SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Poontarika Powell, known as Som-O, is a 16-year-old Muay Thai fighter who is set to compete in her first international competition this coming August. Originally from Thailand, she spoke to KRON4 about her journey and the upcoming competition.

The World Boxing Council (WBC) is hosting its first Youth Muay Thai tournament on August 12-14 in Calgary, Canada. Som-O earned her spot by winning two titles in the last year, the WKA National Welterweight title in Harrington, Delaware and the IKF Welterweight SoCal title in San Diego, California.

Currently, Som-O trains twice a day, every day, in preparation for the tournament, running in the morning and heading to the gym in the afternoon and evening. Coach Engel told KRON4 that they are focusing particularly on diet to ensure she is fit to compete in her weight level.

“My grandpa would sit down, lay down, turn on the tv and watch Muay Thai live all the time,” Som-O told KRON4. Although not initially interested in fighting, at 9 years old her father got her interested and she was also inspired by female Muay Thai artists. She eventually thought to herself, “hey, I want to be like her too,” Som-O stated. 

All athletes competing in the WBC Youth Tournament representing the United States have to pay all expenses and fees themselves. Her gym, the California Martial Athletics (CMA) has held fundraisers to help Som-O make her way to the tournament. They also started a GoFundMe for her. 

Joe Chernay and David Engel are two of Som-O’s coaches and have worked with her since she began training at age 9. She now trains with them at a gym they opened in San Francisco over the pandemic and with their coach. They had their start in Muay Thai in Philadelphia, where Chernay trained Engel and moved to California 10 years ago in the hopes of opening the gym they now run, CMA. 

“If you win the finals you are an international champion,” Engel told KRON4 about the upcoming tournament, “it’s about the biggest achievement you could get as an amateur athlete.”

Engel explained to KRON4 how the Olympic committee is currently in the process of accepting Muay Thai as an official sport in the Olympic Games. The WBC hopes that with this upcoming competition “they find the best amateur athletes in their country”, who will eventually fight in the Muay Thai Olympic Games. 

Som-O will also be fighting in Wales, United Kingdom this November for the WKA World Championships.

Cherney says “we’d like to see her go to the big stage which is called the One-Championships and based out in Singapore.” 

Engel told KRON4, “we (CMA) want to build Som-O and anyone else that thinks that they have the ability to go far, we will foster that.”