Is Pongsaklek Wonjongkam a fighter who’s been in the right era, at the right time, with the right promoters, or is he a legitimate, all-time great? His next few fights may give us some answers.
For nearly ten years, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam has remained undefeated, certainly a major feat in itself. The WBC championship belt he won from Malcolm Tunacao of the Philippines has been his for five years; the diminutive 112 lb. fighter is riding a forty-nine fight winning streak and has successfully defended his title twelve times.
On Thursday in Chainart, Thailand, Wongjamkam inches closer to Miguel Canto’s record of fourteen title defenses when he faces Gilberto Keb Bass of Mexico. Keb Bass isn’t on the same level as Jorge Arce or Lorenzo Parra but he did defeat Melchor Cob Castro and went the distance with Eric Morel. He also went eleven rounds with Brian Viloria before being KO’d by a body shot.
So he’s a more credible than usual challenge for Wonjongkam and at least on paper has a decent shot of winning.
Wonjongkam has won his last two fights via technical decision, with both fights being stopped due to cuts caused by unintentional headbutts and Wonjongkam ahead on the scorecards. For some reason though, his camp felt the need to issue a statement proclaiming “Pongsaklek must be careful. Keb Bass is adept at using his head as a weapon.”
Whatever that means – as long as it’s a competitive fight.
Even with all of his championship credentials, Wonjongkam’s place in boxing history is still relatively uncertain. Whether or not he’s considered a legitimate all-time great or just another Thai fighter with a padded record remains to be seen. By most accounts he is regarded as a skilled, defensive fighter who carries a decent punch, but his record lacks a truly, career-defining victory.
”I’d like to fight Lorenzo Parra, Vic Darchinyan, Rosendo Alvarez and, of course, Jorge Arce,” said Wonjongkam. “I will fight anyone my promoter wants me to. I’d like to unify the title, however boxing is a business, and I think this is a difficult goal to achieve.”
Difficult, yes, but not impossible, and there are certainly far better opponents available than what he’s been facing. Lately, even the normally reserved Thai press has been grumbling – announcers and writers have grown increasingly uncomfortable spouting off the names of Thai champions when they know full-well the only reason they are champions is because an organization (WBC) allows them to fight Filipino journeymen for the majority of their careers instead of facing credible opponents. Those who do fight A-level fighters almost always are defeated.
Granted, Wonjongkam had been scheduled to fight Arce last July – but the fight didn’t come off and six months later, the fight still hasn’t been made nor does it look like it will ever be. Many Thai fighters and trainers feel Wonjongkam is indeed scared to fight Arce, perhaps fearful a loss will ruin any chance he has to be the second Thai fighter inducted into the IBHOF. Whether Wonjongkam is reluctant to fight Arce or his promoter is simply holding on to his cash cow, the fact remains that he’s been taking the path of least resistance and is rarely matched against a fighter who has a good chance of beating him.
While Wonjongkam has repeatedly stated he’s willing to test his skills against any flyweight put in the ring with him, talk is cheap. For the last two years he’s fought opposition that can only be considered poor to average at best.
His last mandatory defense came against Hussein Hussein, back in November 2003. Since then, he’s fought Mark Sales (twice), Randy Mangubat, Luis Angel Martinez, Daniel Diolan, Noriyuki Komatsu, Randy Canete, Trash Nakamura, Daisuke Naito and Isidro Balabat.
Not exactly Murderer’s Row – in fact, as illustrated below, none of these fighters are in, nor have ever been rated in, The Ring’s top ten. Most have been WBC gimmes or fighters ranked by the pro-Thai, WBC organization. None of the fighters on Wonjongkam’s resume would ever be considered world beaters. Naito, Hussein and Tunacao were good fighters when he fought them, but were strictly B-level. Alex Baba was 18-1 when he fought Wonjongkam and at one time was a contender, but after the loss to Wonjongkam it’s been all downhill for him.
A fighter’s legacy is determined by the opposition he faces and how he fares against them. What elevates a fighter from good to great are his results when facing A-level fighters. If a fighter ducks or refuses to fight anything other than B and C level fighters, it’s hard to make a case for greatness. The flyweight division is rich with talent and willing opponents, in fact, it’s one of the deepest in boxing.
So does Pongsaklek Wonjongkam warrant being considered an all-time great? Is it all smoke and mirrors?
At one time it looked as if he was on the path to greatness; at this point however, whether he breaks Canto’s record or not is not what’s important. He still needs to prove himself in a fight against Jorge Arce or any of the top five in The Ring’s top ten. He needs to worry more about who he’s fighting and less about chasing records. If you want to be called a great champion, you need to face and defeat any and all comers.
Has Pongsaklek done this?
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The Ring’s Flyweight Rankings
1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
2) Lorenzo Parra
3) Vic Darchinyan
4) Irene Pacheco
5) Omar Narvaez
6) Jorge Arce
7) Rosendo Alvarez
8) Brahim Asloum
9) Takefumi Sakata
10) Victor Burgos
Feb 11, 2006 – Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Rikiya Fukuhara TKO8 Toshimitsu Sakai
Kohei Kono TKO9 Prosper Matsuura
Feb 13, 2006 – Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Daisuke Naito SD12 Daigo Nakahiro
Feb. 16th, 2006 – Sannburi Stadium, Chainart, Thailand
Pongsaklek Wonjongkam vs. Gilberto Keb Bass
Feb. 17th, 2006 – Nonthaburi Pier, Nonthaburi, Thailand
Veeraphol Sahaprom vs Scari Korori
Devid Lookmahanak vs. Satoshi Usui
Napapol Kiatisakchokchai vs. Issa Sewe
Thong Por Chokchai vs. Noriyuki Nakata
March 3, 2006 – Chumash Casino, Santa Ynez, CA, USA
Vic Darchinyan vs. Diosdado Gabi
March 4th, 2006 – Golden Gate Arena, Tenggarong City, Borneo, Indonesia
Chris John vs. Juan Manuel Marquez