Legendary flyweight Chartchai Chionoi, “Little Marciano,” passed away this week after a long battle with Parkinson’s. His wife of forty-five years, Sirintorn, was in attendance. He was seventy-five years old.
Chionoi turned professional in the late 1950s, the beginning of a career which would stretch to the mid-seventies, encompassing an incredible thirteen world title fights and two stints as the flyweight champion of the world. Chionoi was one of the few men who could reasonably refer to “his” world championship when discussing the title but it was not something this humble fighting man would ever have thought of.
Born in Bangkok, Thailand, this was also the site of his first tilt at the flyweight championship of the world, then in the possession of the wonderful Scottish king Walter McGowan. McGowan was a genius with his left hand and the teak tough Thai’s plan seemed nothing less than allowing McGowan to hit him with this punch while making him pay, and pay and pay. It was a counter-right that started McGowan’s nose bleeding in the second and Chionoi continued to work over the wound for seven more rounds before the referee interceded in his favor.
Chionoi staged a single defense against local competition in 1967 and then traveled to London for a rematch with McGowan. It was his first time fighting outside of the Orient and it seemed early that traveling did not suit him as McGowan outboxed and outfought him in a torrid opening five rounds that would have wilted a lesser man. Not so Chionoi. Disciplined, durable, guard high, he continued to march into the Scotsman and to eat his punches. Another of those sharp counter right hands opened up an awful injury over McGowan’s right eye in the fifth and in the sixth and seventh a legend was made as the Scotsman (pictured on the left) tried to stave off the inevitable stoppage with one of his own.
Chionoi lived for this kind of ring-war and was almost immovable in this, his prime, and he survived brutal punishment while delivering his own share of misery to McGowan, who was pulled in the seventh.
For his next defense, Chionoi traveled to Mexico to match one of flyweight history’s most brutal punchers, Efren Torres. Torres was a ring savage who racked up forty-one knockouts in a rollercoaster career of vicious savagery. Chionoi would meet him three times ring center, defeating him in Mexico amidst a storm of blood before having the tables turned upon him in a rematch, stopped in eight after suffering his own awful eye injury. In their third fight, staged in his spiritual home of Bangkok, Chionoi staged an unexpected career rally to be named once again the flyweight champion of the world. It was among the most blood-soaked trilogies in history that fittingly defined his heat-fueled career.
But it perhaps finished him as a world class fighter. He lost his title in his very next defense against Erbito Salavarria, dropped three times on his way to a second round stoppage loss. He did eventually pick up a piece of the title once more, but the old fire was gone and although he continued to bring the best of what remained to him to the ring it was now as a grade-A opponent rather than a great of the ring.
Difficulty with the weight eventually chased him from flyweight and then from the sport.
Stricken by Parkinson’s disease, he has spent his well-earned retirement in the company of his wife and four children.
Chionoi’s spirit lives on in a thriving Thai fight scene, spearheaded by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the current and excellent super-flyweight champion.
But there will never be another Chartchai Chionoi.
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