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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 09:46 GMT
Women's boxing match in Thai jail
By Kylie Morris
BBC News, Bangkok

Thailand's Nongmai Sor Siriporn, right, and Nanako Kikuchi of Japan - 7/11/05
The fight was watched by hundreds of prisoners
A Thai prison may not be the obvious venue for a prize fight.

But on Monday, two women fought it out for the World Boxing Council straw-weight world title inside a Bangkok jail.

While one fighter, Nanako Kikuchi, travelled from Japan, her opponent journeyed from a prison cell just across the courtyard.

Nongmai Sor Siriporn, 26, is serving a six-year sentence for drugs offences.

But neither the Thai prison authorities nor the World Boxing Council thought her conviction should keep her out of the fight.

Before the bout, she told the BBC that this was the fight of her life.

Since I started boxing and sports, my health has improved significantly
Nongmai Sor Siriporn

"I'm a little excited, but also feeling pretty good. I'm confident I'll do my best," said the novice fighter, as her trainer got her ready.

She blames methamphetamines for ruining her life.

"I was wrong to have gotten involved with drugs," she said.

But Nongmai says sport has been her salvation.

"It depends so much on what opportunities you're given. But it certainly helps your physical well-being. You become stronger. When you're on drugs, your body isn't strong. But since I started boxing and sports, my health has improved significantly," she said.

Live on TV

Both young boxers received a heroes' welcome from the hundreds of prisoners allowed to watch the fight, under the close supervision of their guards.

The prison band, and choirs, performed both the national anthems of Thailand and Japan.

However, the spectators reached their loudest pitch during the fight - screaming out their support for their fellow inmate.

Boxing's all about giving people a second chance. It gives everybody a chance - it's not about the elites
World Boxing Council's Patrick Cusick

The fight at the Pathum Thani Correctional Institute was screened live on Thai television and attracted the support of other high-profile boxers in this country, where professional fighters are revered.

Japan's national champion, Nanako Kikuchi, admitted she was surprised by the location. She had never been inside a prison before. But the boxer soon made herself comfortable.

While both women are small - they have to weigh less than 48kg to qualify as straw-weight - they threw all that weight behind their punches.

Evenly matched

At first, the fight appeared evenly matched. There were paroxysms of delight among the captive audience, who broke into a Mexican wave every time Nongmai landed her powerful right hook.

But in the end, Nongmai suffered defeat, with a technical knockout delivered in the seventh round.

Her Japanese victor described herself as better prepared, and more used to competition, with regular fights at home in Japan.

But for Nathee Chitsawang, the director general of Thailand's department of corrections, the women's championship had been a great success.

He and his officers encourage women prisoners to take up boxing.

"We want them to become the best boxers they can be, and if possible win a gold medal in the Olympics. If they have boxing they have a discipline - any sport teaches you discipline - and it doesn't lead them toward violence," he said.

The World Boxing Council's Patrick Cusick dismissed any suggestion that the fight had been a publicity stunt. He said his body was completely supportive of the idea to stage the championship inside the prison.

"Boxing's all about giving people a second chance. It gives everybody a chance - it's not about the elites. It's a great equaliser," he said.

Nongmai Sor Siriporn was clearly devastated by the result. But a spokesman for her camp told the BBC she would fight again.

With only a year and a half still to serve, the next time she fights for the championship, she will already have won her freedom.

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