Coronavirus pandemic

Thai kickboxers eager to get back into the ring

Mr Sunthorn "Payak" Saengngeon (left) and his brother Tewan "Panpayak" Saengngeon are among the kickboxers in Thailand who have not been able to practise, much less fight bouts, as the country locked down to battle the coronavirus.
Mr Sunthorn "Payak" Saengngeon (left) and his brother Tewan "Panpayak" Saengngeon are among the kickboxers in Thailand who have not been able to practise, much less fight bouts, as the country locked down to battle the coronavirus.ST PHOTO: HATHAI TECHAKITTERANUN

Mr Waiwit Wongkhan, better known as "Petchdam", his moniker in the kickboxing ring, which translates into black diamond, cannot wait to return to his full training regimen and win more matches.

Thailand is set to reopen gymnasiums today and boxing stadiums possibly later next month.

"I'm excited to get to box again and see my friends who will come here to train. I can't wait for the same ambience as before," the 22-year-old multiple winner of the One Championship competition, organised by Asia's biggest mixed martial arts promoter, told The Straits Times last week.

Unlike most of the 40 or so other Muay Thai fighters at Petchyindee Academy in Bangkok who went home during the lockdown, which was imposed in mid-March, Petchdam and a few other boxers remained in a shared dormitory in the gym compound.

"I didn't want to go home because people in my neighbourhood think Covid-19 was spread by boxers. But actually, it was not us," said the native of the north-eastern province of Ubon Ratchathani.

Coronavirus outbreaks were reported at boxing stadiums in the Thai capital Bangkok in early March during big matches that were attended by thousands of spectators who then spread it to other parts of Thailand.

Hundreds of people, mostly spectators and their close contacts, were confirmed to have contracted the virus.

"We were made scapegoats. Many people assumed that any boxer would have Covid-19. I myself even got bullied by people in my hometown, so I decided not to go home and stay here," said Mr Anurut Wannasert, 28, a Petchyindee trainer from Maha Sarakham province in the north-east of the country.

Petchdam normally wakes up at 5.30am to train for four hours, and then three hours more in the late afternoon. The training involves running on a treadmill, weightlifting, practising punching and kicking techniques, and other exercises.

But with gyms closed, the flyweight champion wakes up later and has scaled down his training by half - to only 31/2 hours of running outside the gym each day.

SCAPEGOATS

We were made scapegoats. Many people assumed that any boxer would have Covid-19. I myself even got bullied by people in my hometown, so I decided not to go home and stay here.

MR ANURUT WANNASERT, 28, a Petchyindee trainer from Maha Sarakham province in north-east Thailand, on why he stayed on at the gym in Bangkok.

Taking up the sport at the tender age of 10, Petchdam joined many Thais who begin competing at a young age, with prize money the main lure. Last year, he won four out of five One Championship matches.

"I really want to resume training and fighting. I want to keep making money for my family again," said Sombat "Praewprao" Janpong, another boxer at Petchyindee.

 
 
 

The ban on boxing matches means a disruption in earnings.

Like Petchdam, Praewprao received a few hundred baht a match at the beginning. Now, the 21-year-old earns about 80,000 baht (S$3,600) when he wins.

"I want to keep fighting until I earn enough to buy my own house at least," he said.

The reopening of gyms today will be part of phase 3 of a gradual easing of lockdown measures since May 3, following fewer new cases of Covid-19 reported each day. The numbers have fallen significantly over the past month, at times to only single digit or even zero.

Yesterday, Thailand reported four new cases and no new deaths, bringing the total number of infections to 3,081, with 57 deaths.

Other businesses re-opening this week include cinemas, theatres, spas, massage parlours, beauty clinics, zoos and some sports venues for training purposes only, such as swimming pools, football pitches, volleyball and basketball courts.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2020, with the headline 'Thai kickboxers eager to get back into the ring'. Subscribe