Former champion Chatchai Sasakul nurturing the next generation of Thai boxers
Chatchai Sasakul is a former WBC flyweight world champion. The 48 year old retired in 2008 with an impressive 63-4-1 record but continues to be heavily involved in the sport and has trained an entire generation of Thai champions.
The likes of Kompayak Por Pramuk, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Knockout CP Freshmart and Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep have all won world titles with Chatchai in their corner and the Sasakul Gym in Pathum Thani is home to some of the country’s best boxers.
The gym is situated inside the bustling Lat Sawai market in Lam Luk Ka district, just north of Bangkok. It is is home to Petchyindee’s stable of boxers and, like a lot of gyms nowadays, has tapped into the market for Muay Thai training for regular people who just want to work out or lose weight.
Student of the sport
Chatchai, who will be cornering Petch CP Freshmart in a world title tilt in Japan this weekend, remains an avid student of the sport. He’s faced the likes of Manny Pacquiao and can draw on decades of experience.
“In Muay Thai my hero was Samart Payakaroon, he had everything, great eyesight and defence and timing and skills. In international boxing I didn’t have a hero, but the one fight that always stood out for me was the match between Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. I was impressed by the work rate and intensity of Leonard. He didn’t have the fastest punches I’ve seen but his constant movement and work rate saw him able to beat Hagler’.”
Pacquiao was one of only four fighters to ever beat Chatchai in the boxing ring. It was the Filipino’s first ever world title and back then no one could have predicted what he would go on to achieve both inside and outside of the ring.
But while Chatchai had no way of knowing the sort of success Pacquiao would achieve he was well aware of his opponent’s considerable strengths and says their 1998 fight is one he looks back on with a slight tinge of regret.
“I was asked if I felt I could beat him and my team were a little concerned that we wouldn’t have enough time to prepare for the fight and wanted to put the date back a couple of months. I watched a tape of him and said I could beat him but his high pressure style got to me very quickly. I made a mistake but think if I had more time to prepare I could have beaten him.”
Biggest boxing match
The two men would be reunited decades later when Chatchai was invited to the biggest boxing match of all time.
“I never fought in Las Vegas myself, but I got the chance to go to the Pacquiao vs Mayweather fight. I was in America teaching at the time and Manny invited me to the fight and looked after me. He is a good man, we fought before in the ring, but he shows me a lot of respect outside of the ring and we keep in touch.”
Chatchai was already highly regarded as a trainer before opening his gym, and received an award for best trainer from the Sports Writers of Thailand and Siam Geela. Both came in recognition of his work with former WBC 108lbs champion Kompayak Porpramook.
Although better known for his boxing accomplishments Chatchai also fought and beat some of the biggest names in the sport during his Muay Thai career. Using the name Nungthoranee Petchyindee he faced the likes of Hippy Singmanee, Karuhat Sor Supawan and Kangwannoi Or Sribualoi. Chatchai never won a stadium title, but once beat Boonlong Sor Thanikul in a fight for the Eastern Thailand 40kgs belt.
However his gym is mainly focused on boxers as Chatchai says the competition to find Muay Thai talent is too intense.
“We are not really 100% ready to produce Muay Thai fighters for the stadiums in terms of trainers and also it is hard to find fighters that can develop into a high level. Most of the big gyms have their scouts that seek out all the best young talent and it’s not easy to find someone that wants to come and train with us,” he said.
Chatchai enjoyed boxing success as an amateur before turning pro. He won a gold medal in the school championships when he was 15 years old, and went on to represent Thailand in the SEA Games, Asian Games and 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Chatchai had a record of 85 fights as an amateur with 78 wins, but it was after the death of Klaew Thanikul, the head of Thailand’s amateur boxing association, that Chatchai was approached by his Muay Thai mentor Virat Vachirarattanawong, the owner of Petchyindee Gym, and asked to make the switch from amateur to professional boxing.
The pinnacle of Chatchai’s boxing career came on the 12th of November 1997, when he beat Russian star Yuri Arbachakov in his second attempt, winning the WBC 112lbs title. This was Chatchai’s proudest moment in the sport.
“When I first fought Yuri for the belt in 1995 I felt afterwards that I had overtrained, I didn’t quite have enough energy to get the decision. The second time we got it just right and I felt much stronger. I think this was also the peak of my career.”
He was in Las Vegas to see the money spinning fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao. Chatchai saw first hand how much interest the bigger fighters can generate in boxing and this is his main ambition for the Sasakul Gym.
“I want to develop a fighter at a higher weight, say 67-73kgs, as these are the weights highly regarded in the west. I want to get them to the level to go and fight on a big card in Las Vegas.”