Thailand, which used to be Siam, is known in the West for its cats, fighting fish, fighting feet, twins and The King and I. Nowadays, at least in sporting circles, Thailand is also known for a top flyweight, Mana Seadoagbob. A carpenter's son, he began boxing as a kid in a small village on the Gulf of Thailand, and he did so well that he attracted the attention of a big man in Bangkok with the equally improbable name of Thongthos Inthorathat. Thongthos is a manufacturer of patent medicines, and his rhinoceros-horn pill for curing fever is famous all over Thailand. An astute businessman, he had built up a stable of boxers to plug his products. Unfortunately, the fighters all fought Thai style, which permits kicking, kneeing, elbowing and rabbit punching. This sounds fascinating, but it is, in fact, as dull as girls' hockey to watch, since Thai fighters have to perform to the slow beat of drums and cymbals. As a result, western-style fighters are big crowd pleasers in Thailand, and a promising kid like Mana was a find.
Eight years ago Thongthos signed up Mana. And the first thing that Thongthos Inthorathat said to Mana Seadoagbob was, freely translated, "Kid, your name isn't catchy enough. Let's change it to Pone Kingpetch." Pone means The Jumping Kid, and Kingpetch Diamond Alley, the name of his training camp.
Pone went to work for Thongthos as an office boy and studied under western-style trainers on the side. A spirited lad, he was soon beating the best in the Orient, and in April of 1960 he won the world flyweight title from Pascual Perez of Argentina. He successfully defended his championship three times, and sales of rhinoceros-horn pills soared. But last year Pone married an attractive schoolteacher, began cutting it up big in Bangkok and grew lax about training. A 111-pound weakling, he was an easy mark for Japan's Masahiko (Fighting) Harada, who knocked him out in 11 last Oct. 10.
Poor Pone had let Thailand down. King Bhumibol Adulyadej called him to the royal palace. "I hope that taught you a lesson," he said. Pone agreed. So did Thongthos, who arranged a rematch in Bangkok with Harada. Worried about Pone's sagging legs, Thongthos put him on a tough program of roadwork for two months and had him skip miles of rope. He lifted barbells and shadow-boxed. The week before the fight, which took place a fortnight ago, Pone and Harada tapered off training and went on steak diets. Then the fight almost fell through because Harada's manager demanded $5,000 instead of $2,000. Only after Editor Nat Fleischer of The Ring intervened did the Japanese get $5,000. (Pone himself was promised $5,000. Another five was to go for the erection of a statue to King Chulalongkorn, who will be remembered as the young prince in The King and I. Where the remainder of the $60,000 gate was to go is hard to say—it's not the kind of question to ask in Bangkok.)
January 28, 1963
As fight time drew closer. Pone went from underdog to favorite. On the night before the fight, a group of soothsayers and thaumaturgists, robed in white, filed into National Stadium. Mumbling magical incantations, they climbed in the ring and placed platters of sweet puddings, glasses of rice wine and a boiled pig's head on the mat. They chanted over those offerings to the ethereal spirits of the ring, then adorned Pone's corner with joss sticks and flowers. For added measure, they blessed the corner.
At fight time a swarm of milling Thais made Harada work hard just to pass through them to the ring. Home-town Pone was carried to his corner on the shoulders of police. After all this, the fight was strictly no contest. In shape, Pone used his three-inch advantage in reach to stave off a flailing Harada, peppering the Japanese now and then with long, accurate left jabs. "It was Pone's reach and jab that told the tale," said Judge Fleischer, who gave Pone 10 of the 15 rounds. When the final bell sounded. Pone flung himself on the canvas, prostrate before the royal box. There, high on a gilded throne. King Bhumibol smiled on his loyal subject, once again flyweight champion of the world. An American told a Thai friend that Pone's vigorous training had certainly paid off. "How do you know," the Thai said, "that it wasn't the pig's head?"