Fighting April 11th, he takes a break at “Thai Town” with Walter Sarnoi
Shawn “El Chamuko” Estrada (3-0, 3 KOs) and Walter “School Boy” Sarnoi (3-0, 2 KOs) have been good friends for years. Just like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Starsky and Hutch, Batman and Robin. Just like other dynamic duos and best buddies that pop into mind…Cheech and Chong, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble…okay, you get the idea! The point is there’s nothing like a loyal buddy by your side. If they had their own TV show, you could call it “The Middleweight and the Super Bantamweight” or maybe “Walter and Shawn’s Excellent Adventures”?
Catching up with them this past weekend, you’ll see exclusive pics from a fun day with the two prospects. Read what they have to say about their amateur boxing experiences and what it’s like now that they’ve both turned pro. And hear the surprising answer from Shawn about a future dream match he wants (Hint: he’s “Ferocious” in the ring)!
After first meeting Walter and Shawn last year at various World Boxing Hall of Fame events, it’s been exciting to watch their progress. And what better way to spend a Sunday, I think to myself, as my boyfriend and I maneuver through the huge crowd to meet up with a group of friends (including Walter and Shawn) at the 6th Annual Thai New Year Festival in Hollywood, California. The community event is percolating with activity and the smell of delicious curries and traditional delicacies fill the air. Cultural exhibits and vendor booths line the streets with plenty of music and dancing to entertain the audience.
In a town that offers a wide array of ethnic diversity, the pals are a perfect example of how different cultures can blend together well. While they stopped to admire the beauty pageant that’s taking place at the festival, the best friends and fellow fighters stayed away from the beer gardens since both are training for upcoming fights!
Next up for Shawn is this weekend’s fight at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. He’s on the undercard of the Winky Wright-Paul Williams and Chris Arreola-Jameel McCline bouts. Estrada, who just turned 24, will be facing 28-year-old Thomas Rittenbaugh (3- 2- 2).
Walter, 22, a Thai-American fluent in English, Thai and Spanish, is scheduled to fight on April 23 in Lemoore, California. While busy in the ring, he’ll also be busy in the library. A graduate of Northern Michigan University, the boxer is going back to college to earn a Master’s degree in business while he continues his training in the gym.
We find them near the outdoor boxing ring and they’re still raving about the beauty queens they saw competing on stage as they first entered the festival. “You should see their costumes and the crowns they wear. They’re really pretty–they’re hot!” the guys tell us. Chuckling at their enthusiasm, I promise that if any of the girls walk by I’ll take photos for them. Hey, what are friends for?
I ask the boys to pose for couple of pics and Shawn quickly puts on a red T-shirt he brought with him that has “Thailand” boldly emblazened across the chest. I laugh and applaud his spirit and support for his buddy. Walter is also laughing and shaking his head telling Shawn, “Okay, I’ll go with you to the Mexican Independence Day celebration since you came here today!”
I notice Walter’s wearing a cool blue tank top with all sorts of official markings (including his name and “57 kgs” on the back of it) so I ask him about it. “It’s from Thailand. In 2008 I competed for a spot on the Thailand National Team. I fell a little short but it was a great experience. The 57 kilograms was my weight–125 pounds.”
What do you weight right now? “I’m 122,” says Walter. “I’m 169 right now,” Shawn adds.
Taking in all the sights and sounds at the blocks-long festival celebrating the Thai New Year and its culture, Shawn was happy to take a quick break from training and represent with his best bud and fellow fighter. “He knows everybody!” Shawn says as Walter runs into a lot of friends at the event. Courteous and respectful of the Thai heritage, the Mexican-American bows after he and Walter pose with a couple decked out in ornate costumes of their culture.
The Thai Fest is also called the “Songkran Festival,” which means to “move or “change place” when the sun changes its position in the zodiac, a tradition that brings luck and prosperity and is recognized by the Thai society. “Move and change” can also describe the burgeoning careers of these two fighters who are just beginning their pro careers and will be experiencing so many new challenges as they both wield their way through the pros.
This is a brotherhood that began years ago while the two were growing up and their bond was further cemented through the sport of boxing. Both had a stellar amateur career, both went pro just last year and both have 3-0 records. With their twin goals of succeeding as a pro, they have been on parallel tracks during their decade-long friendship. The down-to-earth pair are just like any other best friends: they finish each other’s sentences, joke around and take verbal jabs at each other and most importantly–they always have each other’s backs.
They share in each other’s cultures and also support each other’s successes. In training camps together, they have been part of the Southland’s long legacy of churning out great amateurs through the National Golden Gloves, Junior Olympics and Olympic Team competitions. Among their many accomplishments, Walter was a 2008 California Golden Gloves Champion and Shawn was a 2008 U.S. Olympian. Both are looking forward to carving out a successful future as a pro.
he middleweight has had a busy six months since signing with Goossen Tutor Promotions last October. Estrada has had a string of first round knockouts since his November debut. His last fight was on March 27 at the Nokia Theatre in downtown L.A.
So with the bright California sunshine beating down on us, we watched some beatdowns in the ring during a Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) competition, a national sport of the country. Walter was familiar with Muay Thai and Shawn had seen it a few times too, but it was my first time seeing it live. Somewhat similar to boxing, the combatants can also use their kickboxing skills to strike against their opponents.
Shawn really got into watching the action. He was animated, throwing punches in the air, and cheering for the athletes in the ring saying, “Oh man, it looks like fun! I want to get in there. Can you imagine if I went in?”
As we watch one of the contestants get knocked down, Shawn states, “Oh, maybe he had a glass jaw or something.” I asked him, “Have you ever tried any other form of boxing before?” Shawn says, “Well, sometimes UFC fighters, they come into the gym a lot to spar. It gives them a chance to work on their hand skills.” And what about kickboxing? “I did try it. I got kicked in the shoulder and thought, ‘That’s it!’ and I knocked the guy out!” Shawn replies.
Boxing purists can rest assured that Estrada that does not want to become the next Jean-Claude Van Damme!
In between fights, we have a little time to chat and catch up before the next Muay Thai match begins.
Q: Shawn, your fight’s coming up soon!
A: Yeah, look at how skinny I am! (He laughs as he pats his abs). The fight’s sold out! It’ll be great. I’m fighting a southpaw; I’m going on third.
Question: How’s the training going?
Shawn: I’m training hard. I’ll be sparring ’til Wednesday.
Q: Shawn, now that you’re pro, you recently received some criticism?
Shawn: Even before the Olympics, I received criticism. But now they’re saying that I should get more work in my fights. In my second fight I went against a Toughman fighter and my third fight was against a USC football player. But he had nine pro fights and three losses. I’m still fighting tough opponents–there are no bums! It makes me mad when they say stuff like that.
Q: Well, the local fans have really been supportive since you turned pro.
Shawn: They’re great. I have been building my fan base now that everyone is getting to know who Shawn Estrada is. I’m real; I don’t beat around the bush. My true fans know that!
Q: You both had great amateur careers…
Shawn: But when we first started out we sucked! (The two crack up). Be sure to put that in! Okay, I was decent but he was pretty bad (as he points toward Walter). And we were both sloppy with no style. I was always fighting inside. Were were such amateurs, the way we stood, everything. It’s funny to us now!
Q: And you are also friends with Javier Molina (who just had his first pro fight).
Walter: Yes, we are friends. (Sarnoi and Molina are both planning to fight at Tachi Palace on April 23). I’m fighting this month and then next month I’ll be going to camp with Yonnhy Perez in South Africa (for his Silence Mabuza bout on May 29).
Q: Anything you miss about the amateurs?
Walter: The best part is the traveling aspect of it; you get to see different lifestyles.
Shawn: Yeah, the traveling is great. I’ve been to Taipei, Russia, and Italy. I love going to the small clubs and gym fights; that’s who I was for a long time! There are so many great boxers and champs have come out of amateur boxing in California. (He then rattles off a long list of names that went on to have successful pro careers).
Q: Who would you like to fight next?
Shawn: When I get to my 13th or 14th fight, I’d love to step into the ring and fight Fernando Vargas!
Q: Really? We saw him at a fight a few months ago. He looked good but I think he might be 200 pounds right now. (“I think he’s 220 pounds,” someone else in our group chimes in).
Shawn: I heard he’s 240 pounds. Yeah, I’ll start calling him out now (he laughs). I want to fight him. Seriously, I’ve followed his career for a long time and I have always admired him. If he comes out of retirement, I want to fight him! It’ll boost my experience and it would be great.
Q: And Walter, who would you like to fight?
Walter: Later down the line, I’d love to fight Chris John. I’d want to bring our two countries together (Indonesia and Thailand). And I’d also love to fight Israel Vazquez once he gets back in the ring. It would be great for the Mexican fans.
Q: Did you guys first become friends through a boxing gym?
Walter: I was 12 when I first met Shawn through his brother.
Shawn: And I was 13. He was friends with my brother first. So for about one and a half years we didn’t talk to much with each other. Then after junior high, it started from there and we became friends through high school.
Q: And you trained in the same gym when you were younger?
Shawn: Yeah, we fought in the same gym in East L.A. And in the amateurs, we’d fight at the same time and sometimes we both had to win the same tournament to advance so we were always there together.
Q: I like how you share in each other’s successes.
Shawn: Walter went to Beijing to support me. And we’ve been to Canada and Lake Placid too.
Q: Walter, have you ever sparred with Shawn, just for fun?
Walter: We have sparred before! Shawn would be a punching bag to me. (He jokes). I was happy to hit him and get in at least one solid shot.
Q: And you’re still at the same gym?
Shawn: Yes, in East L.A.
Walter: I’m at Santa Fe Springs now.
Q: So it was Shawn’s birthday (on April 1). Did you all get together?
Walter: Yes, we had a birthday bash. We had a celebration at Mariscos Tampico restaurant (in Maywood).
The action resumes on the canvas and after a few more matches we all head over to the boxers’ tents to congratulate the Sityodtong fighters, trained by Walter “Sleeper” Michalowski. Their boxing coach, Tommy Osuna, is a friend of ours and as I introduce him to Shawn and Walter, it turns out the three already know each other from the amateur circuit. Osuna’s boxers recently won their division in the regional Golden Gloves Tournament and Shawn praises their efforts saying as he shakes the trainer’s hand, “The Golden Gloves was the only one I didn’t win. I won the Nationals, went to the Olympics, but I was never a Golden Gloves champ! So I really admire anyone who’s won–it’s not easy!”
And it has not been an easy road for Shawn Estrada, who grew up in East L.A. and is one of 16 children! The middleweight is also a single dad to young daughter Alyssa. And sadly, as most people know by now that Shawn’s father, a former boxer himself, passed away after his son’s first bout and triumph in the Beijing Olympics.
Now we will wait and watch as Shawn and Walter look to make their mark on the canvas fighting for title belts. Whether or not more fame and fortune finds them, one thing is for certain: they will remain loyal friends through it all. And that’s something money cannot buy.
Photos by Michele Chong and Steve Harpst: With Shawn Estrada and Walter Sarnoi: The sights and sounds at the Thai Fest; With Muay Thai winner Sawntee and the Sityodtong camp.
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