It is not every day you get to see the p4p fighter of a generation compete live in the mecca of Muay Thai.
Tonight, a major tick on my personal bucket list; I will have the honour of watching Saenchai go toe-to-toe once more with perhaps his biggest rival, the fearsome Sagetdao. With two wins over the legend in 2011, Sagetdao perhaps holds the mental edge over his much smaller foe, but you cannot discount the imperious ability of a man too good to fight at his own weight class, even in the two national stadiums of a country with 83,000 homegrown professional fighters.
As a reminder, here is my preview of the fight tonight (with videos).
Saenchai is the man who famously had to compete in higher weight divisions because it was unfair to let men his own size fight him. He’s a four-weight Lumpinee Stadium Champion, a WMC and WBC World champion, a man who toys with fighters many kilograms heavier than he like they were children. He’s the consensus best pound-for-pound fighter in the world over the last ten years.
Sagetdao is a bad man; strong clinchwork, great kicks, rangy, durable, good chin, aggressive. He has entered the ring four times against the mercurial Saenchai, and emerged triumphant twice, as well as emulating his rival by beating consensus top lb-for-lb English fighter and common opponent Liam Harrison, in an entertaining scrap in which he ate and survived solid shots to win, beating Anuwat, Nong-O and Jomthong, and winning the featherweight title in Rajadamnern Stadium AND being lightweight champion in the Lumpinee; i.e. a two-weight champion winning gold in both of Thailand’s national Muay Thai stadiums.
And they’re going to fight again. Hell yeah.
The first fight was bizarre. Sagetdao was only one of TWO opponents that Saenchai fought in the same fight; he took on Petchboonchu FA Group for three of the five rounds, and then Sagetdao. Though – incredibly – Saenchai’s performance was criticised as cautionary and ‘fighting not to lose’ by some (ridiculous) elements of the online fight community, others recognised what a marvel he was to face two Lumpinee champions in one night/fight, and beat them both.
Saenchai would fight Sagetdao in straight one-on-one competition, when the great then-Sinbi-Muay Thai man was on course for a tilt at the Lumpinee Lightweight title against Petchboonchu. Saenchai neutralised his game in a lively scrap, making the great Sagetdao look ordinary at time, dotting him up with combinations and managing to avoid being clinched and dragged into a dogfight with the larger man.
Saenchai won by decision.
The third fight came at an opportune time for Sagetdao, and with an altogether more favourable result. Saenchai was on an absolute tear, having beaten Sagetdao in 2010, won the Lumpinee belt in a fourth weight class at Petchboonchu’s expense, defended the title against Nong-O, and then outpointed Liam Harrison in England. He was on a tear, but having hard matchups along the way against powerful opponents, and so it came to pass that after the ignominy of losing to Saenchai despite half the strain being on Petchboonchu’s shoulders, and then losing his rematch and thus title shot, Sagetdao finally claimed Saenchai’s scalp as he managed to earn a decision.
The fight is extremely frustrating to me; as a Saenchai fan, it irks me that Thai judges place no merit on the opening two rounds, in this case six minutes of Saenchai toying with Sagetdao, followed by a third round in which Sagetdao merely wanted to clinch and land the occasional knee, and was outstruck; the fourth was similar, only this time including a big Saenchai teep that sent the Kiatpetch gym fighter flying, followed by the exact same teep when he rose to his feet). Finally, one strong round for Sagetdao in the fifth sealed a famous win that for many western fans, might not be as on the level as it would seem to a Thai.
I can only suppose that rounds three and five were scored for Sagetdao. Five was clear, especially with the exclamation mark set on it when Saenchai’s back leg was kicked away from his in the closing seconds, a counter-kick that sealed the round for sure, but in rounds 3-4 he offered little else but clinching and one or two noteworthy knees. Personally, I’m not a fan of this decision, Muay Thai judging in Thailand or otherwise.
And finally, the 2011 decider to see which of them was top of the heap for that year. Was that previous fight simply a bad judges decision? Was Saenchai still the man? Or had the torch been passed?
Sagetdao – to the surprise of many – once again outpointed Saenchai, this time more convincingly.
And now, to March 9th 2012. Saenchai versus Sagetdao, the Lumpinee Stadium, lightweight bout. This one is worth more than titles; both men have held the gold; one at four different weights, one at both national stadiums. Both have beaten each other, and nearly everyone else around their weight (absolutely everyone, in Saenchai’s case, and plenty others at higher weights). This one is probably the closing chapter in a frankly epic professional rivalry between these two supremely gifted fighters. An odd number too; it will afford one or the other bragging rights for the rest of their days, victor of the pentalogy.
Whether western fans know or care about what goes on in the Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums is their business, but the fact remains that these guys are top of their sport and their rivalry is legendary. I for one, cannot wait to see it conclude.