Pongsiri “The Smiling Assassin” Mitsatit is training for a huge bout in ONE championship, but that did not stop him from joining the rescue operation to save the Thai football team trapped in a cave.
The 22-year-old has always dazzled fans with his impeccable skill in the ONE Championship strawweight division, but the Thai hero recently showed his bravery and extraordinary courage outside of the cage.
The undefeated strawweight was one of the first responders in the rescue efforts for the 12 members of the Wild Boars football team and their coach. The team first became trapped in a complex cave system more than two weeks ago in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, where Mitsatit resides.
As a member of the Pingnakorn Rescue Chiang Mai volunteer group, Mitsatit provides aid and assistance in emergency situations in his spare time, and contributed to this operation by helping to locate the probable areas where the team was thought to be holed up.
Mitsatit’s unit was among more than 800 people, from at least seven countries, who took part in the search and rescue efforts during the last two weeks.
“We drove to Chiang Rai in the early morning. We worried about the children, but I knew our team was very capable, and I knew we would do everything we could to find them,” he recollects.
“Many people from all over the world came to help. It was a joint effort, and a great sight to see everyone coming together for a common goal.”
The 12 boys — who are all between the ages of 11 and 16 years old — were traversing the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex with their football coach on Saturday, 23 June, following an afternoon of training as part of a team bonding exercise.
However, heavy rains from Thailand’s ferocious monsoon season quickly filled the cave entrance with murky floodwater and trapped them inside.
Forced to evade the rising water levels, the team moved deeper inside the cave until they reached an elevated sandy area. There was a small enclosure that allowed them to sit and wait safely until help arrived.
A major search and rescue operation was launched in an effort to locate the missing youth football team.
After hours of navigating through muddy water, treacherous cave terrain, and narrow passageways, rescue teams were able to locate the young footballers and their coach more than a kilometer into the complex.
“I feel incredibly blessed to be able to help find these kids alive,” Mitsatit states.
“It did not matter if I was in training for a big fight — I wanted to do everything I could to help those boys. This was bigger than everything else.
“The British divers saw them first, and when they sent back photos and videos, I was so relieved. Just seeing them alive and well, it makes my heart feel full.”
Fortunately, all of the young footballers and their coach have been rescued and airlifted by helicopter to the nearest hospital.
The strawweight’s role in the rescue operation has concluded. He has resumed his training in anticipation of his next bout, but he is more than willing to continue providing assistance.
“When we are given the ability to help others who are in dire need, we must do everything we can. It does not matter whether we are rich or poor — we do what we can,” Mitsatit says.
“In my mind, I wanted to find those kids as soon as possible. Then to see them strong and doing well, it motivates me to be as strong as them. I would do anything if it meant saving those boys.”