“Do you know who that is?” a beaming Manny Pacquiao asked in excitement.
Pacquiao, amidst the serious work of preparing for his May 2 fight against unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr., nodded in the direction of a bespectacled, older-looking man standing inside Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood last week.
To guess the man’s identity was like being asked to identify exactly how many jelly beans filled a glass jar. Pacquiao came to the rescue.
“That’s the first guy I beat for a world title,” Pacquiao said.
The 45-year-old man, Chatchai Sasakul, made the third defense of his World Boxing Council flyweight belt in his home country of Thailand on Dec. 4, 1998.
He had no idea, of course, he was stepping into the ring against a fighter who would eventually win a record eight division world titles and participate in what is expected to be the most prominent bout of the generation. Pacquiao, then 19, was fighting outside his native Philippines for only the second time.
But he quickly caught Sasakul’s attention with his famed quickness and punching power.
“He fought so fast,” Sasakul said. “The power … more.”
Did he have an idea Pacquiao was destined for something greater?
“I guess,” Sasakul said.
Pacquiao recalled Sasakul was a skilled fighter. He retired in 2008 with a record of 65-4 with 40 knockouts, winning 19 consecutive bouts after the Pacquiao loss.
He came to visit Pacquiao because he remains in the sport in Thailand as a trainer.
“He was good,” Pacquiao said while shadow boxing, within earshot of Sasakul. “I guess I got lucky.”
Pacquiao looked at Sasakul and spoke to him, “You got tired, remember? You were breathing hard,” Pacquiao said, reenacting a gasping sound.
In the eighth round, with Pacquiao ahead on all three judges’ scorecards, he knocked out Sasakul.
Sasakul first paid Pacquiao a reunion visit last year, and the Filipino congressman immediately recognized his former foe, saying, “Chatchai, when[ever] you come here, stop by,” according to Sasakul.
Pacquiao successfully defended the belt he won from Sasakul twice by technical knockouts, but then was overweight and moved to super-bantamweight, where he would claim that belt in his 2001 U.S. debut.