Chatchai Sasakul finds new life as trainer of current and future champs in Thailand
“In the past, my father wasn’t a fighter, but he loved watching Muay Thai on television and gambling. I don’t know why, but that’s how his interest in the sport started. He wanted me to become a Muay Thai fighter. I began training and fighting Muay Thai when I was 7 years old,” shared former WBC flyweight champion Chatchai Sasakul (63-4-1) during an interview at his gym in Pathum Thani, Bangkokm, which took place just before WBA minimumweight super champion Thammanoon Niyomtrong (24-0) and WBC strawweight champion Panya Pradabsri (40-1) arrived for their training session.
Sasakul, though not a Muay Thai champion himself, faced some of the big names in the Thai circuit during the golden era of the sport, including Karuhat Sor Supawan, Boonlai Sor Thanikul, Kaensak Sor Ploenjit, and Hippy Singmanee. And then, boxing appeared in his life.
“I tried out the amateur boxing program in my high school. My first amateur boxing match was at Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok, part of a tournament representing Thailand internationally. In my debut, I secured a gold medal and received the tournament’s best boxer trophy,” Sasakul recounted when discussing his transition from Muay Thai to boxing.
Over the following years, Sasakul achieved considerable success in the amateur boxing circuit, representing Thailand in the South East Asian Games and later at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea. “During the Olympics, I reached the quarter-finals but lost to Hungarian Robert Isaszegi. He was a tough opponent, and our fight was closely contested,” he recalled.
Sasakul explained what led him to turn professional, saying, “After the Asian Games in Beijing, I won a silver medal. Around that time, the president of amateur boxing in Thailand passed away. My former Muay Thai manager approached me to discuss professional boxing. After careful consideration, I decided to turn professional at the age of 22.”
In 1991, Sasakul made his professional debut, scoring a first-round stoppage victory over Filipino Bert Refugio (9-5-1). He then enjoyed an undefeated streak of 21 fights. However, his first world title challenge against Russia’s Yuri Arbachakov (23-1) for the WBC World flyweight title at Nippon Budokan, Japan, ended in a unanimous decision loss. Sasakul reflected on this experience, saying, “When I fought Arbachakov for the first time, it was a significant event for me, and everything felt unusual. I was filled with excitement, considering that the fight took place in Japan, far away from Thailand. Looking back, I realized that my preparation wasn’t adequate. I believe my excitement led to overtraining. Nevertheless, I learned a great deal from that first fight and made adjustments in my preparation.”
Two years later, Sasakul sought redemption in a rematch with Arbachakov, and he won by unanimous decision. The rematch was held at Tsukisamu Green Dome in Sapporo, Japan, and Sasakul entered the ring as interim world champion.
“Before the rematch with Yuri Arbachakov, I was ranked number one in the WBC flyweight division, while Ysaias Zamudio (49-9-1) from the US held the number two spot. Yuri Arbachakov suffered an injury, and as a result, the WBC mandated me to fight Zamudio.” Sasakul emerged victorious against Zamudio by unanimous decision at the Prince Palace Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand in 1997 and then validated his belt against Arbachakov when the Russian recovered from his injury later in the year.
After successfully defending his world title twice, Sasakul received an unexpected challenge from an unknown Filipino boxer who would later become one of the greatest pugilists of our time: none other than eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao (62-8-2).
Sasakul recounted, “I had only a month to prepare for my fight with Pacquiao due to some family issues. Initially, I thought I would take the fight for a paycheck and retire afterward. I may have underestimated him. My manager informed me that I would be defending my world title against a Filipino southpaw. I used to enjoy facing southpaws and believed I could easily defeat him because I thought he relied solely on strength and power. In reality, after just four rounds, I had no energy left. I tried to conserve my energy for the full 12 rounds, but it proved impossible. I had no power left in me, but I didn’t mind, as I believed it would be my final fight.”
Sasakul’s vivid recollection of the fight with Pacquiao, even years later, highlights the profound impact of that memorable bout. He experienced significant success against Pacquiao, unboxing him in the early rounds before being knocked out in the 8th round. This moment remains a significant chapter in Sasakul’s career.
On March 30, 2007, tragedy struck when Sasakul faced Filipino Lito Sisnorio (10-6-1) in an 8-round tune-up fight. Sadly, Sisnorio was knocked out in the fourth round and suffered brain injuries, ultimately passing away in the hospital. It later emerged that Sisnorio had not been approved to fight in Thailand by the Philippine boxing commission, the Games and Amusement Board. Sasakul expressed, “I felt terrible after the accident because I’m just a boxer, and I never intended to harm anyone. It was an accident, but it had a profound impact on me. I wanted to retire from boxing, and my fighting style and approach changed significantly.”
In 2008, Sasakul faced another significant challenge when he fought WBA/WBC junior bantamweight champion Cristian Mijares(59-9-2) in Mexico. Sasakul was stopped in the 3rd round after being knocked down in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, prompting referee Toby Gibson to call off the fight. This marked Sasakul’s final world title challenge.
Reflecting on that experience, he shared that “the Mijares fight was plagued by bad luck from start to finish. I undertook my training entirely on my own, taking it very seriously for about 45 days. I left for the fight a week in advance, departing from Bangkok. My journey took me through Hong Kong, where I encountered a typhoon upon arrival. After spending two nights there, I returned to Thailand. I spent the night in Bangkok, then flew to Frankfurt, Germany. I spent 8 hours in Frankfurt before transferring to Mexico City. Finally, I caught my last flight to Monterrey, Mexico, arriving at 1 am. The day of the fight, while my hands were being wrapped, I was falling asleep! My mind wasn’t in the right place, but I proceeded with the fight.”
Sasakul’s last fight occurred three months later in the historic Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, where he faced Thai journeyman Chaiwirat Rongthaisong (2-17) and stopped his compatriot in the fifth round of their six-round bout. When asked about his decision to retire, he stated, “I had a sense that it was time to stop. I was getting older; I was 37 years old.
“After retiring from fighting, I ventured into various business endeavours, including opening a restaurant and a snooker club (I was also a former professional snooker player). Unfortunately, I did not experience success in these ventures. Eventually, my former promoter and manager, Mr. Virat Vachirarattanawong, approached me with an offer to train his boxers. I thought, why not? Let me give it a try.” Sasakul has achieved remarkable success as a trainer, guiding WBA titlist Thamanoon Niyomtrong throughout his career and training Panya Pradabsri to dethrone former 105-pound king Wanheng Meenayothin (55-3) for his WBC strawweight title. “I find great joy in training my boxers and sharing my knowledge. My gym boasts many skilled boxers, and two promising prospects to watch are WBC-ranked 2nd Tasana Salapat (73-1) and Anuchai Donsua (11-0), who is ranked 15th in the IBF bantamweight rankings. We cannot predict the future, but they work diligently, and I believe they have the potential to excel,” he proudly remarked.
Sasakul received the prestigious Trainer of the Year award in Thailand in 2011, recognizing his achievements with former WBC light flyweight champion Suriyan Satorn and former WBC flyweight Legend Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
“My future plans in boxing revolve around taking my boxers to compete in the US. It’s a dream of mine to have my fighters perform on the American stage. My inspiration comes from attending the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather fight at the MGM Grand in the US. The atmosphere was electrifying, with a massive crowd. I had never witnessed anything like it before. I hope to provide one of my fighters with a similar experience. While I’m uncertain if I can achieve it, I will make every effort. Currently, Panya Pradabsri is preparing to defend his belt in Japan against Yudai Shigeoka, and Thamanoon Niyomtrong is gearing up to travel to the US to defend his belt against WBA regular champion Erick Rosa. Our focus is on these upcoming fights, and I want both fighters to showcase their skills,” Sasakul shared regarding his future plans as a trainer.
Chatchai Sasakul, also known as “Nung” in the Thai boxing world, undeniably stands as a legend, not only within the boxing realm but also as a champion of the people. His victory over Yuri Arbachakov remains one of the most outstanding displays of technical prowess.
Sasakul will be remembered in Thai boxing history not just as a boxer but as one of the most beloved figures in the sport.