Thammanoon Niyomtrong extended his stay as boxing’s longest reigning active male titleholder at the expense of a longtime friend.

The unbeaten WBA ‘Super’ strawweight titlist turned away the challenge of former WBC claimant Wanheng Menayothin, in a fight nearly two years after the last days of their overlapping title reigns. Niyomtrong—better known as Knockout CP Freshmart—proved to be the fresher and more resourceful of the two in earning a twelve-round unanimous decision in their main event Wednesday evening at Chonburi Provincial Ground in Chonburi, Thailand.

Judges Prommase Chakshuraksha (116-112),   Carlos Costa (119-109) and  Armando Garcia (117-111) all ruled in favor of Niyomtrong, who built up an early lead and effortlessly fended off a late rally from Menayothin to retain his title.

The longtime friends and promotional stablemates were cautious out the gate, both using their jabs as a measuring stick. Little action ensued early on, with both fighters respectful of one another, almost to a fault.

The pace picked up in round three, with the 31-year-old Niyomtrong—who hails from Surin—targeting the body. Bangkok’s Menayothin, 36, was able to adjust, attempting to catch the unbeaten champ with an uppercut on the inside but missing the mark. Niyomtrong briefly stumbled after tripping over Menayothin’s foot, easily avoiding a follow-up tag and the sequence ending in one of many glove taps between the main event combatants.

Niyomtrong drew a rise out of the intimate but passionate crowd with body shots and left hooks at close quarters in rounds four and five. Menayothin countered with right hands while also working his jab in his best effort to keep Niyomtrong on the outside, though not always producing positive results for the challenger.

Menayothin continued to pump his left jab in round six, throwing the stick with purpose. Niyomtrong was still the busier fighter, punching in combination but met with left hooks and right hands by Menayothin on the inside. The fast-paced round ended with a glove touch and a hug.

Time was called at the start of round seven after Niyomtrong turned away and winced in pain after a clash of heads. Action resumed with the unbeaten titlist offering a steady stream of jabs and right hands. Menayothin was forced on the defensive, pawing with his jab and right hand as Niyomtrong repeatedly dug his left hook to the body.

Menayothin was clearly the crowd favorite throughout, giving his supporters plenty of reason to cheer early in round eight. Niyomtrong took the lead during most of the exchanges but was briefly forced to wade out a series of jabs and right hands by Menayothin, with the crowd erupting on every occasion. Niyomtrong settled down and connected upstairs, along with an uppercut.

Niyomtrong drove back Menayothin with a right hand in round nine. Menayothin extended his hand to dap, getting Niyomtrong to take the bait before launching a flurry of power shots. Niyomtrong bobbed and weaved with his hands at waist level while grinning during the exchange as he avoided nearly all of the incoming. Menayothin managed a right hand of his own that caught the attention of the defending champ.

Menayothin managed another right hand in round ten, though catching a stiff jab in return. The former champ responded with a left of his own, snapping back the head of Niyomtrong who grinned through the sequence. Niyomtrong returned to a two-fisted body attack, connecting with a left hook but with Menayothin able to defend against most of the rest.

Slick defense was offered by Niyomtrong early in round eleven. Menayothin worked his jab but often came up well short with his right hand. Another touch of the gloves was offered during a brief lull, with Niyomtrong offering a combination as action resumed. Menayothin was unsuccessful in finding his target with the right, as his chances of becoming a two-time titleholder continued to diminish.

Both fighters put on their best game face for the twelfth and final round of the long-awaited and overdue clash. Neither landed much of substance, though Niyomtrong was able to crash home a left hook around Menayothin’s high guard. The bell sounded with an expected embrace between the strawweights as they awaited the scorecards.  

Niyomtrong improves to 24-0 (9KO) with the win, extending his current stay as the longest reigning active male titleholder in the sport. Niyomtrong has held the upgraded WBA strawweight title since outpointing Byron Rojas to upgrade from interim titleholder status in their June 2016 title consolidation bout in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Eleven title defenses have now followed, including a repeat win over Nicaragua’s Rojas in November 2018.

Menayothin falls to 55-3 (19KOs), with all three defeats coming in his last four starts. The former WBC titlist ran his record to 54-0, earning ‘TBE’ (‘The Best Ever’) accolades from the sport’s hardcore base, in part mocking his surpassing the 50-0 mark left behind by Hall of Fame former five-division champion, pound-for-pound and box office king Floyd Mayweather.

The long overdue matchup came several years after fans called for a title unification bout. Both were reluctant due to their close friendship, with the clock running out after Menayothin lost his title to countryman Panya Pradabsri (38-1, 23KOs) in November 2020, following twelve successful defenses spanning six years dating back to his November 2014 win over Oswaldo Novoa.

A repeat loss to Pradabsri earlier this year suggested that Menayothin’s best years were behind him, making the title challenge of Niyomtrong something of a bucket list item.

Niyomtrong will now pay close attention to the next title defense by WBA ‘World’ strawweight titlst Erick Rosa (5-0, 1KO), with the 21-year-old Dominican keen on challenging the long reigning champ later this year.

Niyomtron-Menayothin aired live on Channel 24 True4U in Thailand, also streaming live internationally on the network’s YouTube channel.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox