When I was still an up and coming boxer, I remember picking up my friend, former WBC Flyweight champion Chatchai Sasakul from the airport. There was a huge crowd in the arrival area, replete with reporters, TV cameras, and photographers. I had no idea that they were there for my friend. When he arrived, everyone was shouting his name; the lights from the camera flash blinding our eyes. It was utter madness, but it was that moment that made me realize how much I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be like my friend, I wanted it all.
Before I became a boxer, I fought Muay Thai. When I was younger, I was known as this active, mischievous kid, always getting into trouble. I was the first to volunteer for anything; I was always ready for a challenge. When I was 12, my village was throwing a festival. There I was approached by one of the organizers to join a Muay Thai fight. “The winner gets 300 baht,” he explained. I ran home and asked my mother if I could join. She was hesitant at first, but eventually, she gave in and let me join. Before this fight, I had never trained Muay Thai. I was coming into a fight with zero experience, facing a guy who had 13 fights before. I had no idea what to expect and I just gave the fight my all. To my surprise, after 3 rounds, I had knocked my opponent out and won the fight.
I didn’t start training at a camp right away. I was focused on school and helping my father with his car shop. The gym owner of Sitkanongsak asked me to start training and fighting, but I needed to help out at home. Eventually, I gave in and moved to Sitkanongsak. Soon after, I fought my second fight, against an opponent with over 30 fights to his name. This fight was in a whole other league compared to my last fight. There were bets being made, at around 20,000 baht for each of us. Although I was nervous, I won the fight.
I wasn’t exceptionally talented, but I would work hard. I ran 20 kilometers a day and never slacked on my strength and conditioning. I jumped in and out of huge truck tires, and I would also shadowbox with weights in my hand. Nothing extraordinary, but I never would take the easy road during training. I did quite well as a Muay Thai fighter. When I was 13, I fought at Lumpinee, and when I was 15, I won the Fight Of The Night award. I fought around 50 times before I made the switch to boxing.
There was a national western boxing competition for school kids, and I was asked to represent my school. I won the competition, but since it wasn’t Muay Thai, I didn’t think much of it. After the fight, my promoter asked me if I wanted to switch to western boxing instead. He was impressed with my powerful, accurate punches and thought it would be better for me. I agreed and never looked back.
I’ve always had the same mindset, coming into my fights. I believed that hard work and tenacity was the key to success in the ring. Training hard and believing in my technique was what got me through all those years. I never walked into a fight thinking I was better than my opponent. In fact, I thought the opposite. I thought that I had to do my best to protect my name, my gym’s name and my trainer’s name. Every fight, I was putting my credibility on the line and I had to make sure that I truly earned my right to have my hand raised in victory. Whether I won the fight or not, my belief was that being a champion didn’t mean anything when it came to fighting. I believed that being a champion meant that you would always have to fight a better opponent, which meant more training time.
Before every boxing match, I would train for at least three months to prepare. I would run, hit pads with my trainer, and we would watch videotapes of my opponent’s past fights to work on our strategy. If I were training for a championship fight, I would spar 10-15 rounds. This would be in addition to the 15-20 kilometers I would run every day. My trainer would also bring in a variety of sparring partners to help me. One of them was multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Chaowalith Jockey Gym and multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Muangfalek Kiatvichian. Both of them were known for their aggressive punching, so they were good training partners for me. One aspect I really worked hard on was my speed – I would always make speed a focus with each training session. Being faster was a goal I would always work towards, and eventually, I became known for my fast hands.
I’ve had 97 fights and won 90 of them, but my most memorable fight was my fight against Alex Baba of Ghana. It was my second title defense, and I thought that it was probably the best performance of my career. Baba was a tough opponent. I kept on hitting him and he didn’t stop moving forward. He was able to cut me, and I was bleeding quite badly, but I kept going and eventually won the fight. A week after that battle, my jaw still hurt.
After my fight with Baba, I would go on to defend my title 15 more times. In 2002, I fought Daisuke Naito and was able to knock him out in 34 seconds. It was the fastest knockout in flyweight world title history. I was eventually awarded “Most Outstanding Boxer of the Decade” by the WBC, which for me, is the greatest honor I’ve ever achieved as a boxer. When I was 33, I finally retired. My body was starting to break down from all the fighting – 97 fights will do that to you. I didn’t have any serious injuries, but I knew it was time. Despite all that I had achieved in my career, I stuck to my personal mindset of staying humble and working hard. In fact, if anything, my success taught me to work even harder.
I’ve always believed that being humble and disciplined was the key to my success in the ring. The minute you believe you’re good, you get comfortable – you become lazy and lenient with yourself. Staying hungry and determined will keep you on track with your goals. Believing that today, not tomorrow, is the day to work your hardest and try your best is what helped me attain all that I have. Today, as an instructor, this is the greatest lesson I can pass on to my students. Hopefully, through my example, they can see the value of a solid work ethic.
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