Yodsanan is a certified Boxing and Muay Thai instructor under the legendary Kru Yodtong of the Sityodtong Camp in Thailand.
It was always my dream to become a great Muay Thai fighter. I wanted to be like those fighters I used to watch on TV when I was younger. I didn’t care who was fighting; I would watch anyone and everyone. I would copy their techniques, their styles, and pretend-spar with my friends. When I wasn’t watching Muay Thai or training, I would help my mother out in the rice fields. I’d help her plow the fields, pick rice, and harvest it. Sometimes, I’d go to school. But I didn’t like going to school. I stopped going to school at 12 years old not only because I wasn’t interested in my classes, we also didn’t have any money.
I’m the youngest of 6 kids. My father died when my mother was 8 months pregnant with me. My mother would always tell me stories about him and talk about what a hard worker he was. Everyone in my family worked in the rice fields, and it was expected that I would do the same, just like my parents and their parents before them. In between working in the fields, my mind was always on Muay Thai. I made my own heavy bag and would kick it hundreds of times every day. I would also run.
When I was 13, my cousin told me about a fight that was happening in the next village. I had no formal training, but I wanted to fight. I remember running over 10 kilometers, as fast as I could, to get to the next village. I was breathless when I arrived, and the matchmakers were done with their pairings. I was heartbroken. I had run all this way just to be told I couldn’t fight. Fortunately, one of the organizers took notice of me. “Where did you come from?” he asked. I looked at him desperately and explained that I was from the next village. I told him that I had run all this way to fight. Eventually, the organizers relented and let me fight, but warned me that I wouldn’t get paid. I didn’t care.
I won that first fight; I won by points. My mother had no idea that I had fought my first Muay Thai fight. By the age of 16, I had fought 30 times. I won some fights and lost some fights, and I was training on my own. I often wondered what it would be like training at a Muay Thai camp, to have someone to guide and teach me proper technique. In the meantime, I had to make do with my own training and watching other people fight.
After watching one of the fights near my village, a policeman approached me. “I’ve seen you at a lot of these festivals, and I’ve even seen you fight,” he said. “How would you like to train at a real camp, at Sityodtong Camp in Pattaya?” My heart raced, I was finally going to be able to train at a real Muay Thai camp. I agreed and told him that I would ask my mother. When I got home, I told her the news – I was going to train at a camp. In those four years I was fighting Muay Thai and training on my own, I had never received my mother’s blessing. She knew she couldn’t stop me – I was too determined to become a fighter. “Being a fighter and training at a camp is a very hard life,” my mother warned. “But I’m a hard worker too,” I explained. “I’ll work hard, just like my father did.”
I was 17 when I left for Sityodtong camp. It took 4 very long train rides from Sisaket to get to Pattaya, it was at the opposite end of the country. I was sick to my stomach the entire time. The day I arrived at Sityodtong, they wanted to test me. They made me hit pads for three rounds, and after that, everyone was laughing at me. I had no technique; I had no business being at a Muay Thai camp with many champions. It made me really sad but it also made me more determined to make something of myself and prove everybody wrong.
Training at Sityodtong was tough, especially in the beginning. I was a complete beginner compared to everyone else. This forced me to work hard. I would always run a few kilometers more than everyone else, hit the bags and pads for a few more rounds – I wanted to get better and become the best. And I knew that it wouldn’t come easy. I had to work for it. In the beginning, I had to condition my body to get stronger for Muay Thai training. I didn’t get to fight much; nobody thought I was good enough to fight. You’d think that I would lose hope, there was a year that I didn’t even fight. But this didn’t stop me from putting in the extra work in training. Every day I would train like I was going to fight.
One year into training at Sityodtong, one of the better fighters at camp had gotten injured. They chose me to replace him, even if they thought I was going to lose. I jumped at the opportunity and gave the fight my all. In the first round, I knocked my opponent down for an 8 count and I won the fight. Daotung Sityodtong, the first superstar of Sityodtong camp, told Kru Yodtong that I was a great puncher, that there was something special about me. Kru Yodtong asked me if I wanted to try fighting western boxing instead. He warned me that it was more difficult to become a champion but I would have the opportunity to have a longer career and make more money. I told him that he knew best, that he should make the decision for me. Instead, Kru Yodtong told me that it was my decision to make and nobody else’s. I agreed, and the rest is history.
One month after switching over to western boxing, I won my first fight. I proceeded to win my next 5 fights via knockout. I lost my 6th fight because I lost too much weight, as well as my 10th fight. I was knocked out both times but after my 10th fight I took a break for a year. I had short-term memory loss and I needed to regain my strength. After that, I would go on to win my next 16 fights via knockout. I became known as “Little Tyson” because of my punching power and ability to win fights with a knockout.
Many people have asked me the secret to my punching power. I’ll tell you what it is – it’s hard work and determination. When I was training, I worked harder than anyone at camp. I would punch as hard as I could. I would run as far as I could. I would go into my fights with the mindset that I was eventually going to knockout my opponent – and I did. I would think to myself, “I’ve trained harder than this guy, there’s no way I can lose to him.” To win I had to be confident and fearless. Every day, leading up to my first title fight, I would write the same phrase over and over again in my journal: “I will not lose.” I had to be confident. I wasn’t afraid of dying on the canvas – I had to be fearless. I was there for the victory and the glory of it all.
In 2004, I fought against IBF Super Featherweight Champion Steve Forbes. It would be the third time I would defend my WBA Super Featherweight title. Although I was on a near decade-long winning streak, the odds were against me in this fight. Steve Forbes was younger, faster, and stronger – he was one of my toughest opponents. I proved all the naysayers wrong and managed to outscore Forbes in every round. At the end of the twelfth round, nobody was happier than I was when I had my hand raised in victory.
Boxing has given me everything I had ever dreamed of and more. I was this poor kid from Sisaket with no training, no money – just an unbreakable spirit and the determination to be the best. I went from farming rice and dropping out from school to becoming a World Champion, walking alongside Miss Universe on the runway, and even a movie star. Most importantly, I was able to earn enough money to buy my mother a house and support my brothers and sisters.
Just like boxing changed my life, I hope I can do the same for my students, as their teacher. I hope to continue to be an example for them, and show them how far they can go with hard work and tenacity.
Train with Boxing Legend Yodsanan Sityodtong at