Kaew unfazed by Bulgarian giantkiller
Having been in the shadow of his peers for the most part of his career, veteran light flyweight Kaew Pongprayoon is ready to fight for his place in the spotlight when the diminutive boxer takes on unfancied Alexsandar Alexsandrov of Bulgaria in the quarter-final bout of the 49kg class early morning tomorrow.
It has been a long road for the fighter from Kamphaeng Phet province, the last Thai hope in the Olympic boxing competition, to reach the last-eight stage where a victory would guarantee him at least a bronze medal.
Having entered the boxing ring at 17, Kaew took just three years to make it to the national team but found his opportunities limited when it came to representing the country in major international tournaments. His ability was not in doubt, but his body frame was considered too small and that is why he so far has had only titles at the regional sporting event, SEA Games, as his most notable success.
However, he eventually got the chance to chase his Olympic dream and grabbed it with both hands by becoming the first Thai fighter to seal his place in London with a remarkable run to the last eight of the World Championships in Azerbaijan last year. Inspired by fellow Thai boxer Somjit Jongjohor's heroics in Beijing four years ago when he won the gold medal at the age of 33, Kaew was determined to make the most of this belated Olympic opportunity.
In fact, Kaew even sought advice from Somjit for his fight against the Bulgarian who produced an upset win against world silver medallist Shin Jonghun of South Korea in the previous round.
"I advised him to box in the same style as in the previous bout, keeping a tight guard and trying to land combinations before going for body shots.
"Among the fighters in the last-eight round, I think Alexsandrov is the weakest. If he moves forward, we need to thwart him by throwing shots on his body and head while stepping away. Most importantly, we must avoid his punches by moving sideways. If we just step back, we cannot escape his punches as it happened with the Korean.
"And, if we step forward, we still need to focus on the body as the Bulgarian usually leaves it unguarded," said Somjit.
With two other Thai boxers, Chatchai Butdee and Sailom Ardee, already eliminated in the flyweight and lightweight divisions, respectively, Kaew now is the only one who can salvage the country's campaign in the sport, in which they have claimed a medal at every Olympics since 1976. The only time they failed to do so was in 1980 when Thailand boycotted the event in Moscow.
The 32-year-old Kaew, struggling with fever over the last few days, though, felt no pressure and believed he has what it takes to defeat the Bulgarian, five years younger to him.
"I feel gradually better but am still coughing a bit. The weather here is unpredictable. It changes all the time. You have rains for a moment and then the sun comes out.
"On the fight, I don't have any concerns even though he managed to score an upset in his previous bout. I think if we keep working hard we will prevail in the end.
"It would be an entertaining fight as we have to accept that he is a strong fighter. But, he has his weak points in his lack of agility. He's slower than me. I'll not change my boxing style and keep boxing as in training. I'll give my all to deliver a medal," said Kaew.
Kaew's fight is scheduled at 3.15am (Bangkok time).