'It is my duty to punch': Wanheng Menayothin interview

Craig Scott
25/08/2018 2:08pm

If he defeats Pedro Taduran on 28 August Thailand's WBC minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin will move to 51-0. Craig Scott speaks to the 'Dwarf Giant'...

A persistent, rhythmic hacking sound can be heard in the leafy suburbs of Maha Sarakham, Thailand. Land-clearing for new residential developments?

No, this is the sound of young shinbones as they thud against tree trunks — children’s “training” in Thailand.

This is part of the traditional preparation for Thai-style boxing. It is part of the Thai way of life and it is from this backdrop that Wanheng Menayothin, the WBC minimumweight champion, emerged to tie Floyd Mayweather’s mark of 50 consecutive wins.

“In my childhood, I really didn’t have much,” Wanheng told Boxing Monthly. “I was only 13 when I began training in Thai boxing, like all Thai kids have to [within our culture]. Our family was not poor. The [money earned from] boxing was enough. It was enough to win. Our money was in my punch.”

After some slightly arduous research, and plenty of translation, I finally tracked down Wanheng.

Dubbed the 'Dwarf Giant', the undefeated champion was fresh from his victory over Leroy Estrada, which took his record to 50-0. The fight took place on a Wednesday afternoon in Thailand and thus didn’t attract much attention. However, Wanheng was proud of his achievement.

“We were so happy to defend the championship,” he said. “Obviously, we were very happy to match Mayweather. I want to have, maybe, another five or six fights in my career. I have to stay tight.

“I haven’t had time to celebrate so I haven’t really done anything. People who now recognise me in boxing, I do not care [that it is solely because of the 50-0]. It is my duty to punch — on any stage.”

Wanheng became a person of interest after I located his official fan page. After sending some messages, I was put in touch with him directly. Most of our communication was via Wanheng’s Facebook page.

Weighing only 105lbs, Wanheng had slipped under the radar of all but the most dedicated boxing fans. It seemed it had always been that way. He fought for recognition and also to help his family. Privilege and comfort were non-existent but then the lure of money is far less prevalent in Thai culture than in the West. Families get by on extremely modest incomes. For instance, the average estimated monthly rent is a mere £104 in Maha Sarakham province, where Wanheng resides.

“I always liked to play games and to challenge myself,” Wanheng said. “I started boxing in my hometown. I created the experience [for myself]. I went to practice boxing in the Lumpini Boxing Stadium. I became the champion of the Lumpini, [and then] the champion of Thailand.”

He didn’t have many Thai boxing fights. “I never had to ‘change’ to [Western-style] boxing,” he said. “I was always boxing. People who watch boxing, they know me [throughout Thailand].”

To the Thais in the villages, though, Wanheng said he was not that much of a celebrity. He certainly does not live a celebrity lifestyle.

The day after equalling Mayweather’s 50 wins, Wanheng was at the market. Not to make expensive purchases, though. He was selling a basket of eggs. That is Wanheng — a man of the people.

The soaring success of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the warrior who twice defeated Chocolatito Gonzalez, thrilled the Thai population. Wanheng’s wins have not attracted that sort of attention. The minimumweight division usually means minimal attention outside southeast Asia but Wanheng has focused on fighting regularly, although he has faced somewhat questionable opposition.

Wanheng said he didn’t feel any sense of excitement when he met Estrada and was almost dismissive about his mandatory challenger from Panama. “I have been punching people like him since childhood,” Wanheng said. “I was there to beat him or to be beaten. I didn’t miss — [but] I am the best.”

But Wanheng’s compatriot known as Knockout CP Freshmart — birth name Thammanoon Niyomtrong — the WBA minimumweight champion, might dispute the No. 1 claim. Would Wanheng like to meet his countryman in a unification title fight?

Wanheng said he would indeed like to meet other champions, but not his fellow-Thai specifically. “I think the [champion vs champion] fights are fun,” he said. “Let’s take a look at Niyomtrong. He is from Thailand and he’s my friend. I am just looking to maintain my belt. He is the WBA champion and we can build a reputation together for our Thailand.”

All 50 of Wanheng’s bouts have been held in Thailand and he seems happy to be boxing at home. He would, though, be willing to travel outside Thailand for the right fight. “My promoter, partner and I want to go anywhere in the world of boxing,” he said.

He felt that Japan would provide the biggest opportunity financially. “It’s great fighting for the world boxing championship,” he added. “I would like to do it on the big stage in the United States.”

Wanheng seemed to be an extremely upbeat individual, always happy during our online conversations. It seemed he barely slept. We spoke over a three-day period and although I’d calculated the time difference, I needn’t have bothered. He was up at 5am for training and was always on time for our chats.

It seems almost impossible to separate Wanheng the boxer from Wanheng the man. He has an air of calm, in the ring and out, and is seemingly unmoved by accolades or public appreciation. Perhaps his formative years shaped him. I had an image in my mind of an army of kids, kicking trees, sapping themselves of energy in the Thai heat.

“Five or six fights more,” he’d told me. What then? Where would he go once it was all over? I could picture him, basket-in-hand, at the market.

Wanheng becoming a media presence seems unlikely. He isn’t a pretender. He was honest when answering my questions, shooting down any he deemed irrelevant.

“I will probably open my own little gym [when I retire],” he said. “I want to produce the next generation of boxers — my successors!”