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Behind a Faded Champion, a New Star in Sor Rungvisai

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On Saturday boxing lost a great champion, perhaps for good, but it gained a potential star in Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.

The so-called Superfly event in Carson, California was seen from the outset as bone thrown by the boxing gods and suits to its bulldog base, and for good reason. Beyond competitive matchups, the card was stocked with rich storylines. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, almost certainly the most famous Nicaraguan on the planet, rose from that impoverished country in the footsteps of its prior most famous son in Alexis Arguello to put together a ten-year span of dominance, clearing out the sport’s light flyweight and flyweight divisions en route to landing on many pundits’ number one pound-for-pound ranking as recent as six months ago.

Until he ran into Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Six months ago his was name no one in boxing really knew, now it’s just a name no one can pronounce.

As rich and as deep as Chocolatito’s storyline is, his sudden and unforgiving demise peeled back the character of his opponent, a fighter who deserves a repeat performance under the bright lights. After facing Micky Ward for the first time in their 2002 war, Arturo Gatti said, “I used to wonder what would happen if I fought my twin. Now I know.” As fighters, SSR and Chocolatito were like ships passing in the night, but their ports of origin are mirror images.

No athlete has a harder row to hoe than a prizefighter, and within that spectrum no fighter suffers more than the little ones. Boxing history is full of diminutive participants, but very few champions of those ranks have broken into the mainstream consciousness, let alone individual fighters. They are not less talented than bigger fighters who more easily capture the imagination, not slower or weaker; they don’t train less hard; they don’t suffer fewer knockdowns, cuts, or brain traumas. Yet they certainly earn less. A lot less.

In their first matchup where judges handed SSR a controversial decision win over Chocolatito, the Thai fighter earned $75,000 compared to Gonzalez’s $550,000. In last weekend’s rematch, the payout raised slightly to $170,000 and $600,000 respectively.

To put that in perspective, the 38-year-old journeyman quarterback Josh McCown receives a $125,000 bonus for every game he starts for the NY Jets, and that’s on top of his $6 million base salary. And let’s remember that just a few weeks ago in the boxing world, Mayweather and McGregor split a purse that may have been as large as $400 million.

The point isn’t just that Sor Rungvisai came into the fight hungry to prove he earned his first win, and isn’t just that he can crack with the best of them, and he can. It’s that for the first time in his career, he was afforded a real paycheck from the first fight, and he made the most of that opportunity. Since breaking into boxing with a record of 1-3-1 in 2009, he fought on average of 6 fights a year, ending all but three of his fights with a knockout victory, dropping only a technical decision to Carlos Cuadras in Mexico in 2014. A win and KO percentage most closely mirrored in the division by the man he dethroned. Meet the new boss.

As much as the moment was defined by the sudden and brutal fading of champion, it marked the emergence of a new face, a new story, a new southpaw right hook in Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Comparisons to Manny Pacquiao’s meteoric rise from Sarangani province are inevitable, both southpaws from Nowhere, South Asia with dynamite in their hands.

SSR took that $75,000 purse and bought himself an excessively long training camp—four months—causing some observers consternation that he could overtrain himself. Instead, what has emerged from the 4th round KO is a different story: he invested that purse in himself and his training. He could finally afford to go six months between bouts like the big boys and he made it stick.

The boxing heads who bought into the Superfly promotion and were rewarded for it one chief question for Sor Rungvisai: what can his $170,000 check buy for his future?

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