Pornsanae Sitmonchai: A Fighter’s Heart, A Berserker’s Fury
Pornsanae Sitmonchai (พรเสน่ห์ ศิษย์มนต์ชัย) is a living legend in the muay thai world. He is universally beloved for his exciting, wildly aggressive style and indomitable warrior spirit. He reminds fans of the golden age of muay thai.
At the time of writing, Pornsanae is 33 years old and has been fighting for over 20 years. Some of his many titles and accomplishments include Channel 7 Champion, Channel 5 Southern Champion, Rajadamnern 115lbs Champion, Lumpinee 122lbs and 126lbs Champion, Thailand 130lbs Champion, Lumpinee fighter of the year 2010, Lumpinee fight of the year 2010 with Pakorn PK Saenchai and Rajadamnern fight of the year 2014 with ET PTT Thongtavi.
The Sitmonchai Style
I doubt Pornsanae has never been accused of being an elusive fighter. He is known for relentless forward pressure, vicious punches and devastating right leg kicks.
When he hurts his opponent, he goes into a frenzy hunting for the finish. He throws caution to the wind and often leaves his chin exposed. When he is hurt, he bites down on his mouthpiece and reenters the fray.
He fights with vicious ferocity, unyielding tenacity, and is always willing to be carried out on his shield. This is exemplified in his fight with Pokkaew Fonjaangchonburi (โพธิ์แก้ว ฝนจางชลบุร) on July 8, 2014 at New Lumpinee Stadium.
Leg Kick vs Teep
Pornsanae (red) begins the fight aggressively but many of his punches and kicks are defended by Pokkaew (blue). Here, Pokkaew attempts to counter the right leg kick with a left push kick to the midsection. In this instance, Pornsanae’s kick lands before the teep reaches his stomach. However, Pokkaew is able to absorb most of the impact of the kick with his shin on Pornsanae’s inner thigh, keeping his outer thigh safe. We will see this race between leg kicks and teeps repeated throughout the fight.
The success of this interrupting counter depends on your reaction time, the speed of your teep and the speed of your opponent’s kicks. Pornsanae’s rear low kicks are lightning fast without much telegraph. Pokkaew may be better off checking the leg kicks or pulling his left leg backwards to evade.
Absorbing Leg Kicks
Pornsanae moves in to throw a 1-2 lead upper cut and right low kick combination. His punches are blocked but low kick lands clean on Pokkaew’s upper thigh.
Pokkaew loosens his left leg and pulls back as the kick lands. Eating a leg kick is never a good idea, but shuffling back, relaxing and taking weight off the leg helps minimize the damage. This is similar in principal to “rolling with punches” where it becomes more of a glancing blow rather than a solid hit. Although the natural response is to tense your thigh muscles and brace for impact, that gives your opponent a nice stable target to hit.
All Tied Up
Pornsanae engages and Pokkaew entangles him in a double neck tie clinch. As Pornsanae tries to get an inside grip with his right hand, Pokkeaw spins his body clockwise while kicking out Pornsanae’s left leg with his right foot, resulting in a spectacular throw.
Clinching is a good tactic to use against an aggressive striker. You can use it to sap your opponent’s energy, making him less explosive. It may also make him think twice about moving forward aggressively.
Leg Kick vs Teep Redux
Pornsanae gets up from the sweep and presses forward, eventually backing Pokkaew against the ropes. Pokkaew catches him with a long jab as he closes the distance. Pornsanae continues forward undeterred and throws his signature left hook right low kick combination. Pokkaew covers up to block the hook and attempts a front teep to the stomach to keep Pornsanae at bay.
With Pornsanae closing the distance quickly, Pokkaew needs to raise his knee very high to clear Pornsanae’s right leg. Pornsanae makes contact before he can fully extend his leg. The powerful leg kick strikes Pokkaew’s outer thigh and throws him off balance. This likely scores well for Pornsanae.
Against the ropes, Pokkaew doesn’t have room to pull back. However, he could have checked the kick with his shin or delivered the teep to Pornsanae’s right thigh (instead of the stomach).
Cover and Crack, Pull Back and Counter Attack
Pokkaew traps Pornsanae’s left hand, walks forward and pulls Pornsanae into a nice long left knee. Pornsanae responds with a series of furious right upper cuts and left hooks. Pokkaew covers up and braces himself, then opens his guard to throw a hard right hook, backing Pornsanae up.
Pornsanae responds with a right low kick. Pokkaew pulls back and the missed kick leaves Pornsanae spinning with his back turned to his opponent. Pokkaew rushes in with his hands down and chin forward in contempt, and throws a right hook and left hook. Pornsanae raises his guard and blocks the right. He then drops his guard, with Pokkaew is still in range, and the left hook lands flush on his temple.
From this exchange, we see Pokkaew judicious defense and measured offense allows him to stay in the pocket safely. He defends or evades most of Pornsanae’s wild strikes while landing a high percentage of his counters.
On the other hand, Pornsanae’s overcommitment leaves gaping holes in his defense. During offense flurries, he rarely brings his hands back to his chin. He takes a long time to pull back after completing his combinations. When caught in a bad position, he may drop his guard before he is at a safe distance.
We can also see here that the better way to deal with to Pornsanae’s leg kicks is to pull back out of range rather than attempt a push kick. Pornsanae puts so much power into his leg kicks that he needs to throw his arms to the side to regain his balance if he misses, leaving him open to counter attack.
Leg Kick vs Teep – The Triology
Round 2 is one of the most exciting action filled rounds I’ve watched. Pornsanae’s enters berserker mode. He opens up with long punch combinations punctuated with the right leg kicks.
Pokkaew comes in with a left knee but Pornsanae backs away and it barely grazes him. Pornsanae responds with a hard right low kick. Pokkaew tries to defend with the front teep but loses this contest badly. Pornsanae’s shin makes contact Pokkaew’s thigh, knocking him to the side, hunched forward.
A Beserker’s Undoing
Pornsanae smells blood and switches to berserker mode. He unleashes a series of right low kicks, left hooks, and right body punches. Pokkaew’s maintains a tight guard but some punches make it through. Pornsanae throws a couple nice right uppercuts snapping Pokkaew’s head backwards. Pokkaew opens up and throws a couple right straights into the fury of Pornsanae’s onslaught. Pornsanae’s loopy left hook just misses but Pokkaew’s second cross lands flush on Pornsanae’s chin, sending him to the canvas.
Just as in the first round, Pokkaew wins this exchange by prioritizing defense and counter striking when openings are presented. Pornsanae is clearly stunned and hurt but gets to his feet before the end of the 8 count. He is a little tentative for the first time in this fight. Pokkaew lands a couple straight rights and a nice teep to the face.
Pornsanae throws with a right leg kick as they re-engage. Pokkaew pulls back and Pornsanae looses his balance tripping backwards. He would likely have fallen if not caught by the ropes. Pornsanae is still on rubber legs and hasn’t recovered from the knockdown at this time.
Primacy of Position
Pornsanee’s right side is against the ropes. If he doesn’t want to be backed further into the corner, the only direction he can move is to his left. Pokkaew demonstrates good fight IQ by throwing a right leg kick as Pornsanae circles out.
Pornsanae counters with a right leg kick of his own and misses. He is shuffling to his left with Pokkaew is to the right of his center line. This makes it very difficult for him to land the right leg kick. He is actually in a better position to use the left low kick, but acting on instinct, he choose his favorite tool.
Deus Ex Machina
The combatants square up in the center of the ring and begin throwing wide loopy punches in a fierce exchange. As they press up against one other, Pokkaew lands a spear elbow to Pornsanae’s temple, stunning him. Pokkaew frames against Pornsanae’s face with his lead hand and aggressively tries to finish him with right and left hooks. Pokkaew follows the retreating Pornsanae with his hands low and the finish on his mind. Pornsanae throws a beautiful right head kick while retreating and catches Pokkaew behind his temple. Both fighters fall to the ground after this remarkable shift in momentum.
A Beserker’s Fury
The ref waves them to fight on. They are both on shaky legs but Pornsanae sprints forward to try to finish the stunned Pokkaew. Pornsanae throws a couple slow, wide and amateurish hooks with his chin fully exposed. Pornsanae is in full berserker mode but Pokkeaw maintains some semblance of technique and defense. Pornsanae catches Pokkaew with a nice right hook. But Pokkaew counters with a right horizontal elbow and powerful right hook which sends Pornsanae cartwheeling backwards to the canvas. This almost looks like a cartoonish fall from a bad martial arts movie.
A Fighter’s Heart
For reasons unknown, referee does not grant Pornsanae an eight count after this spectacular knockdown. This is a criminally bad decision. That was certainly not a flash knockdown. A punch drunk Pornsanae rises bravely as quickly as he can. He is badly hurt but there is no quit in him. He eats a hard right uppercut from Pokkaew and throws a weak left round kick. He is so woobly he falls backwards from the kick and gets entangled in the ropes.
With Your Shield, or On It
Pornsanae’s balance is severely compromised and his movements are labored. Pokkaew catches him with a crisp 1-2. Pornsanae lumbers towards him allowing him to easily secure a double necktie clinch grip. Pokkaew knees him in the face. This actually helps stand him back up. It’s a wonder Pornsanae is upright after all this punishment. However, offense is still on his mind and he attempts a weak left knee. Pokkaew lands a solid right and left hook dropping his determined quarry for the last time. Pornsanae literally goes down swinging, throwing a loopy left hook as he falls. He tries to get up again but the ref has to hold him down. He would have been willing to fight to his last breathe.
Pokkaew is bloodied in victory. After getting his hand raised, the adrenaline wears off and he limps and falls to the canvas. He will probably spend the next month regretting using teeps against Pornsanae’s leg kicks.
Pornsanae has to be carried out on a stretcher, going out on his metaphorical shield.
Full Fight Video: Pornsanae vs. Pokkaew
Video credit to Timo Ruge at Muay Ties.
Chinks in the Armor
While fight fans can’t help but love watching Pornsanae’s reckless aggression and admire his heart, there are serious deficiencies in his fighting style responsible for many of his losses. Even when he wins, these are phyrric victories where he absorbs quite a lot of damage.
Thailand Journal shot a short documentary about Pornsanae in 2012 in which they interviewed him and his head trainer, Kru Jaa. At age 30, he acknowledges that he is getting his older and getting hurt quite often. Most of the fighters of his generation have already retired. He’s considered retirement but he loves to fight and believes he still has what it takes to win.
Kru Jaa says Pornsanae is really disciplined, coachable and has a fighter’s heart. However, he wants to teach him to be smarter in the ring and to use a variety of techniques, not just punches and low kicks. He says Pornsanae also needs to focus on his defense and relax to conserve energy for later rounds.
Knowing what your opponent will do is a huge advantage in any combat sport. If you recognize your opponent’s patterns and tendencies, you can plan the most effective counters ahead of time and simply execute off the cues.
Pornsanae’s offensive vocabulary is usually limited to hard punches and right low kicks. Pokkaew’s plan is to cover up for the flurries and hit back when Pornsanae pauses or leaves an opening. Pornsanae enjoyed success when he broke up his pattern and threw a retreating head kick. He got knocked out when he went back to throwing loopy punches with wild abandon.
In addition to increasing the variety of techniques, Pornsanae would do well to incorporate feints. For example, we know Pokkaew likes to throw a front teep to counter the low kick. If he feinted a the leg kick, he might be able to get Pokkaew to react and teep. As Pokkaew retracts his leg, Pornsanae could step forward and kick out the supporting rear leg for a spectacular sweep. Incorporating feints helps break up your patterns and makes your opponent think and hesitate.
Over the course of the fight, we’ve seen Pokkaew land some of his best strikes when Pornsanae is off-balance and out of position. Pornsanae puts himself in these bad spots because he frequently overcommits.
There is a trade-off between the amount of power and weight you commit to a strike and the time it takes you to recover your fighting stance. Technical strikers will only commit up to the point that their balance and speed is not compromised. Pornsanae on the other hand, puts all his weight into most every punch and kick. This causes him to stay in the pocket after finishing his combinations. Here, after Pornsanae stays up close after throwing a 1-2 body hook, and Pokkaew to catches him with an uppercut elbow.
Pornsanae also has a bad habit of throwing his arms to the side to regain balance after missed leg kicks. He may be better off not fighting the momentum of the kick and spinning 360 degrees to face his opponent. Twisting his body and throwing out his arms to stop the turn leaves him off-balance and vulnerable. It also takes a toll on the joints and soft tissue over time.
A Good Offense is Not Always A Good Defense
As Kru Jaa mentioned, Pornsanae is simply too offensive minded. His killer instinct overrides good technique and fundamental defense. He frequently forgets to bring his hands back to his chin, leaving openings for counters. He also looks to engage before he has assessed the situation, gauged the distance and anticipated attacks. At times, he doesn’t take full advantage of standing 8 counts, waving off the ref and rushing back to fight.
When his opponent is hurt, he switches to berserker mode, throwing loopy punches and leaving his chin open. The first knockdown in the fight with Pokkaew came after Pornsanae hurt him with a leg kick. Pokkaew covered up during the onslaught and knocked Pornsanae down with a nice straight right. The second knockdown came after Pornsanae scored a retreating headkick. Still on woobly legs, he rushed forward with his hands down chin up. He started throwing loopy hooks and got knocked down by Pokkaew again.
Old Dog, New Tricks?
It’s been 3 years since the documentary was made. It looks like Pornsanae has yet to implement many of the adjustments detailed by Kru Jaa. While he may train, in earnest, to be more defensive and unpredictable in the gym, instincts shaped over two decades of fighting will to take over in the heat of the battle.
Pornsanae’s had a few wins but many devastating loses in 2014. Most of this wins are come-from-behind victories where he still gets hurt badly in early rounds.
In his fight with Sangthongnoi on Oct 10 at Lumpinee, Pornsanae begins round 3 in full berserker mode. Sangthongnoi keeps tight guard to protect himself from the onslaught lands a jab cross hook dropping Pornsanae.
Sangthongnoi tries to throw a right upper cut elbow but Pornsanae later catches him with a hard right hook for the KO.
During his fight with ET at Rajadamnern on Nov 9, Pornsanae (red) was knocked down early with a left horizontal elbow.
ET tries hard to for finish, but Pornsanae survives gets a dramatic knock down of his own with a series of hooks and uppercuts. Pornsanae went on to win by decision and the fight was voted Rajadamnern fight of the year.
Pornsanae has been the victim of some pretty devastating knockouts in 2014. He suffered a head kick KO during his September 10 fight with Superlek at Rajadamnern.
On Nov 30, he fought Hiroaki Suzuki for the S-Cup promotion in Tokyo and loss by head kick KO as well. This fight was only 3 weeks after his grueling brawl in ET.
Three weeks hence on December 20, he fought Dennis Puric in Hong Kong for the Top King promotion. He suffered a quick first round KO by left hook in a huge upset.
A Fighter’s Health
Pornsanae has had many tough losses and a few hard fought wins in the last year. He’s been very active, fighting every 3-4 weeks since his fight with Pokkaew in July. It’s unlikely that he’s had time to recover from the KOs and other injuries between fights. He is also beginning to take big money matches against foreigners, often giving up significant weight advantages.
Joe Rogan had Rhonda Patrick on his podcast to discuss some of the recent research on traumatic brain injury in fighters. She mentions that it can cause accelerated aging, a vicious cycle of neuro-inflammation, brain atrophy, and alzheimer’s like symptoms. Muay Thai Pros recently published an excellent article on the dangers of concussions.
Pornsanae’s fighting style hasn’t evolved much over the years. His chin and his performances seem to be deteriorating. He loves fighting and is too tough for his own good. I hope someone close to him has a serious discussion with him about retirement. I do love watching his fights, win or lose, but fear for his long term health.
Do you think Pornsanae should retire? Look forward to hearing you feedback and comments.