Best I Faced: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
For much of the 2000s Pongsaklek Wonjongkam held the WBC flyweight title; he made a division record 17 successful defenses in a championship tenure lasting over six years.
Like most Thai boxers, Pongsaklek grew up in abject poverty.
“I come from a poor family, boxing is my life. I got a house, car, everything from boxing,” Pongsaklek told RingTV.com through Panya Pratchakorn.
From the age of 7 until 12, Pongsaklek practiced Muay Thai. He was then taken by a former manager to Bangkok where he learned about boxing.
The Nakhon Ratchasima-born fighter turned professional in late 1994. He lost two early bouts against Filipino journeyman Jerry Pahayahay and by mid ’96 his record stood at 9-2. He would not lose again for 11 years.
Pongsaklek quietly went out his business and improved, building his record to 38-2, while exacting a measure of revenge by beating Pahayahay in a third fight. There was nobody of note on his resume when he challenged Malcolm Tunacao for the WBC title in March 2001.
Pongsaklek made the most of his opportunity, dropping Tunacao three times in the opening round to win the title.
A star was born. Pongsaklek turned back the challenges of teak-tough Alex Baba (TD 8), future junior flyweight titlist Luis Lazarte (TKO 2) and unbeaten Daisuke Naito (KO 1).
The knockout of Naito was the fastest in flyweight world-title history and Pongsaklek considers it his best win.
Over the next couple of years he continued his reign, occasionally traveling to Japan, where he made good paydays defeating Hidenobu Honda (UD 12), Trash Nakanuma (UD 12) and Naito (TD 7).
In the summer of 2007, the Japanese paymasters brought him back to their shores and matched him with Naito for a third time. This time he was surprisingly beaten, losing a close unanimous decision.
They met a fourth time the following March and fought to a draw.
Pongsaklek stayed active and won the WBC interim title in ’09. He hoped for one last title try and, after Naito lost to upstart Koki Kameda, he was given his chance.
At this time most perceived Pongsaklek, who by now had 78 fights and was closing in on his 34th birthday, to have seen better days and would likely be a good name on Kameda’s record. The proud Thai southpaw proved anything but, traveling to Japan and winning a hard-fought but just majority decision to regain his old WBC belt and also the RING 112-pound championship.
In his second title reign Pongsaklek made four defenses over the next two years, turning back solid challenges from future 115-pound titleholder Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (UD 12) and former 108-pound titlist Edgar Sosa (UD 12).
However, 11 years to the day after winning the world title for the first time, he took on Sonny Boy Jaro. Jaro was thought to be a mark-in-time fight, but he turned in a terrific, career-best performance, one that Pongsaklek at this stage of his career couldn’t match. He was surprisingly stopped in six rounds.
He racked up several more wins before again coming unstuck, this time against club fighter Rey Megrino.
Pongsaklek retired but the lure of wanting to reach 100 fights was too much, he returned and had three more fights before retiring for good with a stellar record of 90-5-2 (47), going 22-2-2 in world title fights.
He was awarded “Most Outstanding Boxer of the Decade” by the WBC and lists that as his proudest moment: “It is my greatest honor in my life. There are not many boxers to get this honor.”
Despite his successes, Pongsaklek stayed humble and continued to put in the hard work that got him to the top. When asked about his training regimen he once said, “I jog every day around 15 to 20 kilometers in the morning and again the same distance in the afternoon. I spar about five to eight rounds daily but if I have a championship fight, I will spar more around 10 to 15 rounds.”
Although the diminutive boxer-puncher fought many of the best flyweights of his generation, there was one fight he craved.
“I wanted to fight Michael Carbajal but didn’t have the chance. It is just a dream,” he said.
Pongsaklek, 38, is married and has no children as of yet.
“Now I have a very calm and quiet life with my wife. We help and support each other,” he said.
He is currently working in Singapore as a trainer at Evolve MMA, along with former WBA junior lightweight titlist Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai. Previously, Pongsaklek worked in his home province as an agent for a fertilizer company.
RingTV.com caught up with Pongsaklek and spoke with him about the best he faced in 10 key categories.
Hyobu Nakagama (UD 12, 2012): His jab was very good; it was fast and direct to the target.
Daigo Nakahiro (UD 12, 2006): I couldn’t hit him. Nakahiro is like all Japanese boxers with lion hearts. Never surrender.
Alex Baba (TD 8, 2001): I hit him many times and he hung on.
Luis Angel Martinez (TKO 5, 2004): He was so fast, fast like an airplane.
Koki Kameda (MD 12, 2010): I was tired from chasing him.
Baba: I want to be like him. He smiled and had smart moves. He talked smart to me, very clever.
Trash Nakanuma (UD 12, 2004): I wonder why he was so strong. I am stronger, but I was not 110 percent when I fought him.
Rey Megrino (L TKO 3, 2012): He knocked me out. I think he punched harder than Sonny Boy Jaro.
Takuya Kogawa (UD 12, 2011): I like him. He trains very hard and I like him for his gifts. He never gives up even though he knows that he has no chance to win the fight. He keeps fighting and fighting
Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (UD 12, 2010): He is very good. The fight against Suriyan is one of my classics and an exciting fight. Suriyan is a lion-hearted boxer. I was very delighted when he became world champion (Suriyan won the WBC junior bantamweight title in Aug 2011 and held it until March 2012). He is a good person in character, nice behavior, not rude, a respectful person. Suriyan never humiliates or looks down his opponent. He always has nice character after a fight.
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