By James Goyder
After 97 pro boxing fights Pongsaklek Wonjongkam has finally decided to hang up his gloves. The 37 year old is bringing down the curtain on a glorious career that saw him defend his WBC flyweight belt an incredible 17 times between 2001 and 2007.
These accomplishments were rewarded when he was named the ‘Fighter of the Decade’ by the WBC. During his peak Pongsaklek put together an incredible 56 fight winning streak and he is rightfully regarded as one of the best boxers in the history of the flyweight division.
Pongsaklek was born in Korat and started out competing in Muay Thai before switching to the sweet science on the advice of a promoter,
“I competed in about 50 Muay Thai fights. I wasn't as successful as I hoped to be but I won most of my fights via knockout from punches that I threw. When I was 15 a promoter recognized that I had power in my punches and convinced me to switch to boxing.”
A few months after his 17th birthday Pongsaklek made his pro boxing debut, beating an experienced Filipino by third round KO. He stopped all of his first seven opponents before dropping a decision to former IBF 105 lbs champion Jerry Pahayahay in 1995.
The following year he suffered the first stoppage loss of his career, also at the hands of Pahayahay. It would be 11 years before Pongsaklek was beaten again as he put together one of the longest winning streaks in flyweight history and established himself as the most dominant fighter in the division.
In 1997 he captured the now defunct WBU 108 lbs title. The following year Pongsaklek avenged the pair of losses to Pahayahay with a decision win in Bangkok but he would have to put together 29 straight wins before getting a shot at a more respected belt.
Pongsaklek’s six year reign as WBC 112 lbs champion began in 2001when he knocked the previous champion Malcolm Tunacao down three times in the first round. It was the first loss of the Filipino’s entire career, he had won the belt by stopping Medgoen Singsurat who has himself become a champion at the expense of none other than Manny Pacquiao.
There are two highlights which Pongsaklek picks out from his 19 year boxing career and the win over Tunacao is one of them,
“My favourite memories from my boxing career would have to be becoming WBC World Champion for the first time and being voted ‘Boxer of the Decade' by the WBC.”
Pongsaklek recently accepted a role working as a trainer at Evolve MMA in Singapore. It’s his first full time job since he finished fighting and the former flyweight champion says he hadn’t originally planned to remain in the boxing industry,
“Actually my plan after retiring was to open a shop in my hometown of Korat but I've known Yodsanan Sityodtong for a long time and he asked me if I would like to be an instructor at Evolve. It was a good opportunity so I accepted.”
Trainers reportedly earn upwards of 4,000 USD per month at Evolve MMA and a number of famous fighters, such as former WBA 126 lbs champion Yodsanan, are employed there. It means Pongsaklek could potentially make more now than he did during his peak as a professional boxer,
“The biggest fight purse that I was ever paid during my boxing career was 10 million Baht (approx 300,000 USD) but I only received 1 million Baht (approx 30,000 USD) of it,” he said.
Pongsaklek says the toughest of his 97 boxing bouts was the 2001 title defence against Alex Baba, which he won by technical decision after suffering a serious cut in the fourth round. When asked who his favourite fighter today is the Thai answers without hesitation,
“Definitely Manny Pacquiao”
Among today’s Thai boxers are a number of world champions including Pubngluang Sor Singyu and Amnat Ruenroeng but Pongsaklek thinks the cream of the crop is an undefeated WBC 105 lbs title holder,
“Personally I think that the best Thai who is boxing today is Wanheng Menayothin.”
The sight of a famous former champion tending to a shop in North East Thailand would have been a slightly sad one for fight fans. Fortunately Pongsaklek has found gainful employment within the boxing industry and aspiring pugilists in Singapore have an opportunity to learn from one of the best flyweights ever born.