Pongsaklek Wonjongkam - via BoxRec
Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, recently retired by Rey Migreno, may not have the most recognizable resume to casual boxing fans but without a doubt is worthy of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He will first be eligible in 2017. If it's a soft year I hope he gets in. Find out if you agree with me.
While my previous edition of "10 Reasons" was designed to be comical as I "explained" why Arturo Gatti will get into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the reasons why Pongsaklek Wonjongkam should get in are completely relevant and noteworthy. Unfortunately, my confidence in his ability to actually get in is another story. Asian fighters from divisions that rarely get shown on US television have a tough road to the IBHOF. Greater Asian fighters than Wonjongkam who have long since retired still haven't been inducted. But then again, thanks to the invention of the internet and those who take the time to put fight footage on it, American boxing writers today are more aware of the little fighters they'll never meet in person.
When Wonjongkam was retired by a 3rd round knockout loss to Rey Migreno, boxing writers saw it, well, the good ones anyways... At least I hope the good ones saw it. It would be unfortunate if a voting member of the BWAA (Boxing Writers Association of America) watched the fight and said to himself, "Wonjongkam just lost to a bum with a losing record. I knew he was over rated." I'm not going to argue against Migreno's talent or his record, but perspective is clearly needed. Firstly Wonjongkam was a 35 year old flyweight fighting his 94th bout spanning a nearly 18 year career. Secondly he already easily beat Migreno twice before (the last time in 1 minute and 37 seconds). Wonjongkam had nothing left to prove. His accomplishments speak for themselves. And here they are:
1) Wonjongkam is a former 2 time lineal flyweight champion. He was never a "paper" champion. The only times he held a full world title it was the real deal. He made 17 defenses of the lineal crown in his first reign (a division record for any world title) and 4 defenses in his 2nd reign, granted his last defense was a 1 round technical draw. Those numbers are immensely impressive.
2) At the time this was written Wonjongkam beat a total of 11 former/current/future world champions (3 of them lineal): *Mzukisi Sikali, Malcolm Tunacao, Luis Alberto Lazarte, Daisuke Naito, Gilberto Keb Baas, *Monelisi Myekeni, Tomonobu Shimizu, Julio Cesar Miranda, Koki Kameda, Suriyan Kaikanha (promotional last name Sor Rungvisai at the time), and Edgar Sosa. Should Sosa manage to recapture a world title again he's a definite hall of fame candidate as well (and being Mexican will have a decent chance of actually getting in).
3) Wonjongkam delivered the 1st professional loss to Juanito Rubillar, Malcolm Tunacao, Daisuke Naito, Hussein Hussein, and Koki Kameda. Three of them were once lineal champions while the rest were at least world rated. Rubillar was clearly far from world rated when he met Wonjongkam, but so was Wonjongkam at the time...
4) Wonjongkam retired with a record of 87 wins, 5 losses, and 2 draws. Only 1 loss came when he was considered to be in his prime while 2 came when he was green and the other 2 came when he was old. Only 1 of his 2 draws is worth mentioning as the other was a result of a 1st round head clash. The man who gave him the relevant draw is the same man who gave him the only truly relevant loss of his career, Daisuke Naito. They had a series of 4 fights with Wonjongkam winning the 1st and 2nd, losing the 3rd, and drawing in the final bout. The last 3 bouts were held in Japan. The 1 time Wonjongkam fought Naito in Thailand he knocked him out in 34 seconds... (In case you didn't know, Naito is from Japan while Wonjongkam is from Thailand)
5) Wonjongkam was undefeated between July 11th of 1996 and July 18th of 2007. He amassed a record of 56 wins over that 11 year span. No one besides Packey McFarland, Carlos Monzon, and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr can claim that combined statistic to my knowledge (and I've researched the subject extensively). It is no coincidence that all of them are hall of famers. The only active fighter today I could see surpassing that is Chris John (he's already ahead in years, he just needs the wins). And if John pulls it off it will probably be time to write a "10 Reasons" on why he should make the hall of fame too.
6) Wonjongkam had to pay the WBC a sanctioning fee at least 30 times in his career. That's more times than most people have fights. C'mon now, if Jose Sulaiman can be inducted into the IBHOF then why not Wonjonkam? Matter of fact Sulaiman should take it upon himself to personally campaign for Wonjongkam. He owes him that much at least... OK, on a more serious note Wonjongkam is 25-3-2 in his 30 WBC title fights. 24 of those wins came in world title fights. No one but hall of famers can claim that feat either. (Julio Cesar Chavez Sr, Joe Louis, Ricardo Lopez, Virgil Hill... [I know, Hill isn't in yet but I'm fairly certain you can bet he'll get there. And I won't even need to write a piece on it to convince people to make it happen...])
7) Wonjonkam is arguably 1 of the 10 greatest flyweights of all time. Being rated that high in 1 of the original 8 divisions should easily merit HOF induction. Unfortunately Wonjonkam's competition for greatest Thai flyweight of all time is Pone Kingpetch, who also isn't in the HOF... Kingpetch was Thailand's 1st world champion and quite frankly the IBHOF should be ashamed for not having him in there. The man beat Pascual Perez (twice) and went 1-1 with both Fighting Harada and Hiroyuki Ebihara. All were great flyweights and Perez and Harada are widely considered all-time greats. But that's another story for another time...
8) Currently, the only Thai fighter in the IBHOF is Khaosai Galaxy. Can someone say "affirmative action?" And no, I'm not joking...the overt discrimination is obvious and unjustifiable. Thailand has produced more world champions than several nations represented in the HOF multiple times.
9) Wonjonkam's 34 second knockout of Naito was the quickest world title KO/TKO in flyweight history. It's a difficult record to see broken someday considering the division (little guys take shots a lot better). And it didn't even happen against one of the many journeymen Wonjonkam filled his stay-busy resume with. It happened against Wonjonkam's greatest rival. Ironically it was actually Naito that came out guns blazing. After he missed with a right uppercut Wonjonkam countered with a straight left that put Naito flat on his back and briefly out cold.
10) Wonjonkam was rated among the top 10 fighters on the planet regardless of weight class by respected rating institutions on at least 2 separate occasions, years apart. Ring Magazine had him rated on their "pound for pound" list in 2006 then again from 2010 (after beating Koki Kameda) to 2012 (after losing to Sonny Boy Jaro). And if Jaro TKO6 Wonjongkam is rightfully named the 2012 upset of the year it just goes to show how highly regarded Pongsaklek actually was.
*A lot of people still don't recognize the International Boxing Organization as a legitimate world sanctioning body, but I do. Their belt has only been around the waist of the real heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield in 1999. In general I find the IBO to be a square dealing, uncorrupt, respectable institution which only proclaims 1 world champion per division (unlike the 3 the WBA often has). The history of who's worn their light heavyweight title is equally as impressive as heavyweight. But detailing this division by division is worth another piece of writing altogether...
Honestly when I started writing this I doubted I could generate more than 5 really good reasons for Wonjonkam's induction into the IBHOF but they just kept pouring out. His accomplishments surpass many of those already inducted into Canastota's hall and his popularity in his native country exceeds the local appreciation most hall of famers get. Some people get into the IBHOF on fame, some get in on meaningful accomplishments, and the inductees that people never argue about get in on both. If you're a boxing fan from Thailand you know where Wonjongkam stands. Hopefully BWAA members will too when the time is right. I can only hope writing this piece helps get the job done.