Appearances are deceiving. Just look at 44-year-old attorney Krister Bergenhall, the Swede who’s beaten Thai boxers on their own turf.
Thailand: Feb. 7, 1982
The Thai Boxing Championships are underway in the Chang Buri Stadium in Pattaya, Thailand. The stadium is packed with eager faces and bets are unceremoniously being placed. In one corner of the ring, Thailand’s own Anruck Lukbangplasoi stands in readiness. The previous year he was ranked ninth in his weight division. In the other corner is an unassuming blond man, Krister Lukralutkvachanlop (Krister Bergenhall’s Thai ring name), a 40-year-old Swedish lawyer. Flutes and drums strike up the Ram Muay, the traditional dance which precedes all Thai boxing matches. The bell rings and the fight is on. The crowd, however, is atypically low key. For the odds are 15 to 1 in the Thai’s favor. The bout begins at a slow tempo…
Four years later, in an office of the legal department for the district of Jarfalla — a community on the outskirts of cold, grey Stockholm, Sweden — calmly sits Krister Bergenhall the lawyer. He’s an average middle-aged man who looks as though he’s been raised on a diet of law books and paragraphs. He emits a quiet and controlled personality, which is hard to translate to a Thai boxing ring. However hard it is, it’s true. Bergenhall has engaged in matches in Thailand four times, and some of his fights have been considered amongst the toughest in the world. Bergenhall is now 44 years old and unmarried. He lives alone in an apartment in the Stockholm suburbs. During the day, he engages in casework; at night he holds court at the gym where he teaches the demanding art of Muay Thai.
Father of Thai Boxing In Scandanavia
Thai boxing, the national sport of Thailand, is Krister Bergenhall’s burning — and only — interest. Over the years he has experimented with many different fighting sports, but until he came in contact with Thai boxing nothing really appealed to him. It was Bergenhall who introduced Thai boxing to Scandanavia and he is currently president of the Swedish Thai Boxing Federation. By making use of his Thailand contacts and his intimate knowledge of the sport, he has also written a book on the subject.
Bergenhall believes that Thai boxers should be humble and show respect for fellow human beings, but feels this is something missing in many European training camps. Quite unsolicited, he once encountered an unpleasant experience in the Meijiro Gym in Amsterdam, Holland, which is owned by the well-known Jan Plaas. After completing a guest workout, he engaged in a sparring session against World Karate Association World Champions Rob Kaman and Andre Brilleman (now deceased). The meaning was clear. The foreigner was to be put in his place. The two champions took turns kickboxing with the Swede in, to put it mildly, a rather unfriendly manner. When the session ended, Bergenhall was still on his feet and apparently unharmed. Through enormous self-control, he had refused to show the pain he was truly suffering from that punch and crunch session.
The Finest Remaining Challenge
Why would a middle-aged attorney engage in brutal Muay Thai matches? “For years I sought the perfect fighting sport,” explains Bergenhall, “and now that I’ve found it I want to put my knowledge and strength to practice. Man to man in the ring is, to me, the finest remaining challenge in our world today. “I don’t see myself as a tough person, but I do have an ability to prepare myself mentally before a match. To win, one must believe that one can win. Self-confidence is a product of hard training and abilities can change. This applies both to the mental as well as the physical aspects.” Is age a handicap? “Yes, ” Bergenhall asserts. “But who’s around to stop me? I’ll always be true to the sport, and come the day when I don’t compete anymore, when I’m a pensioner, I’ll keep on training. Anyway, how many people of 40 do you know that can run 400 meters in 54 seconds? “I know that many of the Thais respect me for what I’ve done, but I also know that many think I’m crazy. They see me training like an idiot in the heat while other tourists enjoy the sun.” To understand Bergenhall’s achievements in Thailand it is necessary to realize that there are some 20,000 active Thai boxers there. The sport is over 2,000 years old and there are over 100 matches every day. Thai boxing, for those unaware, has been called the world’s toughest ring sport, and its fighters are, pound for pound, the most rugged to be found. Muay Thai is renowned for its brutal use of knee and elbow blows and punishing leg kicks. Only two Westerners, both Americans, had ever beaten ranked Thai boxers before Bergenhall’s arrival: Dale Kvalheim in the 1960s and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez in the ’70s. And there has only been one since, Holland’s Rob Kaman. “Im not afraid of anyone,” Bergenhall remarks, “but it would be pointless for me to meet the best [fighters] in Thailand. I’d really like to meet a fighter from one of the other martial arts. Who will take up the challenge?”
Thailand: Feb. 7, 1982
…the bell rings for round two. The Swede has problems. He is forced to take a lot of hard kicks to the legs and stomach. At close quarters he fares better and manages to knee the Thailander a few times. Anruck Lakbangplasoi has, however, the experience gained from 60 previous fights and gets out of danger. As the large drum increases its tempo so does the Thai. In the third round the Swede suffers greatly, receiving a lot of punishment. He is kicked to the canvas but gets up. In the fourth round he is floored again and again he rises to his feet, only to be put down by a vicious kick to the groin. The mouthpiece flies from his mouth and the crowd screams for blood — his blood. Bergenhall rocks to his feet before the count of ten and launches into an attack. The bout begins to swing his way as he lands more and more hard kicks. Neither boxer will give way. Suddenly the Swede’s right cross connects squarely with the Thai’s jaw and the local favorite falls to the floor, only to leap quickly to his feet again. The Swede turns on the pressure and another right cross finds its mark, this time immediately followed by a crushing knee to the chest. Suddenly the match is over. The winner, by knockout, Krister Bergenhall, the 40-year-old Swedish attorney…the Swedish Superman with the Clark Kent persona.