Thailand vs Challenger took place at the prestigious River City Shopping Complex in Bangkok on Saturday night. It was one of the most upmarket events in the history of Muay Thai and the no expense spared production was witnessed by a well heeled crowd which included a number of celebrities.
Thailand vs Challenger was set up to take Muay Thai into the mainstream and this event, which will be broadcast to a televised viewership of 600 million people worldwide, was a big step in the right direction.
The first fight of the night saw Armin Muay Thai Plaza take on Hong Guan. After some controversy early in the fight over whether the use of elbows was allowed (Wang Guan walked out the ring because he didn't like being elbowed in the face) the Thai fighter proved just a little bit too sharp for his Chinese opponent outclassing him from start to finish to cruise to a comfortable decision win.
Saiyok Windy Sport then took on Contender Asia veteran Bruce Macfie in one of the most ancitipated contests of the evening. The Thai fighter was substantially smaller than the Australian, who beat John Wayne Parr last year, but Saiyok made light of the size difference using his superior speed to pepper Macfie with some lightning fast combinations
To his credit the Macfie kept coming forward but he would have been relieved to hear the final bell after taking sustained punishment throughout the five rounds. Saiyok demonstrated why he is widely regarded as one of the top fighters in Thailand with an imperious and impressive performance which saw him repeatedly land with sharp elbows and vicious body kicks.
Kaoklai Kaennorsing and Cyrus Washington provided some of the most entertaining exchanges of the evening in an exciting opening round which saw both men showing off some unorthodox and innovative techniques. In the second round Kaoklai looked the stronger man but his American opponent came on strong in round three landing an eye catching spinning back kick which seemed to catch Kaoklai flush.
It appeared the tide might be turning but the Thai fighter responded in style with a vicious elbow which opened up an enormous cut above Washington's left eye leaving the referee no option but to step in and stop the fight. It was an anticlimactic end to an engaging contest but with blood streaming down into his eye the American was simply unable to continue.
Antuan Siangboxing took on Saenchainoi Pumphuanmung in what was a close competitive fight between two evenly matched fighters who are familiar faces on the Bangkok stadium circuit. Most of the action took place within the clinch with both fighters looking to grab the judge’s eye.
Antuan, who recently finished filming ‘The Challenger’ TV series, spent more of the fight on the front foot and the judges were sufficiently impressed by the Frenchman’s work to award him a unainmous decision
The fight between Valdet Gashi and Sulakkao Sor Kravilas provided the only real controversy of the night. Gashi went on the offensive from the opening bell and his Thai opponent spent the entire five backed up against the ropes.
The German repeatedly landed with some solid body hooks while all Sulakkao could muster by way of offence was the occasional kick. The only criticism you could possibly level at Gashi was that he relied too heavily on his punching and utilized only two of the ‘eight limbs’ available to a Muay Thai fighter.
In the end it cost him dearly as the Thai judges awarded the decision to the Thai fighter much to the bemusement of the audience who clearly felt that Gashi’s work rate and aggression should have been enough for him to claim the contest.
The judges had no say over the outcome of the final fight of the night which proved to be the most dramatic of them all. Two top Thais, Berneung Top King Boxing and Manasak Sitniwat, went head to head with a Thailand vs Challenger title on the line.
Manasak had a massive height advantage but the more muscular Berneung set out to use his superior strength to bully his taller opponent with some big punches. It was a strategy which paid dividends as Berneung was able to drop Manasak with a deadly combination in the opening round.
To his credit Manasak appeared to recover well and fired back with some solid straight knees towards the end of the round. Berneung was undeterred and in round two he finished the fight with a fearsome uppercut which momentarily stunned the crowd into silence and left Manasak unconscious on the canvass.
All in all it was a good night for the Thais but the Challengers can also take a lot of credit with Anton claiming the win and Valdet putting in a spirited performance. After the show the action headed to the Chao Phraya river where spectators and fans mingled at a no expense spared luxury after party on a boat.
Next stop for Thailand vs Challenger is the Queen's Cup next month. See schedule below: