Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reluctant Hero

Reluctant hero

Kittipong Thongsombat speaks to boxing champion Denkaosan Kaovichit about his long, and rocky, journey to the WBA flyweight title

Published: 18/01/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Sports

Newly-crowned WBA flyweight champion Denkaosan Kaovichit did not like fighting and his boxing career began only because his father wanted him to become a reformed boy.

Denkaosan, whose real name is Waehama Wangmu, was so difficult that his father sent him to a Muay Thai camp where he fought under the name Boonlang Kaovichit.

"My father took me to a boxing camp when I was very young because I was so stubborn," said the 32-year-old from a fishing family.

"At first I did not like fighting. But after a number of fights, I grew to like it."

Because he was reluctant to fight, he lost his first seven bouts earning a mere 180 baht a fight. But he later fell in love with the sport.

He life changed for the better in 1994 when he moved to Bangkok and joined the camp owned by the late promoter Somkid Chukaewrungroj, who was better known as Mai Muangkhon.

At the camp, he stayed with Muay Thai stars such as Oleh Kiatwanchai and Charoenthong Kiatbanchong and wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Although he was successful to a degree earning about 5,000 baht per fight, Denkaosan switched to Queensbury Rules because his promoter felt his powerful punch could take him to a world title.

He beat Filipino Melvin Magramo on points on his debut in 1996, but Denkaosan admits he still favours Muay Thai to Queensbury Rules.

"To be honest, I prefer Muay Thai," said Denkaosan who successfully defended a regional WBA title 18 times on his way to a world title shot.

In Muay Thai, he earned more because he could fight every two months but in professional boxing he could only fight once in four months or more, he said.

"Worse is that you get hurt more in professional boxing because you often have to absorb powerful punches," said Denkaosan who is from the famous resort island of Samui in Surat Thani.

Denkaosan got his first shot at the WBA flyweight title in 2002 but was stopped in the 11th round by American Eric Morel.

He then regained his regional title but lost his appetite for boxing when promoter Somkid passed away.

Without Somkid, Denkaosan moved to the camp of Naris Singwangcha, his current promoter, and in 2007 got another shot at the WBA flyweight title against champion Takefumi Sakata of Japan in a mandatory fight in Japan.

But disappointment followed again for Denkaosan as the fight ended in a controversial draw when the Thai was deducted a point in the final round, without which he would have won.

But it proved third time lucky for Denkaosan on New Year's Eve and this time he did not need the scoring from the judges.

He knocked out Sakata in the second round with a thunderous right hook in a rematch on the last day of 2008.

"That was beyond my expectation," said Denkaosan who trained for three months for the bout. "Although I was confident that I would beat him, I did not think that I would win in such an easy fashion."

He credited his victory to his training staff which included former champion Khaosai Galaxy.

Denkaosan (46-1-1, 20KOs) became the 12th Thai boxer to win a world title abroad and says he has become more popular now with fans greeting him everywhere he goes.

But the father of three says he is still the same person and down to earth.

Naris, who bought Denkaosan for 1.5 million baht from the Mai Muangkhon camp, believes that the boxer became Thailand's 39th world champion because he was ready for the title bout both physically and mentally.

"The boxer was motivated to win the world title and did not have a weight problem," said the promoter.

He believes the best yet to come from Denkaosan, the first Thai Muslim to have won a world boxing title, and that he can still fight for several years.

"With good discipline, Denkaosan can defend the title many times," he said.

However, Denkaosan and Naris disagree about the future. While Naris wants him to fight overseas, Denkaosan prefers to box at home.

Denkaosan says fighting abroad may attract more money but he would also run the risk of being robbed by unfair officiating.

"You have to stop your opponent to make sure that you win," said Denkaosan who got 500,000 baht ($14,400) from his title triumph.

"You do not have much chance to win on points."

The first fight with Sakata has obviously left a deep mark on the boxer.

Denkaosan hopes to make his first title defence in his home town of Samui.

But Naris has a different idea. He believes that to prove Denkaosan is a real champion, and to get more money, he has to fight abroad particularly in Japan where there are a number of flyweights.

"We got only US$60,000 for the last fight and we hope to receive around US$120,000-150,000 for the next bout if he fights in Japan," said Naris.

"You can defend the title 10 times in Thailand but you would earn a small sum and the promoter would be in the red."

Naris plans for Denkaosan to make his first title defence in Japan on May 6 with the challenger being one of the Kameda brothers, Koki or Daiki.

Thailand's Wandee Singwangcha will take on Daiki next month. If Daiki wins, he will take on Denkaosan. If he loses, then his elder brother Koki will challenge Denkaosan.

"Koki looks a tougher opponent but it could be a big fight," he said.

Denkaosan aims to defend his title for seven times before retirement. As he is 32, his handlers have to map out a proper plan for him to reach the target.

That's not a bad end to a career which he started as a reluctant fighter.

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