NAKHON RATCHASIMA: World Boxing Council President Mauricio Sulaiman (R) wraps the WBC championship belt to undefeated Thai boxer Wanheng Menayothin (C) after defeating Panamanian challenger Lero y Estrada to win his 50th straight victory yesterday in Nakhon Ratchasima. — AFP

NAKHON RATCHASIMA: Thai boxer Wanheng Menayothin clinched his 50th straight victory yesterday, stopping a Panamanian challenger to hold onto his WBC minimumweight belt and tie the undefeated record of boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr.

The 32-year-old Thai nicknamed the “dwarf giant” reached the milestone in the fifth round as Leroy Estrada failed to recover from a powerful upper cut. The Panamanian was the busier of the two fighters in the opening rounds, leaving a cut above Wanheng’s left eye. But the veteran Thai was unruffled, knocking down Estrada twice in round three with withering right hands and again in the fourth, before the stoppage in the fifth. Wanheng’s quest to equal “Money” Mayweather has stirred intrigue between the unheralded, soft-spoken Thai and the brash, vastly more wealthy American. “I’m happy that I can make the same record as him (Mayweather),” the champion said ringside after the fight. Asked about his next move, he said he was not yet thinking about a 51st bout. But one more win would bring Wanheng level with Mexican flyweight Ricardo Lopez, who retired with 51 wins, one draw and no losses.

The bout was hosted in a parking lot, under an awning in the blistering late afternoon heat of the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, far from the glitz-and air conditioning- of Mayweather’s favoured Las Vegas. Boxing analysts have taken note of his achievement but point out that Wanheng has dominated undistinguished rivals compared with Mayweather, who took out greats including Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya. Wanheng’s rivals have been a mixed bag-one last year had 44 losses, while another in 2014 had 24.

In December, he tied Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 tally with a win over Japanese contender Tatsuya Fukuhara. Still, World Boxing Council president Mauricio Sulaiman, who attended Wednesday’s bout, applauded the “tremendous fight” and record-equalling feat. “The world is going to get to know him much better, and great opportunities will open for him,” he told AFP.

That may bring a boon to Wanheng, who has fought since he was 12 and despite his prowess is significantly less wealthy than Mayweather, who briefly emerged from retirement last year to fight MMA star Conor McGregor for a $100-million purse. Given the lack of finances, fighters in Thailand often compete under the label of their gym-Menayothin is Wanheng’s Bangkok gym. The Thai boxer’s legal name is Chayaphon Moonsri. But he is better known by the nickname “dwarf giant”-on account of punching power that belies his size-and “Five-Star Grilled Chicken” because of a sponsorship deal with a Thai food company. — AFP