Fighting Muay Thai runs in my family’s blood. My father was a fighter himself, as were my two older brothers. They would fight in festivals around my hometown of Yasothon in Isaan. My father also fought for the Thai army. Many people look up to these big superstars they see on TV as their inspiration, but mine is close to my heart. It was my father who taught me how to throw my first punch, how to kick and use all the weapons of Muay Thai. Even if we had a big family, 9 kids to be exact, my father took the time to teach me the beautiful art of Muay Thai.
Where I’m from, there are lots of rice fields. My family has been farming rice for generations and money hasn’t always come so easily. Aside from attending school, I would help out in the rice fields, and I was in charge of watching our water buffalo. I would take him to graze on the fields and make sure that he always had enough to eat. My life was simple; I would work in the fields, go to school and train Muay Thai. When I could, I would play other sports with my friends.
If you think I’m cheeky now, you should have seen me back then. I was the naughty kid in class, always up to no good. I would always try to make people laugh, and I was always happy. I was more interested in sports and Muay Thai than studying. I remember learning gymnastics from an older neighbor. It was because of him I started competing in gymnastics and learned all the acrobatic antics I would use later on in my Muay Thai fights.
Although I started training at 8 years old, it was just for fun. My father, my brothers and some of the neighborhood kids were my training partners and teachers. Three years later, I joined my first fight. I wasn’t all that nervous; I just wanted to experience what it would be like to fight. I fought a 15-year-old. He was the son of a friend of my father’s, and considerably more experienced than I was. He won the fight, and I went home with 20 baht in my pocket.
My father taught me a lot about Muay Thai. He was a Muay Boran, very traditional. He emphasized the importance of heavy hands and using elbows. To strengthen my hands, he would make me carry rocks in my hands as weights during my runs. His style was very self-defense based. When he entered the ring, he was there to fight and knock out his opponent. He didn’t think about points or technique. Naturally, I thought this way too. It was after my second fight that I moved to a camp. And even then, it wasn’t much different from my training at home. There wasn’t even a proper ring. I ended up leaving the camp when I was 15 years old.
It was around this time that I started working at a tire factory with my brother. I had stopped going to school, and I was focusing on work and fighting Muay Thai. I was training at a small camp on the outskirts of Bangkok, and I would join small competitions and festivals around the area. Slowly, I started to build my name. A year later, I moved to Chuwattana gym. Everyone was leaving our old camp. It was at Chuwattana when my style started to change.
Whenever I would get in the ring, I would fight to entertain. I was never scared or stressed out about fighting. I wanted the crowds to cheer for me and enjoy the show. Whenever my opponents would throw kicks, I would duck under their legs, or sometimes I would lean back so far, almost to the floor. I was able to use the gymnastic techniques I learned in the past. One of my favorite tricks was when I would pretend to be dazed and walk haphazardly – just when my opponent thought the fight was over, I would throw a punch and take the fight in my hands. Fighting during those times was amazing. They called it the Golden Age of Muay Thai. Fighters got paid better, and they were there to fight. We were always ready for a battle – we didn’t care about points or finesse.
My favorite fight of all time was when I fought against Kaensak Sor Ploenjit. He was the number 1 fighter in Thailand at the time, and he would make over 350,000 baht every time he fought. Coming into the fight, I was the underdog. Nobody thought I would win. All throughout the fight, all my shots were able to land. In the first round, I was able to teep him in the face and make him stumble backward. I kept on evading his strikes, and the crowd went crazy. I surprised everyone that night and won.
It took me more than 10 years to get a title fight. I was 28 years old and ready to retire. Everyone knows about all the politics that surrounds all the Muay Thai fights and promotions in Thailand. There were lots of promoters who didn’t want me to fight. My first title fight was the 126-pound Rajadamnern title. I didn’t really want to be a champion, all the fights I had fought leading up to this fight was enough for me. I knew I was already one of the best. But I fought anyway, and I won it for my father.
My father was sick at the time. All the years of manual labor took a toll on him, and he eventually acquired a serious eye infection that would require surgery. It became so serious that he went into a coma. I remember coming home after my fight and seeing him on his deathbed. It was devastating. Seeing my father weak and frail saddened me. It was hard to imagine that he was the same person who had taught me the art I grew to love. When I showed him the belt, I thought I saw him smile at me. He passed away the next day. It was as if he was just waiting for me to come home and see him one last time.
After defending my titles and losing them, I decided to retire. Luckily, I was offered a job to teach Muay Thai in Japan. I loved living in Japan. It was beautiful and modern, and I was also making decent money. I taught Muay Thai to many different people in Japan, including ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki. At one point, I had even taught the Yakuza. Every once in awhile, I would return back to Bangkok. When I would go home, I had to find other ways to earn money. There was a point when I became a motorcycle taxi driver. I would also scour the city for glass bottles and sell them to a recycling plant. I had to do what I could to make money. I didn’t earn much, but it was an honest way to make a living.
Life during this time was tough, I was worn out physically, but I didn’t let this get to me. I had to make money not only to support myself but my family as well. No matter how hard my work day was, I would always go around with a smile on my face. I was happy because I was still earning money. My friends helped me a lot as well. Back when I was a fighter and earning decent money, I was quite generous. Luckily, the friends I helped back then never forgot this, so they returned the favor. Even when I barely had a few baht to my name, I would still try to find a way to help those that were less fortunate than I was.
I think the reason I’m so resilient is because of my circumstances. I wasn’t born into a wealthy family – I’ve had to work my way to the top, and even then, I would never take the easy road. I’ve had to fight with barely any training, sick as a dog, and even got knocked out in the process. But I’ve learned how to stay positive and just be happy regardless of what life hands me. I guess that’s why I’m always laughing and cracking jokes.
As much as possible, I like to encourage my students to have fun. I figure, if they enjoy Muay Thai and laugh along the way, they’ll be more inclined to learn and continue training. It’s easy to learn techniques and become a decent fighter. But to become truly successful – you have to love what you do. Being a Muay Thai teacher — I think I this would have made my father very proud. Just like he had taught me to love Muay Thai, I am doing the same for my students. Hopefully, one day, they can pass on the same passion to their own students or peers.
Train with Muay Thai Legend Legend Muangfalek Kiatvichian at