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)
With 2015 quickly approaching we've decided to do out look at the 15 prospects to watch in 2015. Here we bring you the first selection of those prospects, ranked from 15 to 11. Hopefully you'll put them on your radar for the test of the year.
15-Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi
Although WBA Asia Flyweight champion Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi (7-0, 6) has just began to be seen on the WBA world rankings we really wouldn't be surprised to see him race through those rankings throughout the next year. Talented, powerful, fast and with a lovely variety of punches Eaktawan has the ability to be fast tracked and he also hase a powerful Thai team behind him, the type of team that could open up “interim” world title doors for the youngster.
We've liked Eaktawan since we first managed to see him and although we know there is a lot of improvements to be made we also acknowledge that he is young and that improvements will be made over time. We don't see any point in rushing him and instead his development will be key, especially if he comes up against opponents who try to beat him, as Ichal Tobida tried to do. There is a lot to like about him and we suspect more will come with time, even if he is a bit of a “sleeper prospect” for now.
It would seem likely that Eaktawan's team will try to use the WBA Asia belt to move him towards a WBA “world”, or more likely “interim” title fight. He's not ready for that yet but the odds are that by the middle of 2016 he will be ready, as long as he is developed properly with rounds against varying opponents and fights that do, eventually, see him being pushed against foes looking to beat him.
Thai teenager Stamp Kiatniwat (11-0, 5) has gone 6-0 (3) in 2014 and scored a statement win with a decision over former world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng. The win over Kwanthai was a major eye opener though he's not been pushed too hard since then and has not faced another notable foe. On paper that sounds bad though on the other side it's clear there is no need to rush Stamp, his team know he is a very good prospect and that giving him time to develop is the key. At the moment it's a development process for Stamp and that's the right attitude to take.
Although young Stamp has shown a real understanding in the ring, has shown real boxing ability, movement, speed and intelligence. We won't pretend he's the best pure boxer in Thailand but he's a man with the potential to be a star and with his age it's clear he's going to build up his power and strengthm, the two flaws in his game.
Stamp is the current PABA interim Flyweight champion, as per the PABA website, and although going for the full title is a possibility we suspect it's not an option he will be looking to follow through with, instead he'll be out there to develop. Development has to be the key word with Stamp for the next year and we suspect he'll be kept busy as part of that development. For Stamp that activity begins in January and we suspect will continue through the year with another 6 if not 7 fights before the year is over. All of those fights will be designed for Stamp to get some rounds under his belt not to move forward.
Aged 25 it may be hard to call Super Bantamweight prospect Hikaru Marugame (3-0, 2) one of the best prospects in Asia but, in all honesty, he is that good with all the tools anyone could wish in a prospect. Unlike many Japanese prospects he has high level amateur experience, competing at major international tournaments, and that is partly why he is so old yet so inexperienced as a professional. Sadly he has also only fought once this past year and has struggled in some ways to generate career momentum.
Fast, powerful, highly skilled and with a good team behind him we think Marugame has all the ingredients to be a major player on the world scene in the coming years. He does have some things sat in his way, for example he's competing in what looks likely to be a packed Super Bantamweight division domestically, however we can't see past the fact he's a sensational talent and his wins so far have been at a very solid level for such a novice.
If Marguame has another year like he's had he's going to be struggling through the domestic rankings, thankfully however we expect he'll be having a much better year in 2015 than he had in 2014 and by the end of next year we suspect he'll be banging on the door for an OPBF or Japanese title fight. We don't think he'll have a belt around his waste but we'd not be shocked to see him win the Strong Korakuen or be fighting an what amounts to an OPBF eliminator.
The highest Thai entry on this list is Kongputorn CPFreshmart (5-0, 4) who has looked special since he made his debut earlier this year. He's shown heavy and fast hands, lovely combinations, nice movement and a wonderful variety of shots through his first 5 bouts.
Yes, we said 5 bouts because, at the time of writing, boxrec doesn't recognise 2 of Kongputorn's 5 contests however footage we've managed to collect has shown him fighting 5 times and it's hard not to have been impressed by the footage which has made him look like one to watch despite a lack of experience in the boxing ring. We have however been told that he was a very good Muay Thai fighter and that may explain why he looks so natural so early in his career.
Thai's typically ignore the OPBF route to the top and we suspect Kongputorn will be no different there with the odds favouring him to go either the PABA route to a WBA title fight or follow in the footsteps of many other Thai's who have gone the WBC route via various WBC regional and lesser titles. Having already won the WBC Youth Flyweight title we suspect Kongputorn will progress to regional WBC titles in 2015 and maybe make an appearance on some world rankings by the end of the year.
One man who hasn't yet made his debut though we're expecting very big things of is Japanese teenager Hintata Maruta (0-0) who we have been told is the next on the production line of super talented Japanese kids set to rise quickly through the ranks. Unlike both Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka we're expecting to see Maruta competing at a more palatable division for western fans, either Bantamweight or Super Bantamweight, though like Inoue and Tanaka he is expected to rise just as quickly.
Maruta isn't set to debut until the second half of 2015 but the talented teenage is expected to spar with some notable fighters in the US as he looks to develop his teenage frame into that of a professional and, most amazingly, he is said to be eyeing up a world ranked foe for his debut. We're taking a punt on this kid but, if what we hear is true, Maruta will end 2015 as a world ranked fighter and may well end up winning titles in 2016 despite having not even made his debut at the time of writing.
It's clear he won't be winning world titles this coming year but if everything we read about him is true then 2016 will see him winning some sort of title, being world ranked and looking like a man on the extreme fast track to the top. Do not sleep on this fighter even if he is yet to debut.
We hope to get part 2 of this up short though hope that these 5 men will be added to your lists of fighters who names you will remember for the coming year.
(Image of Maruta courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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