TUCSON, Ariz. -- There are four world titles at stake Saturday night in the event Golden Boy Promotions is calling the "Boxing World Cup" (HBO Latino, 10 ET/PT) between fighters representing Thailand and Mexico.
Among the Thai participants, only Ratanachai Sor Vorpin is bringing a world title (the WBO's bantamweight belt) to the Desert Diamond Casino's ring. He defends that crown against Jhonny Gonzalez.
Vorapin (65-8, 42 KOs) is also the only member of his team with extensive experience outside his homeland.
Vorapin, whose managers claim is the most popular boxer in Thailand (more so than even current WBC flyweight champ Pongsaklek Wonjongkam and two-time former bantamweight titlist Veeraphol Sahaprom), has fought outside of Thailand 12 times, seven of which took place in the United States. His last fight, which took place last month, was in Honolulu.
Teammates Pramuansak Phosawan, who challenges WBO 115-pound titlist Fernando Montiel; Vorapin's little brother Kaichon Sor Vorapin, who challenges WBO 108-pound titlist Hugo Cazares; and Sod Looknongyangtoy, who fights Daniel Ponce-DeLeon for the WBO's vacant 122-pound title, have little experience with world-class foes.
The elder Vorapin, on the other hand, has been in the ring with truly world-class opposition during his accomplished 13-year career.
Between April 1999 and August 2001, Vorapin fought nine times, losing three. But his three losses were quality ones.
• In 1999, Vorapin traveled to Mark Johnson's hometown of Washington, D.C. to challenge "Two Sharp" for the vacant IBF 115-pound title. Vorapin lost a decision to one of the best fighters, pound-for-pound, of the last 25 years.
• In November 2000, he lost to former WBC 115-pound champ Gerry Penalosa (TKO by 6) in the Philippines.
• Two months later, he dropped a decision to future WBA 122-pound titlist Yoddamrong Sithyodthong at home.
But Vorapin returned to America in September 2001 on the Bernard Hopkins-Felix Trinidad undercard at Madison Square Garden. There, he outworked former flyweight and 115-pound champ Danny Romero to earn a 10-round decision victory.
He continued to pack his bag to meet his challengers any and everywhere.
In December 2001 in Connecticut, Vorapin lost an HBO-televised challenge to then-IBF bantamweight champ Tim Austin. Nearly a year later, he dropped a 10-round decision to future WBA featherweight titlist Chris John in Indonesia.
After a relatively uneventful 2003, he finally won a world title with a unanimous decision over rugged Mexican Cruz Carbajal in May 2004. Vorapin defended the WBO belt this past August with a majority decision over former title holder Mauricio Martinez.
When asked why he has been willing to fight abroad while his peers in Thailand usually stay at home (or within Asia), Vorapin was matter of fact.
"It all depends on who's promoting a fighter," he told MaxBoxing through interpreter Sirintip Chinnawong at a recent press conference.
"I've fought in the U.S. more than the others because I used to be promoted by Don King."
But Vorapin added that he enjoys fights away from home.
"I like the world experience," he said. Of course, the bottom line to his willingness travel is the bottom line: "I make more money fighting outside of Thailand."
Vorapin is confident that this trip to the U.S. will be a successful one.
"I saw a tape of Jhonny Gonzalez," he said. "He's not that difficult of a fight for me. I've got more experience than he does."
Vorapin cites his experience against better fighters than Gonzalez, the 24-year-old from Mexico City, has ever faced.
"Fighters like Mark Johnson, Tim Austin and Cruz Carbajal, they are much better than Gonzalez," he said. "I have no fear going into this bout."
With all the champions Vorpain has faced (eight) over the years, you can't blame him for not worrying about Gonzalez.
But the rangy 5-foot-8 puncher is literally a tall order for any bantamweight. Gonzalez (30-4, 26 KOs) has won 16 fights in a row (14 by KO). He's been on quite a streak since dropping back-to-back decisions to Ricardo "Chapo" Vargas back in early 2002 when he was only 19.
Meanwhile, Vorapin might be an "old" 28. It's been reported that he had a rough night with Martinez and speculated that all the mileage on his "fighter's odometer" could be catching up with him.
If so, Vorapin's agressive style might be made to order for the hard-punching Gonzalez, although that can cut both ways.
Gonzalez has been dropped three times in the 1½ years. Gabriel Elizondo put Gonzalez down in the first round of their two-round fight last year and William Gonzalez dropped him twice in their three-round shootout last month. Jhonny Gonzalez got up and took care of business in both fights, but neither opponent was near Vorapin's league.
Whatever happens Saturday night, Vorapin says he loves boxing and will stay in the sport for as long as he can.
"I don't know how long I'll continue to fight, it all depends on my body," he said.
"I'll keep fighting as long as I feel strong and healthy. When I'm done fighting I hope to stay in boxing as a trainer."
No kicking allowed
If the fights Saturday were under K-1 rules, the team from Thailand would be favored heavily to win the IceLink Watch-crafted "Boxing World Cup" that Oscar De La Hoya says is worth $200,000.
All of the fighters from Thailand on the card have backgrounds in Muy Thai (a hard-nosed form of kickboxing that permits the use of forearms and knees).
Vorapin said he had 74 Muy Thai bouts before he had his first pro boxing match and won two championships before the age of 21. He was proud to report that that he only lost three bouts and had over 40 knockouts.
Looknongyangtoy, the guy who's fighting Ponce-DeLeon, said he won three Muy Thai titles before switching to boxing.