Mixed martial arts or boxing?
That has been the million dollar question surrounding Andre Soukhamthath these days. Should the talented amateur pursue a pro career in MMA, where he’s 4-0 with two big title fights on deck, or should he try to make a living in boxing, where he’s 4-2 and last October, captured a championship belt at the Rocky Marciano Tournament?
There had been conflicting rumors of the Woonsocket High 2007 graduate choosing one sport over the other, and others of him wishing to try his hand in both sports, but Soukhamthath made his intentions known during a break in his Wednesday night workout at the Woonsocket Boxing Club.
“For now, I’m going to do MMA because that’s more me,” he offered. “I’m a better MMA fighter and I like fighting MMA more, but we’ll just see how it goes, and maybe one day, I’ll try pro boxing.”
Soukhamthath, who just got done working on some kickboxing drills in the ring with his father, William Soukhamthath, a veteran martial arts and Muay Lao instructor, was getting ready for his first MMA championship fight.
Soukhamthath, who is New England’s top-ranked amateur at 145 pounds, will take on Frank Sforza of Rockland, Mass. and South Shore Sportfighting, who is the No. 2 ranked fighter, for the Cage Titans Fighting Championship’s New England title belt on its “Mayhem” card on Friday night at Lombardo’s in Randolph, Mass.
Sforza, who is 3-0 as an MMA fighter, boasts a very impressive high school wrestling resume. He’s a former four-time state champion out of Rockland (Mass.) High, who as a senior in 2002, was a New England champ, national semifinalist, and All-American grappler.
“I’m training hard for this kid,” offered Soukhamthath. “I’m not taking him lightly. I know about his background, but I’m not really too worried about it. I’ve seen his videos and I’ve never really seen him get hit in the face, so we will see if he can take a hit. I’m definitely going to give him some shots.”
Most MMA enthusiasts are viewing this fight as the standup fighter vs. the ground fighter duel, but Soukhamthath sees it differently.
“I like to think of myself as an all-around fighter,” he said. “I’m 4-0 and I’ve won by submission, I’ve won by knockout, and I’ve won by TKO. I’m not very good at one thing, but I try to be good at everything. If the fight goes to the ground, I’ll be OK there, and if it stays standing up, I’ll still be OK.”
After this fight, it’s back to the gym for Soukhamthath and preparations for another title fight in two months -- the Tournament of Champions’ Northern Division 145-pound championship at the Tyngsboro Sports Center in Tyngsboro, Mass.
Soukhamthath earned his spot in the finals via a semifinal-round submission of Derek Shorey in the opening round of their Nov. 10 showdown. He used a devastating rear naked chokehold to finish off Shorey.
Prior to that triumph, Soukhamthath nailed down a crowd-pleasing victory on Sept. 25 over Josh Beavalente. After Soukhamthath ruled the first round, he landed a quick combination of punches just seven seconds into the next round to send Beavalente to the mat for a quick knockout.
“Those (championship fights) are going to be very tough fights,“ remarked Soukhamthath, “but if all goes well and I win both of those belts, I might go pro after that. We’ll see what happens.”
SOUKHAMTHATH TOOK UP FIGHTING five years ago, but before he made a name for himself in the boxing ring and the MMA cage, he was best known for his stellar talents on the soccer pitch and the basketball court for the Villa Novans.
His best sport was soccer, where he claimed All-Division honors and helped the Novans produce back-to-back 10-4-2 seasons.
Soukhamthath got recruited by some Division II and III colleges to continue his soccer career, but he had to push those plans aside.
“My girlfriend, Jamie, was pregnant with our baby, so I decided not to go to college and I went to work,” he noted. “I was going to be a dad, so I wanted to be a man and take care of my responsibilities, so I put everything aside.”
The couple’s son, LeAndre Bee Soukhamthath, was born on Nov. 22, 2007, but tragedy soon hit the new young family harder than a swift roundkick.
Just after he was born, LeAndre started to get what appeared to be a rash or staph infection on his buttocks, but a month later, the infection turned out to be a lot worse than it was.
“He had a skin disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa,” Soukhamthath said of the ailment, which causes open wounds to the skin and eventually covered 70 percent of LeAndre’s body in blisters. “One out of every 500,000 babies get it and he had the worst case. He only made it through nine months.
“After his passing, I took some time off,” he offered. “I had a boxing match at the (Southern New England) Golden Gloves. I was still mourning, but I went right back into reality. I got a new job doing construction and I began training for the Golden Gloves.
“That was my first boxing match, and I actually lost by a point to a guy that had 10 fights, so it was a good fight. It was a pretty good experience.”
Later that year, Soukhamthath suffered another defeat in the 152-pound title bout of the Rocky Marciano Tournament in Taunton, Mass. Like his fight at the Golden Gloves, it was close and entertaining, but it ended with a loss.
“I think I got robbed, but that happens,” he said with a smile. “I did a lot of damage to the kid I fought, but he ended up scoring more points than I did, and in amateur boxing, that’s what it’s all about.”
Soukhamthath didn’t return to Fall River, Mass. for the Golden Gloves last year, but he came back with a vengeance in the 152-pound title fight of last October’s Rocky Marciano Tournament, which took place just a short drive away at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket.
Soukhamthath dominated the first two rounds of his bout with Matt Durland and put an exclamation point on it by landing an uppercut in the third round that staggered his opponent and resulted in a TKO.
“(Boxing coach) John (Messier) said after the second round, ‘Don’t leave it in the judges’ hands! Remember what happened last year?’ ” Soukhamthath recalled. “That’s what I was thinking about in the third round, so I went out there and knocked him out, and I finally got my title.”
DURING 2009, SOUKHAMTHATH WAS ALSO getting heavily involved in the MMA scene, and thanks to his success in the cage in 2010, he’s on the brink of bringing home two championship belts.
“I feel good,” said Soukhamthath. “I feel like I have something to prove and I feel like sending a message to all the pros out there that I’m coming.”
Soukhamthath’s support group is a big one. In addition to his father helping him train and his fiancee, Jamie Thompson, serving as his manager, he has the Woonsocket Boxing Club and his coaches, Bob Moreau, John Messier, and EBA New England light heavyweight champion Joe Gardner, helping him sharpen his boxing skills.
“I box three times a week here with them,” he offered. “They help me with my boxing and it carries on to the MMA.”
Soukhamthath also works out with Team United Muay Lao and Tim Burrill Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (both from North Providence) and sometimes, he’ll get in some wrestling workouts with Team Rockstar in Cranston.
“My schedule is pretty crazy,” he noted with a smile. “I’m also a trainer, and I teach boxing to the kids here and Muay Lao and standup fighting at Team United. From Monday through Friday, I could be doing both, day and night. In training, I’ll put in at least 20 hours, and in teaching, about 25-30.
“It help me get my mind off things when I train and teach and I’m on the go, so that’s probably why my schedule is crazy, but I don’t mind it at all. It just makes me stronger.”