Last Friday we saw Thailand's Panya Pradabsri (35-1, 22) score the most important win of his career, taking a unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten Wanheng Menayothin to take the WBC Minimumweight title. The win made Panya the 49th world champion from Thailand, and saw him emerge from the shadows of Wanheng and Knockout CP Freshmart, who had been the Thai faces atop the top at Minimumweight division over the last few years.
Following the win though we had to have a real think about what we wanted to see next for the new champion and who he could be lined up to face in 2021. The division isn't the best or biggest, but it is one where there are some very interesting options for the new champion, and we'll look at 5 of those in this week's Five For.
1-Wanheng Menayothin (54-1, 18)
At the moment it's unclear what the future will hold for the 35 year old Wanheng. Our assumption is that he will walk off into the sunset, with the torch now passed to his younger compatriot. If that doesn't happen however, and if Wanheng does fancy one more bout then a rematch with Panya would be an ideal send off, win or lose. It would give the legendary Thai a chance to retire on top, and a chance to reclaim his crown, and it would give Panya a chance to prove that his first win wasn't a fluke. It could also give us, the fans, another barn burner if it's anything like their first bout.
2-Nkosinathi Joyi (29-5-1-1, 19)
Typically a champion gets a relatively easy first defense and many look to do that against a faded name. With that in mind a bout between the 29 year old Panya and the 37 year old Nkosinathi Joyi would certainly be an interesting one to think about. Joyi, in his prime, was a tremendous fighter with speed, size and power and was one of the many under-rated fighters to come from South Africa. Now a days however he looks like a shadow of the fighter he was back in 2009-2011. For Panya a win over Joyi would still have value and would certainly be a solid name on his resume. A cynical match up, sure, but the sort of thing that the Panya likely needs during the early part of his reign.
3-Melvin Jerusalem (15-2, 9)
Ranked #1 by the WBC Melvin Jerusalem is potentially going to be a mandatory challenger for Panya and would make for a relatively tough first defense. The 26 year old Filipino is a hell for leather type of fighter who gave Wanheng absolute fighters in 2017, in one of the toughest bouts for the former champion, and would have the energy and tenacity to be a nightmare for the new champion. If Panya was looking to get his mandatory out of the way in early 2021 this is the logical bout, and then begin to look at more marketable and financially rewarding bouts. However this is legitimately a tough bout for the new champion in what should be a real barn burner for 12 rounds.
4-Lito Dante (17-11-4, 9)
A wild-card choice for Panya's first defense would be a bout against OPBF champion Lito Dante. The bout isn't one that screams an amazing bout on paper, but, as is typical, records don't tell half of the story of a fight. Dante might have numerous losses but he's as tough and strong as they come and over 12 rounds he will bring the fight, take the best Panya has to offer, and given him a real war right through the bout. Dante's record conceals a fantastic 12 round fighter and a total nightmare over the distance. Not only would this be a surprisingly good first defense, but due to Dante's style it would be a very fan friendly clash and the sort of bout that would have highlights aplenty to share. A fun and enjoyable tear up if it can be made!
5-Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4)
As we write this it seems almost certain that Japanese 21 year old Ginjiro Shigeoka will not fight at all in 2020 due to the on going global situation. With that in mind we suspect he, and the Watanabe team, will want to plan something huge for 2021. Maybe that could include Shigeoka's first world title fight in Japan against Panya, with money thrown at the Thai to bring him over to Tokyo for a stacked card. It seems unlikely but of all the bouts that could be out there for Panya this is the one that interests us the most, and it would be a great chance to see if Shigeoka is as good as touted. Sadly though we suspect Panya's first defense will be a straight forward one at home, likely against a less dangerous opponent than Shigeoka.
Note - We have never had an all-Thai world title unification and the reality is that Panya Vs Knockout CP Freshmart is also not likely to happen so hasn't been considered here. The bout isn't in there interest of the promoters and so it makes no real sense to discuss as an option. It would be a great bout, but not one worth wasting too much time considering.
Last week we saw the WBC Minimumweight title change hands as long term champion Wanheng Menayothin (54-1, 18) was dethroned by countryman Panya Pradabsri (35-1, 22) in one of the more notable upsets in Asia this year. The bout ended what was the then longest active reign in male boxing, and saw Panya become the 49th male world champion from Thailand. Not only was the bout a passing of the torch but it was also a great bout, with a high intensity from both and really thrilling action.
Today we've decided to look back on the bout and share some of our takes aways from the contest in the latest article in this on going Five Take Aways series.
1-Panya's body body shots were great early on
The challenger had a number of advantages, including a 6 year youth advantage, and advantages in terms of size and power. It was however his body shots, and not his inherent advantages, that really caught the eye. He hammered Wanheng with fantastic left hooks to the body early on, and tried to chip away at the veteran in the early rounds with rib bursting shots. They landed clean, they looked painful and they were really solid blows. Credit needs to go to Wanheng for taking them so well, but they were the key early on for Panya. It's a shame they vanished part way through the bout, as they were so effective early on.
2-Wanheng is no typical 35 year old Minimumweight
We've mentioned Panya's body shots but there was something more impressive than those. That was Wanheng in general. The 35 year old did not look his age at all. He was razor sharp through much of the bout, let combinations go, showed incredible desire and hand speed. Even through he's ancient by Minimumweight standards, and still by typical boxing standards, he did not look his age. He also didn't look like a man who was talking about retirement in the summer. He looked very hungry and very much like a man desperate to move to 55-0 and keep his title. A fantastic effort by the old man, who seemed to set the tempo and have significantly higher output than the challenger.
3-This was a big fight!
It's incredibly rare for us to be asked for streams of bouts from Thailand, we some times get them for big names in Japan but very rarely Thailand. We also rarely get asked for streams of Minimumweight bouts. This bout however had a lot of questions from people wanting to watch, and on social media it felt like a decent sized fight with much broader interest than we typically see. Sure this wasn't the interest of a Naoya Inoue bout or a Kazuto Ioka fight, but this was still much, much more than expected and it was great to see more fans actually being interested in the little men.
4-This was a great fight
With so many fans being interested in watching the bout there was a worry. This could stink. Like really stink and become a dire fight with no talking points. Instead the bout delivered, massively, and gave us one of the best fights of the year. It was back and forth, high tempo action, with both men landing solid shots through out, exchanging leather regularly and giving us something to remember. It wasn't just a war however, but was a high tempo aggressive and technical bout which went well beyond just a typical fight. For fans who aren't used to watching the little guys we hope this bout has convinced you to give them a chance. The Minimumweights might not have the fire power of the heavy guys, but their can often over-deliver in terms of action and excitement. This isn't a one off great bout for the division, and there are copious other fantastic contests at 105lbs, including recent great bouts such as Katsunari Takayama Vs Francisco Rodriguez Jr and Akira Yaegashi Vs Pornsawan Porpramook. The division regularly delivers as it did here!
5-Thailand has continued to deliver in 2020 thanks to All-Thai bouts
Typically Thailand serves us one or two great bouts a year, and a lot of garbage that simply isn't worth watching. Year after year the quality in Thailand has decreased as local hopefuls have beaten up smaller and less skilled international opponents. With international transport at close to a standstill we've seen promoters being forced to put on more and more all-Thai bouts, and this has seriously increased the level of fights we've been getting in the country. This was the latest in a long line of excellent all-Thai bouts in 2020. Fingers crossed that continues as there is something special about domestic rivalries and the the hunger to prove you're the best. We see it in Japan and the UK and now we're seeing it more in Thailand. Historically All-Thai world title bouts, dubbed "Bloodline Battles", have delivered amazing action fights, and this is was another great one. Fingers crossed this continues in 2021, and well beyond the current Covid19 epidemic.
Bonus Take Away
Thank you Wanheng
If this turns out to be Wanheng's final career bout we genuinely owe him a thank you. Whilst he may not have faced the best in the division, and there are a lot of bouts we'd have loved to see him in, there is no doubting that he has helped put a spot light on the Minimumweight division and Thailand, at least over the last year or two. His career has been a genuinely impressive on and he has been on of the few men in recent memory to create a legacy whilst fighting at just his weight. He didn't feel the need to move through the weights to make his name, and that is a credit to his professionalism. He never missed weight, he never out grew the division and instead he committed himself to the 105lb weight class. Genuinely an impressive facet of his career, and one that will often go over-looked.
Right now the Thai boxing scene is a bit of a strange one. It has 3 standout fighters at the top of the proverbial tree, with a trio of world champions that are head and shoulders above everyone else in the country. You then have a a rag tag bunch of challengers, who are a mix of emerging talent and veterans still in and around the world title scene. The prospects are an even more varied bunch, from former amateur stands to a 15 year old prodigy.
Sadly though there is a feeling that the Thai scene has faded just a touch over the last few years to give us a rather weak looking domestic picture, though one that could easily see a break out star emerge.
The World Class Trio
The most notable names in Thai boxing right now are clearly Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-4-1, 41), Knockout CP Freshmart (19-0, 7) and Wanheng Menayothin (52-0, 18). They are the 3 world champions from the country and the 3 names that really are head and shoulders above anything else the country has to offer.
WBC Super Flyweight champion Srisaket is clearly the most recognisable name the country has to offer in boxing, and with good reason. He is widely regarded as a top 10 pound for pound fighter and holds notable wins against Roman Gonzalez, twice, Juan Francisco Estrada, Yota Sato and Jose Salgado. To many he came out of nowhere to beat Roman Gonzalez in March 2017, and again 6 months later, but he had previously held the WBC Super Flyweight title and the win over Gonzalez saw him reclaim the title he had lost via technical decision to Carlos Cuadras. He's big, strong and extremely powerful, with under boxing skills.
Wanheng set the boxing world talking last year when he matched Floyd Mayweather's 50-0, getting coverage on things like Sky Sports, and since then he has notched 2 more wins. He is the WBC Minimumweight champion, having held that title since November 2014, and has racked up 10 defense. His current reign is the longest of any active world champion, coming in at 2 months longer than Deontay Wilder's. Although not an amazingly destructive fighter Wanheng is a defensively smart fighter who can change the tempo of a fight, neutralise pressure well and has under-rated speed and combinations. He doesn't look like he's unbeatable, but very few have really pushed him close. The one big issue however is that he's had just a touch of luck from officials at times, deducting points, or giving him the benefit of the doubt in close rounds.
The other champion is Knockout CP Freshmart, the WBA Minimumweight champion. He won the WBA interim title in 2014, before taking the main title in 2016. Since winning the WBA's top title he has made 6 defenses. Looking through his record things look impressive, with wins against Carlos Buitrago, Byron Rojas, Shin Ono, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xing Zhao Zhong. Sadly however, his performances have been less than great and there has been a real lack of action at times in his bouts. He's very talented, but can be very dull. It also seems unlikely that we'll see him and Wanheng unify, despite how intriguing that bout is on an international basis.
As mentioned, the contenders in Thai, and are a varied bunch of fighters. Some are well on their way to their first world title fight whilst others are looking to get a second, or even third, shot at a belt.
We'll start with Flyweight Dennapa Kiatniwat (20-1, 15), who has been ordered to negotiate a bout with WBA Flyweight champion Artem Dalakian, which is expected to take place in the Spring. Dennapa, also known as Sarawut Thawornkham, is a 27 year old puncher who lost on debut in 2014 but has rebuilt on the regional level. Despite being the #1 WBA Flyweight contender is competition has, mostly, been pathetic, which has helped him stop his last 11 foes.
Whilst Dennapa has a shot being negotiated Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11) will be getting a world title eliminator, which is set to take place in February. The Light Welterweight is a talented boxer-puncher, who has shown a lot more than many Thai contenders do. He will however need to show a lot more to over-come Akihiro Kondo when the two men meet next month. Downua is a heavy handed fighter with good timing, a good jab, and the basis to build a very promising career, though may be getting his shot just a little too early.
Possibly the best of the Thai contenders is Palangpol CP Freshmart (16-2, 9), who is lacking an outstanding record, but has shown what he can do on the world stage, and what he can do isn't too shabby. The hard hitting Palangpol is best known for his 2017 bout with Kosei Tanaka, when he dropped Tanaka and fractured both of the Japanese fighter's orbital bones, before being stopped in the 9th round. Although the rest of his record is poor his performance against Tanaka showed he belonged in the world title mix. Unfortunately however he is 33 and in the deepest division in the sport, so may well miss out on another shot, if his team can't open up the purse strings.
Another standout contender is Panya Pradabsri (26-1, 15), aka Petchmanee Kokietgym, who is in the mix between Minimumweight and Flyweight. His sole loss was a controversial one against Xiong Zhao Zhong, in a WBA world title eliminator, and since then he has been handing out beatings, including an impressive KO win against Dexter Alimento in a Flyweight bout. It's not 100% clear where he sees his future, as he fought at Minimumweight as recently as last September, but he's ultra active, highly talented and a real threat to the top guys, at least at 105lbs.
Having started his career with an incredible looking 36-0-1 big things were expected from Nawaphon Por Chokchai (44-1-1, 34). Sadly a loss to Juan Hernandez Navarrete in 2007 was a huge set back and since then he has very much failed to really become a threat at world level again. Currently on a 8 fight winning run Nawaphon has only really scored 1 big win since his loss to Hernandez, stopping veteran Amnat Ruenroeng last year. If he's serious about getting a second world title fight it does feel like he needs to have investment in his development and hope his team are willing to open the purse strings to get him better opponents. He's talented, physically imposing and from a good team, but the jury is still out on whether he can make it to the top.
Few Thai's in the sport today have had chances that Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking (25-5, 16) have had. Eaktwan, also known as Komgrich Nantapech, lost in a 2017 world title fight to Donnie Nietes, then lost to Juan Carlos Reveco later that same year, in an eliminator. He was supposed to have another eliminator in 2018 but suffered an injury forcing him out of a bout with Masayuki Kuroda. Whilst he has had chances shouldn't write off the 29 year old, who is a big, strong, powerful and talented fighter. He asked real questions of Nietes and has got good wins on the regional scene, but it very much feels like he's one of those unfortunate fighters who is stuck between regional class and world class.
In December we saw Petch Sor Chitpattana (48-1, 33) suffer his first loss, coming up second best against Takuma Inoue in a WBC "interim" Bantamweight title fight. Despite losing that bout, widely, he showed he belonged on the fringes of world class, with his determination, toughness and stamina. Prior to facing Inoue he had gone 48-0 but his record lacked any sort of quality, and it showed as he lacked the skills needed to really push Inoue, but had the tools that could be built on. If Petch can get good training, work on his flawed technical skills then there is huge potential for him to become a fixture on the world stage. He's only 25 now and really shouldn't be written after the Inoue bout, even if it was a pretty wide loss for the Thai.
Another fight who showed their toughness in a world title bout, and has remained a fringe contender, is WBA #2 ranked Flyweight Noknoi Sitthiprasert (69-5, 42), aka Nare Yianleang. He began his career 1-4 but has since gone 68-1 and scored wins over the likes of Rey Loreto, Kenichi Horikara, Renoel Pael and Donny Mabao. His sole in his last 69 fights was a decision loss to Kazuto Ioka in a WBA Flyweight title bout, and he has reeled off 7 low key wins since then, whilst doing enough to remain in the title mix with the WBA. He's proven himself as a very tough fighter, but does lack in terms of big wins, and at 32 years old he is battling against time for another big fight.
The pick of the Thai prospects making waves at the moment is 29 year old, former amateur standout Apichet Petchmanee (2-0, 2), who should be regarded as one of the best prospects in boxing, even if he is older than a typical prospect. Apichet made his professional debut last year, beating Attanon Kunlawong in 2 rounds, then defeated Sadudee Tor Bumas just 2 months later, claiming the OPBF Silver Light Welterweight with that second win. Given his advanced age it's clear Apichet hasn't got time to waste, and he's showing he's aware of that having fought 13-0 and 8-0 opponents in his first 2 bouts, and looking brilliant against both. He's skilled, strong, has a good varied attack and will almost certainly be in the world rankings by the end of 2019. Sadly though he may have left the start of his professional career a little bit too late
Another 29 year old hopeful is Atchariya Tor Chantaroj (12-0, 5), also known as Atchariya Wirojanasunobol. He has been a professional since 2014 and looked promising early on, with wins against Heri Andriyanto and Stevie Ongen Ferdinandus in his first 4 bouts. Since that impressive start he has built with wins against the likes of Kaewfah Tor Buamas and Taisho Ozawa. There is plenty of promise with Atchariya but it seems more likely he will actually end up being fed to Apichet rather than advancing to major fights of his own.
At the age of 15 Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (3-0, 2) looks to be a prodigy and was mixing boxing with Muay Thai in 2018, notably winning a silver medal at the Muay Thai 2018 Youth World Championships. Sadly his boxing bouts haven't yet surfaced on to the net, but it is well know that Thailand are looking more and more at kids to become their stars, with the likes of Stamp Kiatniwat being groomed from a young age. Sadly these experiments with teenagers rare develop the stars in boxing that the Thai boxing promoters will be looking for, but it's hard to ignore anyone who debuted at the age of 14 and has reeled off 3 before their 15th birthday.
Another teenager worthy of note is 18 year old Thanongsak Simsri (5-0, 5), who debuted in June, just 3 days after his 18th birthday, and fought regularly in the second half of 2018 to move to 5-0 (5). His competition so far has mostly been debutants, as we do often see with Thai fighters,. As with Phoobadin it's hard to know what Thanongsak really has in his locker, but the Thai promoters are clearly looking to develop young talent, and with a handful of fights already under his belt Thanongsak is someone to make a note of.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).