Shannon Wiratchai could not forget his former opponent Iuri Lapicus if he wanted to.
He still has scars from his ONE Championship fight with the Moldovan-Italian mixed martial artist, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident near Milan last week, and died in hospital on Monday.
"He left some marks on my face," the 34-year-old Thai told the Post on Wednesday night. "He left a Harry Potter scar [on my brow] and he broke my orbital. Even now, [my orbital] is still numb."
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Wiratchai met Lapicus, who was 27 at the time of his death, in a lightweight bout at ONE: Enter the Matrix in Singapore in 2019. It was a back-and-forth fight, but Lapicus, who was making his ONE debut, ultimately won the fight with a third-round rear-naked choke.
Wiratchai never got the chance to get to know his rival beyond the time they spent in the ring together, but still had a difficult time coming to grips with his former opponent's death when his wife woke him up to tell him the news.
"The only interaction we had before the fight, I was in the breakfast room, and his whole team was there - they were all looking at me," he recounted with a laugh. "I had no chance to know him beyond those 15 minutes [in the ring]."
"It's a weird feeling," he added. "When you fight somebody, you're connected to that person."
Wiratchai's face will always bear mementos of his meeting with Lapicus, but he will remember the fight for more reasons than that. He considers it one of the most important moments of his career, and of his life.
"It was a life-changing fight," he said.
"That's the toughest fight I ever had. Bruised face, one big cut, orbital broken. I needed to rest for almost a year before I came back to fight again, but through that time, it taught me so many lessons. It taught me how to keep going."
Wiratchai accepted his fight with Lapicus on short notice, and admits did not expect a particularly tough challenge from his young rival.
He was ultimately proven wrong, and was proved wrong again when Lapicus defeated former featherweight champion Marat Gafurov by first-round submission in his next fight - a big upset at the time.
"[Before our fight] I looked back on his opponents' records," Wiratchai said. "Some of them were kind of new. I thought maybe he's not a big deal for me, and then he proved me wrong.
"Then with Marat, he proved me almost more wrong. He proved a lot of people wrong."
Lapicus' win over Gafurov set him up for a crack at lightweight champion Christian Lee - an opportunity Wiratchai believes he "deserved." Despite hurting the champion early in the fight, he was ultimately finished by strikes before the first round was over.
In his next fight, Lapicus was matched up with former UFC and Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez was one of ONE's biggest stars at the time, and the match-up was proof that the promotion still held Lapicus in high regard despite his failed title bid.
Unfortunately, that fight ended with a no contest after Alvarez hurt Lapicus with a volley of illegal strikes to the back of the head.
Lapicus competed in his final fight at ONE Fight Night 1 last August when, after more than a year away from competition, he moved up to welterweight for a fight with former champion Zebaztian Kadestam. He lost the fight by first-round knockout.
Rather than dwell on Lapicus' losses, Wiratchai is intent to remember his former opponent's statement-making victories.
Even the one that came at his own expense.
"It was a good fight," he said. "I learned a lot."
"He's maybe the first one who made me understand proving people wrong in a positive way," he added. "You can be the dark horse, and nobody knows about you at all, then boom, you show the world what you're made of."
Wiratchai (11-6) last fought at ONE Friday Fights 3 in Bangkok in February, posting a first-round stoppage win over Pouriya Golpour.
It was his first fight in over two years. In his next most recent appearance, in August of 2020, he defeated Fabio Pinca by split decision.
That victory was preceded by a split-decision loss to Honorio Banario, and his loss to Lapicus.
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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