3 Feb 2007

While Pattaya contains many pleasurable pursuits for a visitor, WBC Muay
Thai champion Stephen Wakeling's lengthy stay in the resort has nothing to
do with a relaxing break by the seaside.

The 23-year-old Englishman has been pushing his body through a tortuous
training regime in preparation for a title defence against Ratchadamnoen
stadium champion Lamsongkram Chuwatana in London next month.

By the time most tourists are rising for breakfast in the sun, Wakeling has
already done 400 sit-ups, gone on a long run and sparred as he tries to whip
himself into shape for the biggest fight of his life.

And he says he wouldn't want it any other way.

``I know it will be a very hard fight and that is what I have been preparing
for,'' explained Wakeling, who is from Epsom in Surrey.

``I have been in Thailand two months and I train full-time. There are no
distractions. It is hard work but that is what I need to put in.''

Wakeling is based at the Fairtex camp in Pattaya. He has been visiting the
kingdom to train for four years, but first took up the sport aged 12.

His interest was stoked by dad Mark, who also used to compete in Muay Thai.

The family run their own gym back in England but Stephen said Thailand was
the perfect place to hone his skills.

``It has been a fantastic experience to train here,'' he said.

``This is obviously the home of the sport and so it is the best place to be.

``It's incredible to see how passionate people are about Muay Thai and that
gives me more incentive to try and do my best.''

Wakeling had first-hand experience of how revered the sport is in the
country when he won an eight-man tournament in front of 50,000 fans in
August 2005 to honour the Queen's birthday.

He then stamped his authority on the middleweight division with an upset
points win over Australian legend John Wayne Parr at Wembley Convention
Centre in London last year.

That victory captured the WBC crown and Wakeling said he is very honoured to
hold the belt.

``It's great that an organization like the WBC has got involved in Muay Thai
because they are a name that people recognize,'' he said.

``They are the most respected sanctioning body in boxing and I am very proud
to be their champion.

``I want to do the belt justice and prove that I deserve to have it.''

He will need to be at the top of his game to beat 23-year-old Lamsongkram,
who is already a veteran of more than 200 fights.

By comparison Wakeling is still a comparative novice with just 21
professional bouts to his name, although he has previously held the British
and European titles.
He said he is well aware of the threat the Thai fighter poses.

``He is dangerous with his elbows and knees so I have been working on a lot
of defence,'' said Wakeling.

``I think fighting in London will give me an edge too because the venue is a
sell-out and 250 people from my gym have bought tickets to watch it.

``We are fighting at York Hall and it is a great venue. It is very
atmospheric and my supporters will give me a big boost, just like they did
when I beat Parr in London to get the belt.

``I like to fight and this is a great challenge for me.''

Stephen's younger brother Michael also fights on the February 25 card, which
is billed `Thunder and Lightning'.

Lamsongkram travelled to Kyrgyzstan last year and defeated hometown hero
Alan Ofeyo to earn a shot at Wakeling's belt.

He said he knows he will have to perform at his highest level to win the WBC

``Wakeling is a fine fighter,'' said Lamsongkram.

``He's been trained in Thailand and he's shown that he's got a lot of talent
and a fighting heart. I will need to be at my best to beat him.''

Writtten by : Julain Turner, Bangkok Post

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