All too often the big name fighters of the 1980s and 1990s Muay Thai scene eclipse the campaigns and triumphs of the great legends from the 1970s—an historical period that one can easily refer to as "the Silver Age of Muay Thai".
One glittering orb from the disco decade of wide collared shirts and flared boxing gloves was Poot Lorlek. A head kicker of thermonuclear proportions, he is commonly regarded by fans and ringside aficionados as one of the greatest eight-limbed pugilists in History. And from 1970 to 1977 the "Angel Boxer" flat bombed Bangkok's Muay Thai scene with the fury and glory of the Heaven sent.
Hallelujah. But what made a talent like Poot Lorlek tick-tick-tick like a bomb in the ring? Poot was a Muay Femur (technical boxer) notable for his angular footwork and ability to deploy flash kicks, in advance or retreat, which flummoxed many a ring worthy opponent. Moreover, the stick and move kid from Trang in south Thailand was the subject of universal adoration. Fighters loved to look and learn; so did the fans at the wooden stadia of Bangkok; not to mention the tubby judges at ringside who, without any trace of nobbling or a bung, were often accused of scoring in Poot's favor. But the judges weren't bribed or leaned on by sinister hatchet men from the local mob. Just like the paid-up punters in the cheap seats behind, the classy angles, agile counters and dazzling pyrotechnics of Poot's boxing moved them close to religious experience.
It wasn't a mass hallucination in Bangkok. There really was something transcendental going on down there in the twin-ringed stadiums of Lumpinee and Rajadamnern. Oiled up and on the clock, Poot Lorlek was the master of eight-limbed agonies and ecstasies. Cautious. Cat-like. Flamboyant. Resilient. Unflappable. He made many seem wholly deficient and it was a never-ending cycle of dramatic victory and honorable defeat. Never KO'd or counted out, Poot Lorlek, the little kid from the back of beyond, the "Angel Boxer," the "Comet from the South," was in a fighting league of his very much own.
80 fights, 65 wins, 13 losses and 2 draws; Poot Lorlek has many big kills notched up on the stock. He beat "fighters of the year" with tongue twisting names like Kongdej Lukbangplasroi (twice), Fasai Taweechai and Sirimongkon Luksiripat; mugged worthy champs like Tanomjit Sukothai, Chuchai Loogpanjama, Nate Saknarong, Weechit Lukbangprasoi (on three occasions), and knocked the spark out of Adul Gaitara, Faprathan Singthanonongsak, Faypha Therapat and Meuangchon Jiraphan, to name a phonetic few.
Let's take the hot tub time machine back to 1967, the licentious Summer of Love, and the very beginning of Poot's glittering career as a head kicker par excellence. Born in 1952, Poot took up Muay Thai at the age of 15, and boxed out of the Sor Phinyo gym near the village where he grew up in Trang. After ten fights, and ten victories, Poot relocated to Bangkok and the big time fight game. It proved to be a smooth transition. Under the tutelage of his uncle, a convenient former champ, he made his Bangkok debut in 1969 with a stunning defeat of Sirinarong Sakthanine at Lumpinee Stadium. Poot was only 17-years-old.
After working his way up the ranks, and fighting up or down at multiple weights, in 1971, aged 19, Poot Lorlek became a Lumpinee champion after flogging Samyan Singsornthong with beaucoup angles and mucho head kicks for the 122lb belt. But the career of a fighter is very often defined by a series of super bouts with a nemesis-like opponent. Such was the case with Vicharnoi, "the Immortal Boxer," whom Poot met on three occasions during the early 1970s. Vicharnoi was no wallflower. A body snatcher in his own right, he'd beaten Poot in two previous encounters on points. For the third bout in 1975 at Lumpinee Stadium, the purse was big (80,000 Baht) and the gate was bursting at the seams with punters and gamblers. The "Comet from the South" versus the "Immortal Boxer" proved to be a grand duel between two soi dogs from Hell. Poot won and the match up was later voted "fight of the year" by the club ties and navy blazers of Thailand's Sports Writers Association.
Another bogeyman opponent for the kid from Trang was Saensak Muangsurin. Better known in the ring as the "Devil's Shadow," Saensak was a fearsome puncher of note who went on to become the WBC lightweight boxing champ. Poot met him up in four bruising encounters, beating him thrice and only losing once. With an absence of meaningful challengers on the Muay Thai landscape, and testing his ability against the hardiest puncher in Thailand, Poot made a lateral career move to western boxing. He made his debut as a two-duke fighter in 1975 and went on to have eight victories in the lightweight division, including three by way of KO. Not just a flash head kicker, the skinny kid from Trang had matured into a matador-like figure, feared, respected and seemingly unchallenged by anything.
Poot Lorlek hung up the gloves and shin pads in 1977. He retired to the country to become a gentleman farmer on a rubber plantation and got involved in the lucrative promotion of cockfighting. Then the old gladiator was lured back to the coliseum for one last outing against Sagat Petchyindee in 2011. Poot had competed once before, in an exhibition bout with Samart Payakaroon in the beach resort of Pattaya in 1989, but this fight with Sagat was to be a grudge type match with no shots pulled. They never met in their fighting prime, and this was the chance to go at one another with hammer and tongs. The fight sold lots of tickets and made a big wad of dough for the wok-eyed promoters. Poot, always the judges' favorite, was declared the winner after five rounds much to Sagat's open display of disappointment. Nevertheless, it was a remarkable achievement for both ring legends. Poot was 60. Sagat was 56. And despite both of them carrying a bit of a tire round the midsection, they were extremely nimble for a couple of arthritic old farts.
Rubber plantations, cockfights and occasional comebacks aside, Poot is still involved in gym life and schooling up new fighters. The gym in his old hometown of Trang once had three champions on the books. Now he has another facility, a rather swish looking joint with all the mod cons, on the island of Phuket. In 2014 he was inducted into the Muay Thai "Hall of Fame" alongside Vicharnoi "the Immortal Boxer" and Pudpadnoi Werawoot, an old Lumpinee champ like Poot.
These days Poot Lorlek sports a great pompooey—that's the Thai word for a potbellied stomach. But the pompooey in Thailand doesn't mean that you are a sad fat bastard. The pompooey is also sign of wealth, status and... enlightenment. Skinny guys are broke and hungry; fat guys are wealthy and content like one of those laughing Buddha statues that you often see in Chinatown. Indeed Poot has a pompooey, a rather grand and stately one. However, aged 65, the old coot can still bust a move on a nak muay (Thai kickboxer) young enough to be his grandson. Big pompooey or not, in the ring of fighting, and the ring of life, he's an inspiration to any aging nak muay worried about getting old. Or fat.