He is Thailand’s second world’s champion in professional boxing, having followed Pone Kingpetch, and is considered the great grandfather of boxing in Thailand. He was the King of Thailand’s favorite boxer, spending time at his palace and often receiving his public praise. He is a devout family man who was possessed by the need to give his wife and four children a good life and is revered by many of Thailand’s great boxers including Samart Payakarun, Muangchai Kitticasem, Saman Sorjaturong and Sot Chitalada.

I took the 6AM train from Bangkok to see Chionoi at his home in Chiang Mai, arriving in the early evening. His son Boi had arranged to pick me but in typical Thai fashion, the entire Chionoi family was waiting for me at the train station. I had a hotel reserved but was told they would have none of it and I would be staying at their home. We stopped and had dinner at one of their favorite restaurants and then made the forty-five minute journey from the city to their home in the hills.

The Chionoi home is set on a hill about two hundred yards in from the main road, hidden behind hundreds of trees in a lush, green forest. The tallest trees are in the back of the house and when standing on the doorstep of the house the tip of the Doi Suthep Mountain is just visible. A small pasture lies between the house and a creek just before a huge row of soaring trees that extends all the way to the main road. To get to the house, you must first negotiate a rickety, twenty-foot long wooden bridge that descends forty-five degrees and allows one to cross the creek. Another hundred yards through an alley between a line of shrubs and the house is upon you.

Chionoi’s home is a museum of memorabilia and a shrine to the three-time flyweight champion. It is a traditional Thai home, made from wood, two stories and set on thick wooden pillars. Modest but comfortable, you can’t help but scan the busy walls and take in the memories of Chionoi’s life.

That first night we stayed up well into the wee hours of the morning, talking about everything life has to offer, of course boxing included. Family and relationships are also popular subjects and there was never a shortage of conversation. There were times we talked only of boxing and others we spent having fun; like our trip to Chionoi’s waterfall on his property or our late night B-B-Q discussing the virtues of staying single or being married. I was not only given an interview but an inside look into the life of Chionoi and his family before and after boxing.

All along the way, Oot, Chionoi’s wife of 45 years, has been his constant friend and companion, doing everything her husband has with the exception of physically getting in the ring and doing battle. Nonetheless, she has felt her share of the punches and still does.

When I first met Chionoi, I had a hard time understanding him; like countless other pugilists who have fought in many-a-hard battle, he slurs his words. I originally thought he might have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s but later found doctors don’t know what is specifically wrong with him other than his brain has been damaged from being on the receiving end of far too many punches. Fortunately he has the resources to receive the care he needs and is examined every three months.

Several times a day he would motion to me, telling me he was spinning and suffering from a headache. Noise compounds his condition, filling his head with confusion. A room full of people talking could be all it takes to set off a headache which is why he and his wife moved to the countryside in Chiang Mai – it’s serene and uncluttered.

I found myself telling him more than once how many children I have and that “Yes, I am married to a Thai woman. She’s home in Bangkok taking care of the kids.” His short-term memory is virtually nonexistent but his medium to long-term memory is excellent.

I’ve resisted the urge to feel sorry for him and thankfully so. Much like Muhammad Ali he wants no sympathy and is quietly content. He is far from destitute and is full of life. He has land throughout Thailand and a doting wife and four children who help make sure he is well taken care of. They are all extremely proud of what he’s accomplished and sacrificed and are acutely aware he has given his blood, sweat and tears – for them.

When at the end of our time together I asked Chionoi if it was all worth it, he wasted no time in telling me “Definitely.”

“Boxing has been good to me and my family,” said Chionoi. “Sometimes it’s painful to always see my championship belts and the photos on the wall because I miss the excitement of being in the ring, but if I had it to do all over again I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Even now, 31 years after his last fight, his face and name are still remembered in Thailand and around the world. When a group of us went to a tiny food market on the side of the road, a woman asked, “Didn’t that guy used to be a fighter? He’s… Chionoi… right?!” Chionoi simply smiled and waved, happy to be remembered but slightly embarrassed.

Next – Part 2, Speaking with Chartchai

Chartchai Chionoi

Career: 1957 – 1975
Championships: WBC Flyweight (1966-1969, 1970), WBA Flyweight (1973-1974), OPBF (1962, 1963)
Memorable Wins: Efren Torres, Walter McGowan, Salvatore Burruni, Berkrerk Chartvanchai and Friz Chervet
Memorable Losses: Masao Ohba, Erbito Salavarria
Alias Naris Chionoi
Country: Thai
Hometown: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Birthplace: Bangkok, Thailand
Division: Flyweight
Date of Birth:  Oct. 10, 1942
Stance: Orthodox
Manager: Boonlert Lerkpicha and Prayot Pisanbot

BoxRec record shows Chianoi as 63-18-3
According to Chionoi family records, BoxRec records are incorrect.

His record may actually be somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-20-3 and are in the process of being updated. The update should be completed by the end of September 2006.

Thai Tidbits

Contrary to rumors floating around, former bantamweight king Veeraphol Sahaprom has no plans of moving up in weight. According to Sahaprom’s manager, Suchart Pissitwuttinun (See Ooey), Sahaprom is gunning for a rematch against current WBC champion Hozumi Hasegawa or the WBA champion, Vladimir Sidorenko.

”Veeraphol wants to be a three-time champion,” said See Ooey. “It really doesn’t matter who it’s against though as long as it’s a WBC or WBC title.”

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7-28-06, Saraburi, Thailand: Chatchai Sasakul TKO’d  Katsumi Makiyama in round five of their scheduled twelve round bout to win the Asian Boxing Council’s (WBC) interim super flyweight title. Sasakul has stopped working at the karaoke bar and restaurant which bears his name, instead dedicating all of his time to one last run at the title.

From the P.I.

According to the ESPN scribe Dan Rafael, Manny Pacquiao will be dropping his current managerial team of Shelly Finkel, Nick Khan and Keith Davidson after his third fight with Erik Morales. No reason has been given for the split but a future partnership between Manny Pacquiao Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank has been mentioned. Manny Pacquiao confidant Rex “Wakee” Salud has stated, however, the decision is all Pacquiao’s and at this point it would be premature to confirm any change in management.

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Up-and-coming Filipino super bantamweight Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista suffered a hairline fracture of the collarbone in training and has been scratched from the undercard of the September 16th Barrera – Jaurez fight.

(Read Part 2 of Scott Mallon's feature on Chartchai Chionoi)