The past few years have been turbulent times in the life of Sombat Banchamek, best known as Buakaw Banchamek, formerly known as Buakaw Por. Pramuk. The legendary fighter from Thailand is perhaps best known for his tenure within K-1, where he took home two K-1 World MAX Championships, cementing his legacy as one of the best 70kg fighters in the world. For fans of Banchamek, the last few years have been trying ones, as Banchamek found himself with tremendous personal and professional struggles that kept him out of the ring, or if he was in the ring, facing sub-par competition to keep the legend of Buakaw alive and well.
The first struggle was with his home camp, Por. Pramuk gym, where Buakaw felt that he was being treated unfairly and chose to leave. Well, things aren’t that simple in Thailand, with the bond between a gym and fighter being akin to that of an ironclad contract. Buakaw made impassioned pleas to the public about his poor treatment and how he, one of the biggest stars to come out of Thailand’s Muay Thai scene, was still living a life of moderate poverty and unable to visit his family at will.
With the help of Thai Fight Buakaw was able to step away from the shadow of Por. Pramuk that was haunting him, only to find himself once again locked into a position he didn’t feel comfortable with, this time with Thai Fight. He was their figurehead, and thusly, he was being fed a steady diet of fighters that were good, but not on the level to keep Buakaw, one of the best fighters in the world, on the top of his fame. It was over this span of time that all of the talk of the two best in the world, Giorgio Petrosyan and Buakaw Banchamek seemed to die down. It appeared the Buakaw the competitor was done and Buakaw the travelling exhibition was all that was left.
For the first half of 2013 things were looking bleak for Buakaw yet again, as the 31-year old fighter was back in court again, this time trying to get free of his binding contract with Thai Fight. The word “retirement” had been tossed around a few times and it looked like this contract might be the end of the road for Banchamek. By the time the issue was settled it seemed like everyone should just leave Buakaw alone, let him make money until he retired. So when he made his full MAX Muay Thai debut (as opposed to an exhibition bout as he had to do previously), it was no surprise when he defeated Dong Wen Fei, but there were still questions of if the years of legal battles had beaten him down.
Now as we head into December 28th where he’ll fight in Foshan, China against Chinese star Zhou Zhi Peng we are looking at his 2013 as nothing short of a career renaissance, as he’s 4-0 going into the fight with a tidal wave of momentum behind him. On September 14th he made his glorious return to the K-1 ring against Spanish fighter David Calvo and this wasn’t the traveling circus Buakaw that we’d grown to know, this was a reinvigorated Buakaw who went into the fight bent on destruction, dropping Calvo with a devastating body shot in the first round that left Calvo unable to respond to the referee.
Buakaw would fight two more times under the MAX Muay Thai banner as he waited for December and the second round of the K-1 World MAX 2013 tournament, against Yoshihiro Sato and Enriko Kehl, both considered a step back up in competition for Banchamek against the best in the world. If there were any doubts as to Buakaw’s abilities still they were easily put to rest as he won a solid decision over Yoshihiro Sato and beat Enriko Kehl up so badly that he was forced to withdraw from the K-1 World MAX Quarter Final in Foshan on December 28th and will instead fight on the K-1 World MAX Quarter Final in Gran Canaria in January instead.
It was the performance against Kehl that helped to really show where Buakaw is at right now; he’s focused, sharp and as deadly as ever, ready for any and all competition. This Saturday he squares off with Zhou Zhi Peng, who is absolutely a game opponent, but if I’m Zhou, well, I don’t want to be Zhou, because the Buakaw Banchamek that is coming for him looks a lot like the Buakaw Banchamek that swept the K-1 World MAX 2004 tournament. That is a scary thing. That is a king coming back to reclaim his throne and to prove the doubters wrong. That is why Buakaw vs. Zhou ZhiPeng this weekend is a must-watch.