SURIN, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - Sujet Salee is a Thai boxing champion with an impressive fight record, but the 29-year-old also stands out among his peers for another reason: he's blind.
Sujet, who was born blind, has won five consecutive matches and drew once since he has started his boxing career in October 2008 against opponents who are blindfolded during fights. Prize money for each match he won has been 1,500 baht ($46).
Sujet, who is Thailand's most famous blind boxer, trains six days a week for several hours, the same routine as other boxers in Por Cherdchai boxing camp in Surin province, 457 kms (284 miles) northeast of Bangkok. But he is the only one that can't see his opponents.
He said he wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, a boxer who died five years ago.
"When I was young my father was a boxer, but none of my brothers took boxing as a career. I wanted to be a boxer like my father, but I'm blind, I didn't think I can do it. But I made up my mind," said Sujet.
Sujet's career choice is unusual compared to most other blind people in Thailand who work as masseurs, make handicrafts or sell lottery tickets.
Sujet said he had also enrolled for a massage course but turned it down because it did not inspire him. He said his body is more into boxing.
"I will do my best as my body allows me to do, to find out where is the top of this career for me," he added.
During training, all Sujet needs is extra coaching from his trainers, who adjust his posture and basically see for him.
His body balance is different from sighted people, but when fighting against a blindfolded opponent, his senses are sharper: he often knocks out fighters with his elbow as it is his "weapon," his trainers say.
"When he touched his opponent on the ring, he attacked instantly. His sense is good, which gives him an advantage over blindfolded boxers," said trainer Sirowat Somboon.
Por Cherdchai boxing camp was established in less than a year ago and Sujet is one of its 15 boxers.
Camp owner Cherdchai Sangketkij, who lost his eyesight more than 20 years ago, said he wanted to give blind people a chance to pursue alternative careers.
Blind boxing is not supported by Thailand's disabled athletes association, which considers it as a violation for the rights of the handicapped, but Cherdchai claims the sport is safe and hopes it will become a national sport for the blind.
"I would like the people in the national disable athletes to consider boxing to become a sport for disable in the national level. I think the blinds can do boxing," he said.
Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is a centuries-old hand-to-hand combat technique - a martial art which became a rite of passage for Thai men.
Thai boxing has always been a traditional route to fame and fortune for poor men living in Thailand's rural areas.
Editing by Miral Fahmy