Srisaket Sor Rungvisai has captivated Thailand with his ring power
Years ago, as he labored through days as a garbage collector, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai would catch himself thinking of something more glorious.
“I was hoping I’d become an OK boxer, maybe of winning a regional belt … ,” he said.
By winning and then impressively defending his World Boxing Council super-flyweight belt last year, Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai has risen to almost mythic stature in his country.
He’s already had two personal audiences with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, has his image on a giant billboard and, with live broadcasts of his fights shown on national television, has rivaled the grip Manny Pacquiao has on the Philippines.
The country gathers again Saturday night U.S. time when Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 knockouts) meets Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KOs) in the HBO-televised “SuperFly 2” card at the Inglewood Forum.
“What’s changed about my life is that people know me more and what I’m proud of is that I’m an inspiration to a lot of people in Thailand,” Sor Rungvisai, 31, said through an interpreter. “I hope to do more.”
He’s already done much, first by upsetting boxing’s then-No. 1 pound-for-pound four-division champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez by a narrow majority decision in March at Madison Square Garden, and then topping that in September by flattening Gonzalez with a fourth-round knockout punch at StubHub Center that sent the former champion from Nicaragua to the hospital.
He returned to a hero’s welcome in Thailand, with a mass of reporters and fans meeting him at the airport.
Sor Rungvisai was so caught up in the moment of glory he’d never envisioned for himself that he decided to double down, taking a knee to propose marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Kae.
That story generated national headlines and coverage, too, meaning people flock around Sor Rungvisai on the occasions he’s spotted walking around town in his bright yellow jacket.
“I’m happy and proud of how they see me, very proud of my achievement. And this feeling comes from the fact that I worked very hard for a better life,” he said. “In the end, that was realized.”
And the prime minister once told him something that Sor Rungvisai holds dearly.
“The No. 1 thing the prime minister told me was that the WBC belt does not belong only to me. It belongs to the whole nation of Thailand and all Thai people,” Sor Rungvisai said. “They all need me to train hard and fight well to keep the belt for Thailand.”
In Estrada, 27, Sor Rungvisai confronts a rugged technician and former flyweight world champion with a 10-fight winning streak, but he also has pressure to fulfill the lofty expectations created by his destruction of Chocolatito.
“I don’t see it like that at all,” he said. “I know there will be a lot of Mexican fans cheering for Estrada, just like when Chocolatito had all his fans. But I will not feel any pressure for the fight. I’m very confident.”
Sor Rungvisai is a converted Muay Thai fighter who started 1-3-1 as a pro boxer before aligning with a team that improved his matchmaking and allowed him to develop his ferocious punching power with a dedicated gym regimen.
He has now knocked out 15 of his last 16 foes, and it was his first-round knockdown of Gonzalez in their first meeting that allowed him to slip by via decision.
Winning the belt took him to the WBC convention late last year in Azerbaijan, where he was left in awe while meeting greats like Evander Holyfield, Vitali Klitschko and Prince Naseem Hamed.
“I did not think I was as good as those other champions. I was just happy to meet my heroes and take photographs with some of them,” he said.
He saved his purse money to recently buy his first home, a condominium he and Kae will move into following their wedding date, which will be set after Saturday’s fight.
“When I was a trash collector, I didn’t really have anywhere to live, so looking back from then to now, this is a big achievement,” Sor Rungvisai said. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Main event: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 knockouts) vs. Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KOs) for Sor Rungvisai’s WBC super-flyweight belt
Where: Inglewood Forum
When: Saturday, first bout 3:45 p.m., televised portion begins at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $30, $60, $100, $150, $250 at Ticketmaster, Forum box office
Undercard: Carlos Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KOs) vs. McWilliams Arroyo (16-3, 14 KOs), super-flyweights; Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22 KOs) vs. Juan Carlos Reveco (39-3, 19 KOs) for Nietes’ IBF flyweight belt