, and Knockout has bored fans with dull performances.
Aside from the top 3 it's really unclear what is actually worth caring about in the Thai scene.
Their are prospects, like Apichet Petchmanee, Singsayan CP Freshmart, up coming world title challenger Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart and Chainoi Worawut and Thanongsak Simsri but they are few and far between. To get big bouts they will need to travel, their is little money backing the prospects and securing home advantage against good journeymen, gatekeepers and fellow hopefuls. If these fighters can get the bouts they need they could give us towards a new era in Thai boxing, but the feeling is that they won't be given the development match ups they need. They will either pad their records, and climb the rankings on the back of a lengthy unbeaten run, or be thrown to the wolves.
There is also the worrying trend for Thai fighters to be on the way down at a young age. The promising Fahlan Jr is looking to be on the slide at just 25 years old whilst the once touted Stamp Kiatniwat, at just 21, is looking like his career might be over before many fighters even turn pro.
Whilst there is clearly a lot to the downfall in the Thai scene, despite the huge success of Srisaket, the main thing is that it's happening, and that it's clearly happening. This isn't some gradual thing, but is something that is happening alarmingly fast. The change in CH7's policy is a big change, but the downturn was happening well before that, though it is hard to pin point when this downturn began. In fact it is likely a combination of the issues we've mentioned and a lot more.
There is, of course, one thing we've not yet mentioned, and that is the effect of ONE, which held it's first show in Thailand in 2016, the same year that there was less than 100 boxing shows in Thailand. The competition from other combat sports, including the traditional Muay Thai, is there and no longer is boxing the best alternative source of income for a top Muay Thai fighter who can join something like ONE. It's also worth noting that in 2013 the Sports Authority of Thailand lifted a ban on MMA, which may also have played a notable role in the decline of boxing.
It's hard to know for sure how much of an impact the rise of MMA had, but longer term we suspect it will deny the sport the chance to acquire some top Muay Thai fighters, something that has been a key source of talent.
One other thing to note is the strengthening of the Baht in recent years, meaning the Thai currency is stronger than it was in 2013, meaning domestic are essentially costing more than they did.
Despite all of this, it is not the end of Western style boxing in Thailand, it is however the start of a worrying trend. A trend that needs to end quickly of Thai boxing isn't going to be into a proverbial dark age. Hopefully the rise of Srisaket will kick start the next generation of Thai fighters, if it doesn't then it's hard to see what it will stop the current in decline in boxing in Thailand., though as mentioned there are a few beacons of hope and hopefully those will become the game changers Thailand needs right now.
We saw the sport bounce back from the big issues in the 1990's, and we've seen Thai boxing producing a gem when it's needed one in the past. Fingers crossed they produce another and the sport will be given another shot in the arm for what has been a major player for the Asian scene ever since Pone Kingpetch won the World Flyweight title back in 1960.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces