Pakorn PK Saenchai Muay Thai Gym is one of the best muay thai fighters today and is still in his fighting prime. He won the Rajadamnern Super-Flyweight Championship at 18 years old. Pakorn was voted best fighter of the Year 2013 by the Sports Authority of Thailand after shortly after wining the Thailand Lightweight title from Kongsak Sitboonmee on Dec 3, 2013. He became the Lumpinee Lightweight champion after defeating Singdam on Feb 28th 2014.
Pakorn is now managed by Yokkao and has began to fight outside of Thailand. He won the 65kg Yokkao Title against Greg Wootton on Oct 11, 2014 and is scheduled to fight Liam Harrison on March 21, 2015 at Yokkao 13.
Pakorn considers himself a technician and often wins intelligently fought decisions with his superior skill set. However, he is clearly not afraid to brawl with aggressive fighters like Seksan Or Kwanmuang and the “Killer Fist,” Pornsanae Sitmonchai.
Pakorn’s fight with Pornsanae on March 5, 2010 was awarded Lumpinee Fight of the Year for 2010. The fight begins at a measured pace (by Pornsanae standards) but crescendos into a symphony of violence and wild pugilistic abandon in the fourth round. It is easily one of the most exciting rounds in all of combat sports.
This article the first of a two part series. In part 1, I will cover Pakorn’s tactics for neutralizing Pornsanae’s dangerous boxing and low kicks in the early rounds and his varied counter attacks. In part 2, I will breakdown Pakorn’s tactics for surviving and prevailing in one of the most intensely fought rounds in muay thai history.
Neutralizing Pornsanae’s Unimodal Offense
Pornsanae prefers to initiate attacks from boxing range. He is most dangerous when he is able to make you back up. Given room to maneuver, he will throw furious punch combinations often punctuated with low kicks. Read more about Pornsanae’s aggressive fighting style in an earlier post.
Pornsanae’s punches become much less effective when he cannot put his weight forward or doesn’t have room to fully extend his arms. His offensive output drops dramatically when you force him to move backwards or engage him in trapping and clinch range. This is the game plan Pakorn follows early on. With the exception of a couple momentary lapses, Pakorn clearly controls the range and pace of the fight in the early rounds.
Pakorn keeps Pornsanae on his back foot by pressing forward using the modified cross arm guard. When Pornsanae attacks with leg kicks, Pakorn also deploys long knees to push him back. When Pakorn chooses to disengage, he uses leaning jabs to keep Pornsanae at bay. During the third round Pakorn picks up the pace, smoothers Pornsanae with the clinch and punishes him with leaping knees from close range.
Pakorn’s Modified Cross Arm Guard
Pornsanae’s boxing attacks consist largely of attacks to opponent’s jawline with straight punches, hooks and uppercuts. While it’s possible to defend these punches with a more common “peek-a-boo guard,” your vision can be partially obscured by bringing your gloves in front of your face. Also, straight punches and uppercut elbows can split the guard if you don’t firmly hold your forearms together. Further, you need to turn your body to block uppercuts with your elbows and this can momentarily affect your ability to counter.
Defending with the Modified Cross Arm Guard
During the fight, Pakorn often employs a modified cross arm guard to defend himself from Pornsanae’s vicious punches. Pakorn wraps his rear arm around his jaw line with his chin tucked in the crook of his elbow. This right glove protects the left side of his chin and temple. His right shoulder protects the right side of his chin. His lead arm is fully extended, similar to a long guard. He uses his left hand to frame, maintain and measure distance and push Pornsanae away.
The modified cross arm guard can be use effectively to defend against a variety of head strikes including head kicks.
Closing the Distance with the Modified Cross Arm Guard
With the modified cross arm guard, Pakorn can push forward while keeping his chin in relative safety. He walks forward to deny Pornsanae the space he needs to attack. Pornsanae’s punches are absorbed on Pakorn’s right forearm and elbow.
It is important to maintain close contact between the rear arm and the chin, otherwise your opponent’s punches can make you hit yourself in the face.
Attacks from the Modified Cross Arm Guard
A common indicator of a horizontal elbow strike is a sudden bend in your opponent’s arm. With the modified cross arm guard, the rear arm always bent and chambered for an elbow. Pakorn can quickly launch a rear elbow strike without this tell by simply stepping forward and twisting his body.
Although Pakorn does not successfully land the elbow in this instance, you can see how naturally rear elbow flows from the modified cross arm guard.
Weaknesses of the Modified Cross Arm Guard
There are trade-offs with every guard choice. The modified cross arm guard leaves your temple exposed on your rear hand side. Here, Pornsanae throws a short left hook to Pakorn’s right temple. It catches him cleanly and knocks his head to the side. Pakorn’s right temple would also be vulnerable to overhand lefts or a well placed left head kick.
The body is also fairly exposed with the modified cross arm guard. When Pornsanae attacks with left hooks to the body, Pakorn opts to defend with the pee-ka-boo guard and brings his right elbow down to catch Pornsanae’s glove.
Same Same but Different
There are a number of guards which have elements in common with the modified cross guard.
As mentioned above, the long guard also features an extended lead arm. However, the rear hand is kept by the chin. This provides better protection against hooks to the body and temple but leaves the defender more open to straight punches and uppercuts. With the long guard, you can also frame and push your opponent back with your lead arm.
Crab Guard / Cross Armed Guard / “The Lock”
With the crab guard, you also keep your rear arm wrapped around your chin. However, your lead arm covers your mid section to protect against strikes to the body. Boxing analyst Connor Ruebusch explains that this guard was more popular in the days of bare knuckle boxing during which the liver, spleen and solar plexus were especially common targets. Premiere MMA analyst Jack Slack pieced together some nice footage of Archie Moore putting the crab guard into practice in this short video.
While the crab guard has some defense advantages for body punches, you forfeit the ability to frame and range find with the lead arm. The crab guard is also probably less viable in Muay Thai than boxing. Even if you cover your mid-section with your lead arm, a muay thai fighter would happily knee or or push kick you in that arm or round kick you in the ribs.
High Cross-Armed Guard
Another variation of the cross armed guard is to hold both forearms on top of each other in front of your chin, square to your opponent. While this provides pretty solid protection for your jawline on both sides, there is often a little space under your chin which leaves you open to well placed uppercuts. With both arms up high, you are vulnerable to body shots. As with the crab guard, you are exposed to strikes to the temple and do not have the ability to frame and push with the lead hand.
Countering Low Kicks with Step-in Left Knees
Another one of Pornsanae’s favorite tools is his vicious right low kick. After attacking with the leg kick, Pornsanae’s balance is momentarily compromised, making him vulnerable to counterattack.
In the early rounds, Pakorn raises his left knee shield to block the low kick, steps forward with his right foot and delivers a straight left knee into Pornsanae’s mid-section. The step allows him to build forward momentum for additional power. It also allows him to penetrate more deeply making it more difficult for Pornsanae to fade back and evade.
Weight Distribution – Pornsanae Heavy Lead Leg
One reason why Pakorn is so successful with the step-in left knee is because it is difficult to block and / or avoid the left knee after throwing a right leg kick. An effective defense against straight left knees is to raise your left knee shield and parry inside of opponent’s left thigh to your right with your left knee. However, after throwing the right low kick, Pornsanae has the majority of his weight on his left leg. This makes it particularly difficult for him to raise his left leg to parry the knee. A heavy lead leg also makes it more difficult for Pornsanae to back away to avoid the knee.
Weight Distribution – Pakorn Light Lead Leg
The left knee is a natural counterstrike against an opponent who likes to attack with the right low kick. Pakorn needs to be light on his lead foot to both raise his left knee shield and deliver a left knee. Keeping the majority of his weight on his rear foot, Pakorn can easily defend low kicks and attack with the step in left knee.
Here, Pakorn defends a right low kick, delivers a step in left knee, and quickly raises his left leg to defend Pornsanae’s quick counter leg kick as well.
Creating Distance with Knee Strikes
Step-in knees also provide the defensive benefit of putting punchers out of range for counter strikes. Here, Pakorn endures a barrage of punches with cross arm guard and blocks Porsanae’s low kick. He steps forward and scores a left knee. Pornsanae attempts to throw a quick counter right but it falls short because Pakorn knocked him backwards with the knee.
Pakorn’s Leaning Jab
When throwing a jab, many fighters will step forward with the lead foot to penetrate deeper and move their weight forward. However, it is also possible to throw a fairly stiff jab while keeping the lead foot in place. Pakorn employs a leaning jab several times during the fight to keep Pornsanae on the end of his range.
Conventional wisdom dictates that (i) you should keep your bodyweight over your feet to maintain balance and (ii) you should keep your lead knee bent to allow you to quickly step back after delivering a strike. While this is true of step-in jabs and crosses, the mechanics of a leaning jab are in sharp contradiction.
Mechanics of the Leaning Jab
For penetration, Pakorn fully extends his left arm and rotates his left shoulder outwards to maximize the range of his jab. To transfer weight, Pakorn leans forward extending his bodyweight over his lead leg. He maintains his balance by kicking back his rear leg ever so slightly, using it as a counterweight. Pakorn also straightens his lead leg in the process. His left leg functions as a balance point between his extended left arm and rear leg and keeping it straight also helps increase his range.
Similarities with the Superman Punch
The mechanics of the leaning jab actually have some faint similarities to a superman punch. With the superman, you also bend your upper body forward until your torso is almost horizontal. This gives you greater range and weight transfer and you keep your balance by abruptly kicking your rear leg backwards. The leaning jab is in a sense a scaled down version of the superman punch.
Advantages of the Leaning Jab
One advantage of the leaning jab is that it allows the attacker to extend their range beyond that of a step-in jab. When facing opponent with similar height / reach, you will be able to touch them with a leaning jab but they will be unable to hit you without stepping forward. This is especially useful when fighting an aggressive combination puncher like Pornsanae.
A leaning jab is often more difficult to read as well. Many fighters cue off the forward step with the lead foot to spot and time a conventional jab. Without the step, a leaning jab could be mistaken for a feint or frame before it makes contact.
Even if you opponent sees the leaning jab coming, they rarely expect such jabs to have much power. They may raise a fairly loose guard to so not to obstruct their vision. A crisp leaning jab could just slip through.
You can also try mixing step in jabs and leaning jabs to muddle your opponent’s sense of distance. Not having a good read on range can frustrate and slow down an opponent.
Pakorn’s Smothering Pressure
Pakorn demonstrates dominance in all ranges of combat in this fight his Pornsanae. He decides to contest the third round at close range, a wise choice given that Pornsanae is significantly less effective when infighting.
Pakorn walks forward and initiates the clinch during the first half of the round. Pakorn uses the modified cross arm guard and hand fighting to make it through the gauntlet of Pornsanae’s punches. Once in close, Pakorn pushes Pornsanae against the ropes, secures underhooks and proceeds to attack with knees.
Even when Pornsanae is able to shake off Pakorn’s grips, his smothering pressure neutralizes Pornsanae’s boxing.
Setting up Leaping Right Knees
Jumping attacks involve a high level of commitment. You can’t really change the momentum of your body mid-flight. If you try a jumping attack in the middle of ring, your opponent can face back to evade or sidestep and attack your exposed flank. And so, they are best delivered when your opponent is backed into a corner.
In the latter part of the third round, Pakorn keeps the pressure on Pornsanae by walking and leaning forward without clinching. He backs Pornsanae against the ropes and waits for him to throw a combination of punches. When Pornsanae attacks, Pakorn either blocks or fades and then counters with leaping right knees.
Weight Distribution – Pakorn Heavy Lead Leg
You may recall Pakorn countered Pornsanae’s leg kicks with the step-in left knees in the earlier rounds. A reason for this change in tactics is Pakorn’s relative weight distribution. In the earlier rounds, Pakorn was concerned with Pornsanae’s leg kicks and stayed light on his lead foot and heavy on his back foot to defend. In round 3, Pakorn leans and presses forward most of the time, shifting more of his weight on his lead left foot. With less weight on his right foot, attacks with the rear leg become more viable.
Furthermore, with Pakorn pushing him around the ring, Pornsanae doesn’t have much space to set up and deliver his leg kicks. In fact, the more Pakorn pressures forward, the less concerned he needs to be with leg kicks.
Follow On Attacks
After successfully scoring a few leaping right knees, Pakorn employs some even more aggressive tactics. Instead of waiting for Pornsanae’s punches, Pakorn hand fights and pushes Pornsanae’s hands up to expose his mid section. Pakorn attacks with a right knee followed by a wicked head which snaps Pornsanae’s head to the side.
Parting Shots and Random Thoughts
In the first three rounds, Pakorn fought a very intelligent fight using his technical versatility to dominate a comparatively one-dimensional Pornsanae. Pakorn used a guard tailor-made for Pornsanae’s aggressive combination punching style and kept him at bay with leaning jabs. He defended Pornsanae’s low kicks and countered with step-in left knees. He closed the distance at will in the third round, tied up and tired Pornsanae in the clinch, and punished him with leaping right knees.
Pakorn could have easily smothered and kneed Pornsanae to a clear decision victory in the later rounds. It’s not apparent why he decided to open up and swing with reckless abandon with a dangerous puncher later in the fight. However, it makes for one of the most epic and captivating rounds in the history of combat sports.
Full Fight Video
Video credit to Banana821