Two young boys climb into a boxing ring, and the crowd erupts.

Cheers crescendo as the fighters pummel and pound each other for the chance of fame and fortune in the brutal sport of Muay Thai.

They're among thousands of Thai children risking their lives in a sport that can sometimes prove fatal.

A 13-year-old boy died last year after a knock-out punch in a ring on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Minutes into the fight, Anucha Tasako went down from a legal blow from his 15-year-old opponent, Nitikron, and never regained consciousness.

"When I heard the news, I felt sorry and I couldn't sleep, says Nitikron, who has fought more than 100 matches. "I attended the vigil to ask for forgiveness."

At Tasako's funeral, his uncle said he died a "warrior", but critics say young Muay Thai fighters like him are being exploited.

Studies show child fighters often suffer brain damage, prompting calls for the sport to be banned.

Dr Jiraporn Laothamatas, who has studied the brains of hundreds of child fighters, says they usually have lower IQs than children who haven't been in the ring.

She says Tasako's death should prompt authorities to ban young children from boxing.

"These kids, they are our future. They are the future of our country. How can we let this kind of thing happen?"

But with families often betting on their own children, 101 East investigates whether young boxers will continue to pay the ultimate price.

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Source: Al Jazeera