The life of a fighter can be a lonely existence; lost time outside the gym can never be replaced, time away from loved ones strains relationships and normal activities we all take for granted are replaced – all for a chance at fame and fortune and boxing greatness. The life of a fighter is even lonelier if spent inside of a prison. The cheers bestowed upon a prison pugilist are rare and society has a tendency to be uncompromising and unforgiving; those who stray from the pack often fade away, out of sight and out of mind.
Life inside any prison is depressing at best and smiles are hard to come by. The Thai prison system recently instituted a women’s boxing program in order give female inmates a form of discipline, exercise and wellbeing, and possibly, a method of earning a living once released. Combat sports in Thailand have long been the property of Thai males, but these days, more and more Thai women are taking part in the sweet science. For a few hours each day, female prisoners are given a brief respite from their mundane lives and transported outside of the prison walls, spiritually and in some cases physically.
In November of last year, an unknown female fighter, Nongmai Sor Siriporn, hit the headlines worldwide when she fought Japan’s Nanako Kikuchi for the WBC women’s strawweight championship. What made the bout interesting was not that the bout was for a world title, but that Sor Siriporn was incarcerated in the Central Correctional Facility in Pathumthanee, Thailand and was allowed to fight for the title.
Boxing pundits cringed; her record showed no verifiable fights on her ledger and no plausible explanation was given. When the international press got wind of the story, the bout immediately garnered worldwide publicity, thrusting the novice boxer into the spotlight. The WBC steadfastly maintained Sor Sirporn had eight bouts prior to her fight with Kikuchi. This was disputed by many, including myself.
Both Sor Siriporn and Kikuchi displayed commendable heart and determination in what was a gritty and entertaining battle. Kikuchi TKO’d Sor Siriporn in the seventh round, seemingly ending her fairytale run at the title.
Immediately after the Kikuchi bout, Sor Siriporn seemingly contradicted the WBC, declaring “I didn’t expect to win the fight but I gave my all and did the best I could. After all, this was only my first professional fight.”
The truth was somewhere in between.
“I was very nervous,” stated Sor Siriporn. It was my first bout in front of a crowd and I had never fought in a fight like the one against Kikuchi. Fighting in prison bouts is not the same as in front of a big crowd.”
Sor Siriporn had indeed fought eight bouts, however all of the fights took place behind prison walls and all were unsanctioned. These bouts were witnessed only by guards, prison officials and a few others and herein lay the confusion. She also won the gold medal in the 2005 inter-prison boxing tournament but these fights were not recorded where it’s most important, in the annals of professional boxing. Sor Siriporn is paid at least $55 per fight (2000 baht) and the funds are deposited into her prison account. No cash is allowed in prison but the money is hers to use in the prison commissary and once she is released.
Women’s boxing in Thailand is still in its infancy and when Sor Siriporn first began training a mere one year ago, the thought of actually recording the fights was not foremost in the minds of those helping her. The future of the prison boxing program was shaky at best.
Enter legendary trainer Sutjai Supalek, Thailand’s trainer of champions and Choonwang “ Eddy” Toomkit. A long list of fighters have been guided under the tutelage of the 75-year-old trainer: Sot Chitlada, Samart Payakarun, Chatchai Sasakul, Muangchai Kittikasem, Charchai Chionoi, Sitbangprachan, Letnoi Worasing…..Daorung Chutvatana.
The list is impressive – almost of all of Thailand’s great boxers have been trained by Supalek at one point or another in their careers. Toomkit, one of Thailand’s most powerful matchmakers, and Supalek are the best of friends, bonded by tightly by the sport of boxing and their desire to help rehabilitate women in prison. They travel three times per week to train the women in the Central Correctional Facility and the program is now thriving, with women all over Thailand fighting one another.
Nongmai Sor Soriporn has continued her boxing career, steadily improving with the help of Supalek and Toomkit. Her days inside prison are spent training for her next fight and training for life on the outside. She quietly fights on the undercards of her more well-known male counterparts and has won three straight fights after her loss to Kikuchi. She’s on the fast track, learning her newfound trade, honing her skills and hoping to one day fight again for a title.
Arrested three times for the sale of methamphetamines, her toughest fight will be when she leaves the prison and once again faces temptation.
”I know now I can not go around the same people and have people around me who can help me if I need help,” said Sor Siriporn.
”My life is so different now. I want my freedom and I want to box when I get out of prison. I have a life now and feel happy other women in prison know it’s possible to be successful. With the money I make from boxing, I can build a future for myself; maybe one day I’ll build a store in my village.”
Nongmai Sor Siriporn is scheduled to be released in September of this year and will fight again May 10th. Supalek and Toomkit will go on training and mentoring her once she’s free; doing their part to make certain she stays on the right track.
In the end though, it’s all up to her.
On May 10th, Siriporn Sor Siriporn, fellow inmate and stable mate of Nongmai Sor Siriporn, vies to wrest the women’s strawweight title from Japan’s Nanako Kikuchi. The bout will commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumiphol on the throne.
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Thailand’s WBC flyweight champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (60-2-0, 31 KOs) is set to face Daigo Nakahiro (13-1-0, 4 KOs) of Japan on May 1st in Bangkok, Thailand. Wonjongkam need only win the fight to break Miguel Canto’s WBC record of fourteen straight defenses.
March 31, 2006 – ChokChai Four Market, Bangkok, Thailand
Medgoen Singsurat TKO5 Roger Monserto
Fahpetchnoi Chitpattana TD7 Edmund Velayo
March 29, 2006 – Bangkok, Thailand
Pornsawan Kratingdaenggym KO5 Sonny Boy Jaro
Kompayak Porpramook KO1 Rex Pasaones
March 27, 2006 – Sports Complex, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines
Celso Dangood SD10 Joel Escol
Jun Arlos TKO4 Danny Linasa
Sonny Gonzales TKO5 Richard Laano
March 27, 2006 – Rajadamnern Stadium, Bangkok, Thailand
Thiti Sithkosol KO1 Pongpayak Singnumpattana