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James Murray
October 03, 1960
Pone Kingpetch retained his flyweight title last week, to the intense satisfaction of a rough-hewn graduate of Stillman's Gym who taught Thailand how to fight
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October 03, 1960

Al And Kingpetch Of Siam

Pone Kingpetch retained his flyweight title last week, to the intense satisfaction of a rough-hewn graduate of Stillman's Gym who taught Thailand how to fight

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Kingpetch at first seemed more rattled by his environment than by Perez. The arena was loaded with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (the undercard was salted with local neighborhood Latino favorites), and they quickly identified with Perez. A delegation from Argentina took up the peculiar chanted, bullfight type of cheering often affected by Latin-American crowds, and it was not until well into the middle of the third round that a row of Negro fans, in a spirit of fair play, undertook to hurl counterencouragement to Kingpetch. Their noisy urgings, ornamented by misnomers ("C'mon, Kingfish, ya got 'im hangin'," or, "Work on 'at eye, Kingpin"), ultimately encouraged the small, shy delegation of Thai students and their girl friends, who had sat in awed silence for a few rounds, to open up, and by mid-fight the auditorium was a multilingual babel of high excitement.

The language barrier may have hastened the end of the fight. In Kingpetch's corner were three eager but rattled Thai handlers, led by his manager, Thong Thos Intratat, a pharmacist in his native land, whose grasp of English, fragile at best, was hopelessly shattered in the cacophony at ringside. In Perez' corner no one spoke enough English to ask for a streetcar transfer. When Referee Callahan came to the handlers between rounds seven and eight to advise them that he proposed to stop the fight unless Perez began to throw more punches, no one, including Perez, had the faintest idea of what the hell he was talking about.

Perez' manager, Lazaro Koci, an Albanian-turned-Argentinian and an antique dealer whose most valuable antique has been Perez, was clearly astonished when the fight was halted at 2:33 of the eighth round. But so, for that matter, were Kingpetch's green handlers. They jumped with dismay as the referee pulled Kingpetch off Perez and escorted Perez to his corner. They seemed quite positive that some form of unforeseen infraction had occurred and that the referee and "neutral" city were out to restore the championship to a thoroughly beaten Perez.

Father image

Fortunately, Thailand's Father of Boxing ("That's what they call me—I'm kind of like George Washington in boxing there"), Al Silvani, was on hand, suited up, at ringside. "They only allow three men in the corner, but I'm here in case the fighter gets cut, ya know?" he explained at the opening bell.

Al had demonstrated some disgust at the uncertain techniques of the Thai handlers ("Get that stool up on the ring apron," he would scream as the timekeeper struck the ring floor to indicate 10 seconds remaining in a round). He had leaped from his seat several times during the fight to give advice to Manager Thong Thos. And now it was Al who bawled out an explanation of the fight's abrupt end and shoved Kingpetch's handlers up into the ring.

"Get in there!" he screamed. "Your boy's won! They've stopped the fight!"

Even then it was some minutes before Kingpetch himself perceived that all was well. Once convinced, he took to bounding around the ring, hands clasped prayerfully and head bowed, to acknowledge the applause of the crowd.

The now undisputed champion of all the flyweights is an earnest, shy youth (he turns his back to undress in his locker room before and after fights) who once studied for the Buddhist priesthood and was actually ordained before forsaking the temple for the ring. He explained that he became a priest at the behest of his grandmother, who was interested in the remission of sins granted those whose sons or grandsons enter the priesthood. However, he quickly added, his grandmother cheerfully sacrificed her guarantee of salvation when he chose boxing.

In a land where fighting with the feet is more commonplace than the Marquess of Queensberry variety, Kingpetch has never fought any way except Western style. "There is no opportunity to become famous all over the world in Thai fighting," he said.

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