It isn’t uncommon for sons of professional boxers to follow in their father’s footsteps. Usually, however, their father’s past glory is an influence in that life path.
This wasn’t the case with Walter Sarnoi, a junior featherweight upstart who faces Humberto Zatarain (3-0) on Friday at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif.
Sarnoi (9-2, 5 knockouts), of Monterey Park, Calif., is the son of Thira Lodjarengabe, a Thai bantamweight from Bangkok who fought Japanese legend Fighting Harada in 1963.
Lodjarengabe’s record on Boxrec.com reads 0-4-1, though that’s likely incomplete as record-keeping in some nations during those times were often unreliable. Sarnoi claims that his father had over 20 fights, and it’s unlikely that a debuting fighter would last six rounds with Harada just five months after the hall of famer lost the flyweight crown.
Sarnoi knew none of this when he first laced up gloves as a high school student. Actually, the 25-year-old college grad barely knew anything about his father growing up.
“I didn’t have a clue that my father was a fighter before,” said Sarnoi. “My parents separated [when I was] 8 years old and I didn’t get a chance to get to know my father until I was 16 when I saw him again.
“I reconnected with him, but I didn’t have much love for him initially. I learned as I got older that, no matter what, at the end of the day he’s still my father. Without him I wouldn’t be here.”
Sarnoi was a latchkey kid, and boxing was a means to stay out of trouble after school. It would eventually afford him a free education when, in 2005, he was selected to join the Northern Michigan University boxing team. To date, the Northern Michigan boxing program has launched the careers of standout professionals Brian Viloria, Sechew Powell and many others.
Sarnoi reached the sixth national ranking in the flyweight division as an amateur, but never won a national title. The closest he came was the finals of the Police Athletic League (PAL) Nationals, twice reaching that point in 2005 and 2006.
Sarnoi earned the nickname “The School Boy” at Northern Michigan for his studious demeanor, and it was that approach to his free education that would eventually earn him his bachelor’s degree in finance in 2007.
“I feel that fighters should know that there’s a life outside of boxing,” said Sarnoi. “I think it’s very important to have some kind of an education so that they know how to manage their money.
“I’ve met so many fighters that had so much money and they lost it and I feel that if the boxer had some kind of knowledge of financial matters, they would be able to invest and live down throughout the years.”
As a fighter, Sarnoi is working to restore his credibility after dropping two of his last four, both in Mexico to a local fighter named Francisco Pina in Mexico. In the first fight, Sarnoi was dropped twice and lost a unanimous decision; in his most recent fight, Sarnoi lost another close decision in Mexico.
“They were close fights and I knew if they were close fights they’d give it to the hometown guy,” said Sarnoi. “If I ever fight him again, I think it’ll be here in the US.
“I feel that if people want to overlook me and underestimate me and call me an opponent, good, because I don’t fight like an opponent.”
Sarnoi is involved with the sport outside of the ring, as well. He now works out of the K2 Promotions office in Venice, Calif., handling public relations and other tasks. K2 Promotions is the company that handles the Klitschko brothers Vitali and Wladimir.
“I’ve always had a dream of learning the boxing business,” said Sarnoi, who has been there since May of last year.
Working with K2 has taught Sarnoi much about the business and has provided him with a career path for his life after competition. It also has given him an “in” towards achieving something that he’d like to accomplish some day.
“One of my goals is to fight on the undercard of a Klitschko card,” said Sarnoi.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found atwww.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.