When Srisaket Sor Rungvisai challenged Yota Sato for the WBC junior bantamweight title in May, he was seeking redemption for his best friend, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, who a year before had lost the same title to Sato. Also, for the first time in many years Thailand was without a world champion.
Srisaket simply wouldn’t be denied. He started at a fast pace and surprised the normally confident Japanese champion, taking him out of his stride throughout the bout before pounding him along the ropes late in the seventh. It continued in the eighth round until midway through the frame when the fight was called off.
Since the win, Srisaket‘s newfound fame has led to TV, radio and magazine appearances, and meetings with important people all the way up to the prime minister.
It hasn’t always been like that. Now 26, Srisaket moved from Si Sa Ket, in the northeast of Thailand, to Bangkok when he was 13.
The journey to the capital city, some 180 miles to the southwest, was fraught with danger, and things were even tougher when he arrived at his destination. “When I was in Bangkok, I had to walk 60 miles back and forth to get a job as a security guard. Given that I had no money, I sometimes had to collect and eat garbage from trash cans behind department stores for my survival,” said Srisaket.
He made his pro boxing debut in 2009, losing to current WBC and RING flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi. He was to also lose his second bout, and went 1-3-1 in his first five outings (all three losses were on the road in Japan), looking lightyears from being a future world champion, before a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
Currently Srisaket is 21-3-1 with 19 stoppage wins. He‘ll look to make the first defense of his crown on Nov. 15 against Japan’s Hirofumi Makai.
A very humble Srisaket took time out to speak openly with RingTV.com about all aspects of his life.
(Srisaket’s promoter, Thainchai Pisitwuttinan, acted as interpreter.)
Anson Wainwright – You won the WBC junior bantamweight title stopping Yota Sato back in May. Tell us about the fight.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai – The fight with Yota Sato was the most important fight in my boxing career so far. Not only that it was my first opportunity to challenge for the world title, which changed my life, but it was also during the critical time when it was the first time in several decades that Thailand did not have any boxing world champions. And it was also the first time in 50 years that a Japanese world champion had ever agreed to defend their title in Thailand.
I grew up with poverty, and I always had the dream to become a world champion one day in order to get a better life. This made the opportunity to fight against Yota Sato so important. I also felt the responsibility to win the world title for Thailand … because we always had great world champions since I was a kid and I know that there are thousands or even millions of kids out there taking those champions as their heroes and inspiration. … I knew that my supporters and promoter had invested a lot of effort and money to make this fight happen, and I had a very strong determination to win the title even though most of the people did not believe that I would have a chance against Yota Sato.
However, our team had prepared the strategy to fight against him for at least a year before the fight, and I had been training very hard for the fight. We knew his style very well since he won the title from my best friend, Suriyan, so we were very confident.
On the fight day, I went into the ring and implemented the strategy … and it went very well. The fight was in Si Sa Ket, which is my hometown, so I felt the extra power from my hometown fans as well. I felt that he was hurt in the early rounds, especially in Round 4. Even though he got better in Rounds 5 and 6, I felt that I was still in control of the rounds. In Round 7, I got him with body punches, which clearly hurt him badly. I tried to go for the knockout, but he did not give in.
I really respect him for being such a great champion; he was the first person who took so much punishment from me and refused to give up. However, he was not in good condition in Round 8, and the referee stopped the fight after Yota Sato received a series of hard punches from me. I think it was a great stoppage from the referee. It was the best moment of my life in realizing the dream and not letting those who believe in me down.
AW – Since then you’ve had two non-title bouts, and now you make your first defense against Hirofumi Makai.
SSR – Hirofumi Mukai is a tricky southpaw, which is always difficult to deal with. He has a good reputation in Thailand due to his impressive performance against Thai fighters. He won against a Thai prospect, Saengmuangloei Kokietgym, and also (fought to a) draw against the legendary former two-time WBC flyweight world champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
Other than that, he also won against the former flyweight champion Sonny Boy Jaro, who shocked all the Thais by knocking out Pongsaklek. His last fight was in Thailand where he impressively outclassed a Korean fighter, and it was broadcast nationwide. Since he has fought in Thailand twice already, I do not think he will have any difficulty in adjusting to the environment here, which is good because I want to fight him when he is at his best condition.
I respect him as a fighter, especially for winning against a world champion and drawing against another one. However, I have been very confident in fighting [boxers who work from the outside] – you can take my fight with Yota Sato as example. I am very confident that I will deliver a good fight on the fight day and come back as a world champion.
AW – How have things changed since you won the world title?
SSR – Things have changed a lot! People know me more, I was on TV, radio, and magazines. I sometimes see my own pictures on the wall of restaurants. I got opportunities to meet many important people, including meeting and discussing with the prime minister in the Parliament. I am very happy that people like me, and I hope that I can be an inspiration for others to fight with their lives and never give up.
However, my relationships with my family and gymmates are the same, and I am very happy about that. I will always be who I am, and I will train extra hard to keep my belt.
AW – Last year Sato beat your gymmate Suriyan, and also Thailand was without a world champion. How happy were you to gain revenge for Suriyan and also win the title for your country?
SSR – I was extremely happy to win the title back for Nakornloung Boxing Promotion and for Thailand. At Nakornloung Boxing Promotion, we have been having great champions for decades; for example, Veerapol Nakornluang, the legendary former WBC bantamweight champion; Sirimongkol Singmanasak, the former WBC junior lightweight champion; and Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, my best friend and former WBC junior bantamweight champion. I am very happy to be one of the world champions here.
Having said that, I did not see a fight against Yota Sato as revenge. It was a sport and Yota Sato had his night earlier against Suriyan. Suriyan is my best friend, and I was extremely sorry when he lost his title. I am confident that he will become a world champion again in the bantamweight division, and I will do my best to support him. I was grateful to get the opportunity to win back the title, but I had no personal feeling against Yota Sato. He is a great champion, and I respect him a lot.
AW – The training in Thailand is supposed to be very tough. Can you tell us about your training? How many hours a day do you train and what sort of things do you do, sparring, weights, running etc.?
SSR – It is very tough indeed, but I also enjoy my daily training as it is a means to my dream and I also get to train with good friends.
We do about 20 km (12 miles) running, mitt work, and exercise early morning. Our training in the afternoon includes mitt work, sparring, heavy bag work, and exercises. We also emphasize reviewing all the basic moves to make sure we do things right all the time.
AW – You were born in Si Sa Ket, Thailand. Can you tell us about your early years growing up and how tough things were for you?
SSR – I was born with poverty, and my early life was extremely tough. We did not have enough money to feed ourselves, and I did Muay Thai to get extra money for my family. I decided to move to Bangkok when I was 13 years old, hoping to get a job to feed myself. I moved to Bangkok with nothing except a train ticket, which I lost on the train – forcing me to hide on the train as I did not have any money left to buy a new ticket. When I was in Bangkok, I had to walk 60 miles back and forth to get a job as a security guard. Given that I had no money, I sometimes had to collect and eat garbage from trash cans behind department stores for my survival. A good day would be drinking soup from a five-cent instant noodle pack while giving all the noodles to my girlfriend who moved with me from Si Sa Ket.
AW – You turned pro in March 2009, you lost to current WBC flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi, you then lost against Yushin Yafuso, and both were stoppage losses. How have you been able to turn things around and win a world title?
SSR – As mentioned, my life was extremely tough earlier, so I decided to join a boxing camp and box just to get extra money on top of my minimum salary. Given that I had a background in Muay Thai, I could fight, but I did not know how to box properly. I had to fight against professional prospects in Japan and they were a lot ahead of me in skills.
One day, I got a life-changing opportunity to follow my trainer to Nakornloung Boxing Promotion gym. My trainer brought other boxers to be sparring partners for boxers there, and I was just a follower. I knew that it was the place where several world champions were made, and I was extremely excited.
I was allowed to train there during the time when my gymmates stayed as sparring partners. I did my best in training – running extra miles, training extra rounds – to show my determination. In the end, I decided to ask the gym if I could join the promotion and told them that I had a strong determination to be a world champion. I was extremely lucky that Mr. Thainchai Pisitwuttinan, the promoter, accepted me in. It was such a life-changing opportunity, and I really appreciate the moment.
After that, I have been training very hard under the supervision of Mr. Chokchai Pisitwuttinan – the head coach. My life got a lot better. I stayed in Nakornloung Boxing Promotion gym with great facilities. The promotion has also been very supportive, organizing fights for me very frequently, which allowed me to earn enough money to support my family with a good quality of life. I then won 17 consecutive fights, all by knockouts [one ended in a technical decision following an accidental head butt] – including four WBC Asia title fights [five including the fight in which he won the vacant title] – before I got an opportunity to challenge for the world title.
AW – Can you tell us a little about yourself as a person and what you like to do with your spare time?
SSR – At Nakornloung Boxing Promotion gym, boxers are very close to each other. We are great friends, and I always enjoy spending time with them after training.
I also love to spend time with my girlfriend … and I love to play with my golden retriever puppy.
AW – In closing, do you have a message for the boxing world?
SSR – First of all, I would like to thank you, RingTV, very much for giving me an opportunity to communicate to the world. I also would like to thank the boxing fans who follow me. My dream was to become a world champion, but I am not stopping here. I am a true fighter and I love to bring action-packed fights to the fans. I will do my best to deliver exciting fights to you, and I hope you will be impressed by my performance. I am looking forward to defending my title in many countries. I really hope I will get your support, and I will try my best to earn it through my performance. Thank you very much.
Photos by Muaysiam