Pongsaklek Wonjongkam: From fighting to teaching
Pongsaklek Wonjongkam is widely considered one of the greatest flyweights in history. The mighty mite retired three-and-a-half years ago and could have relaxed and enjoyed the easy life, for which he worked so hard in an almost 20-year career.
However, that’s never been the humble Thai’s style. Just over a year ago, he moved to Singapore and started work at Evolve Mixed Martial Arts Gym (www.evolve-mma.com).
“After retiring, I had money. I have a house in Thailand; I had money to live on,” Pongsaklek told RingTV.com through translator Jason Petlueng. “The reason I wanted to come to Evolve was to pass on my knowledge and experience and not let it go to waste.
“I decided to come to Evolve because I heard Chatri (Sityodtong, founder of Evolve MMA) was a very fair and a good boss. I know a lot of Thai superstars who had come over to Evolve and heard how they were treated and taken good care of, so I knew it was an opportunity I had to jump at.”
Pongsaklek’s beginning wasn’t as tough as some in his native Thailand. He was born in Nakhon Ratchasima, three-and-a-half hours northeast of the capital Bangkok.
His parents owned a garage, which made life a little easier.
“Because we had the business, we had enough to survive,” he said before explaining his route into combat sports. “I went to school, as any normal kid would. Around the age of 10, I went to a different province, to visit a relative and there was an event going on.
“I fought Muay Thai for the first time then, (I had) never trained before. I fought and won my first Muay Thai fight. It was a three-round fight and I won on points. Life was pretty regular, not too difficult.”
Initially Pongsaklek didn’t take the training too seriously but, when he was 12, he stepped things up and worked hard at his craft to the age of 15, training twice a day.
His training regime started at 5:00 a.m. with a run. He’d go to school and then train again in the afternoon, once he returned home from school.
Pongsaklek had approximately 50 Muay Thai fights, initially in his home province before migrating the bigger stage. He fought at the prestigious Lumpinee Stadium, the home of Muay Thai, in Bangkok, on around 20 occasions.
“I was quite well-known for having good hands,” he explained. “Around the age of 15, I was taken to fight in a national youth boxing tournament, representing my province, and I won the gold medal. That’s how I got into boxing.”
He entered the pros with no significant expectations.
“I didn’t have any hopes or aspirations,” he admitted. “I didn’t think I’d make it to where I did, especially when I started out. I just thought it was my responsibility and duty and roll to train hard and do my best. That was really the only thing I focused on.”
His training as a pro was just as brutal. He would run 20 kilometers (approximately 12 miles) every morning and another 5 kilometer (approximately three miles) in the afternoon every day.
All told Pongsaklek (90-5-2, 47 knockouts) now 39, engaged in 26 world title fights, going 22-2-2 (8 KOs). He made a 112-pound record 17 defenses of his title and was later awarded the highly-regarded “WBC Champion of the Decade Award” for his achievements in the 2000s.
“I’m very proud to have represented and built a name for Thailand as well for my family.” he said simply.
When asked about the possibility of one day entering the International Boxing Hall of Fame, he says, “It’s not something I really think about but, if they’d like to put me in, it would be a great honor. All I really focus on is my responsibility that I had to be the best boxer I could and represent Thailand the best that I could.”
All the while, Pongsaklek continues to teach his boxing/Muay Thai classes, in relative anonymity, a far cry from his celebrity in Thailand.
However, while his biggest purse from boxing was ฿10,000,000 baht (around $300,000 USD) for facing Koki Kameda, in his finest hour, when he regained his WBC crown from the cocky upstart, much of that purse went to his handlers.
In Singapore, he earns a good living and is able to impart his wisdom back into the sport in an emerging nation.
He’s thankful, as one would expect from someone so unassuming, for his current opportunity.
“I want to thank Chatri for giving me the opportunity to come over here and train at Evolve, and for the way he looks after all the instructors. It’s a very warm and family-like atmosphere here.”
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him at www.twitter.com/AnsonWainwright.
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