As Friday rolls into Saturday in the US, fans up late, or early depending how one views it, won’t have to look far to find an intriguing clash in the squared circle. YouTube (Saturday, 3:45 AM EST) will deliver a clash between two or the more globally recognizable names in Thai boxing over the last decade in a fight few were thinking about until it was made.
Once combined, the names just sort of made sense.
33-year old former two-time Jr. bantamweight titlist and lineal champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41 KO) makes his first appearance since losing his crown, and a twenty-fight win streak, in an April 2019 rematch with Mexico’s excellent Juan Francisco Estrada. With a win over Estrada in the first fight, and two wins over then undefeated Roman Gonzalez, there’s an argument to be made for Sor Rungvisai having the two best wins of any Thai champion since Pone Kingpetch defeated the likes of Fighting Harada and Pascual Perez.
Given the quality of their two clashes, a rubber match with Estrada seemed a year ago and still today both essential and inevitable. The latter may prove illusory the longer they are apart. A rematch between Estrada and Gonzalez could happen first and there are no guarantees of outcome there. The round robin of action at Jr. bantamweight in recent years has been as unpredictable as it’s been entertaining.
Adding former titlist Carlos Cuadras, Sor Rungvisai has been part of a rare perfect four-way rivalry with multiple fight of the year level classics to show for it. The supporting cast around them has provided real depth meaning no one can be sure where things are headed until the fights play out in the ring.
That’s a good thing.
Across the ring from Sor Rungvisai this Saturday is a battler who, being fair, might have more name value than ring value at the moment. Former IBF titlist Amnat Ruenroeng (20-3, 6 KO) is now 40 years old, well advanced for the lowest weights, and his results have been decidedly mixed in the last five years.
Including losing his belt to Johnriel Casimero via stoppage in 2016, Ruenroeng is 3-3 in his last six starts including another stoppage loss to Nawaphon Por Chokchai in 2018. Ruenroeng was also stopped in his second bout at the 2016 Olympics, his second spin through the Games after appearing for Thailand in 2008.
Heading into Sor Rungvisai, Ruenroeng has won two straight but they were nothing like the heavy handed former champion on tap.
Whether this fight proves competitive in the ring or not, it’s what Ruenroeng did prior to Casimero loss that lends value to the occasion. It might not always have been pretty to watch, but Ruenroeng had a hell of a run at flyweight for a few years. After winning a vacant belt against veteran Rocky Fuentes, Ruenroeng handed Kazuto Ioka and Zou Shiming their first losses, narrowly slid by McWilliams Arroyo, and got the decision against Casimero in their first foul-marred encounter.
Along the way, Ruenroeng picked up a reputation for stretching the limits of the Marquis of Queensberry rules in fights whose watchability varied greatly. His skills were apparent. His willingness to find other ways to win when they might not have been enough was too.
Ruenroeng never got to test his talents against Gonzalez and Estrada when they had the rest of the hardware at flyweight. His style suggested the possibility of playing spoiler and one wonders if he has enough to throw a wrench in the works here.
Sor Rungvisai has indicated he’d be fine with third fights against either Estrada or Gonzalez. Fans who have followed the saga in their division would be too. Ruenroeng returning to prominence would be unexpected for sure but he’ll glove up and take his chances.
With travel issues contested against the need to get active, pitting two known commodities against each other in an attractive regional clash is as good a way to kick start things as any. The stakes are clear. A loss for Sor Rungvisai would be a real setback.
He can’t afford to be spoiled.
It probably won’t happen.
It doesn’t mean it can’t.
That’s worth waking, or staying, up for.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org