My Life As A Muay Thai Fighter: Penek Sitnumnoi

Penek Sitnumnoi is a multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion. At 26 years old, he is a 3x Lumpinee World Champion, 1x Omnoi Stadium Champion, 1x Thailand National Champion, 1x WPMF World Champion, Channel 3 Champion, Channel 7 Champion, etc. Penek has fought and beaten some of the biggest superstars in Muay Thai today such as Sam-A Gaiyanghadao, Sagetdao Petpayathai, Pakorn Sakyothin, Kongsak Sitboonmee, Saenchai Sor Kingstar, and many others. He has a professional fight record of 67 wins and 20 losses. The Thai media voted him as Fighter of the Year. He is widely regarded as one of the most exciting fighters of his era.

There are many Muay Thai fighters out there, but not everybody gets the chance to become a champion. Much less become a multiple-time world champion. I am not an exceptionally talented fighter, but what makes me different from the rest is my will to win. When you’re in the ring, you get pushed to your limits. Every teep, punch or kick you get thrown at you will put your spirit to the test, especially when you’ve taken more than your body can handle. Many fighters have given up at this point, but for me, this is my cue to go 100% and finish the fight.

I’m the middle child in my family. I had 4 older siblings and 4 younger ones. My father was a fisherman, and he was the sole breadwinner of our household. My mother was in charge of taking care of the children and doing housework, so money was quite tight. There were 10 mouths to feed and whatever my father made was never quite enough.

When I was 10 years old, I started training Muay Thai with my friends from my neighborhood. There was a small gym near my house where all the children were training. Muay Thai seemed interesting to me, so I stuck with it. By the time I was 12 years old, I had fought 30 times. My friends had stopped training by this time. I was winning quite a bit of fights and it was nice to make money. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to make a difference for helping out at home. My friends were always asking their parents for money, so I thought to myself, “If I can give money to my family and help them, this would make life so much easier for my parents.” I think this is what prompted me to take Muay Thai seriously, as a career option. Muay Thai was no longer something I would do for fun, it would be my way of being less of a burden for my family.

Penek Sitnumnoi started Muay Thai at the age of 10.

Penek Sitnumnoi started Muay Thai at the age of 10.

My father supported my career choice from day one. He was proud of me and what I had sacrificed in order to help them. My mother, on the other hand, was not the biggest fan of Muay Thai. Just like any mother, she was scared of seeing her son get hurt, but eventually she relented. After fighting Muay Thai for 6 years, my mother finally watched my first fight on TV. The fight was televised on Channel 7. Even then, my family told me that she wasn’t even really watching my fight. She was watching the fight from a distance, through a window, so it was difficult to really see if she was watching or not.

When I was 14, I was taken by my trainer, Pi Noom, to a camp near Phuket called Sor Jor Suwit. I trained there for a year. It was tough for me, and I wasn’t used to the strict training regimens we had to follow. There were also a lot of older kids and fighters who would bully me. I desperately missed home and my family. A year into training at this camp, I ran away and went home. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I stopped training for a year, after this. I also stopped going to school. We were having problems at home, so I had to drop out of school, and money was even tighter now. One of my friends from camp had approached me during one of his visits. He told me that Pi Noom and some of the fighters had moved to a new camp called Singpatong. He asked me if I wanted to come along with him and I agreed. My parents needed help, and I had to earn money to help make ends meet.

When I moved to Singpatong, I was one of the three fighters in the gym. It was an abandoned gym, and Pi Noom had to start from scratch. Whenever any one of us fighters won a fight, we would split our prize money amongst ourselves — three fighters, Pi Noom and the gym manager. The money would be used for food, to pay for bills, and other basic needs. It was tough. Being at such a small gym also meant I had fewer training partners, which would make training for fights quite difficult. But Pi Noom was a great trainer. He taught us to be strong and to be resilient. He said that we had to keep on working hard, no matter what. Even if we didn’t make a lot of money from our fights, he said that we needed to keep on fighting for experience. Fighting was a way for us to show our skills to the world. He also said that being successful and famous didn’t mean that we should start taking it easy. If anything, it should force us to work even harder to stay on top.

When Penek moved to Singpatong gym, he only had two training partners.

When Penek moved to Singpatong gym, he only had two training partners.

I was 17 when I started fighting in Bangkok. I started fighting at the Channel 7 fights and people were starting to know my name. My fighting style also started to change. Back when I was fighting in Phuket, I was a knee fighter. But when I started facing more challenging opponents, I knew I had to change my style and become more well-rounded, so I added elbows and kicks to my arsenal of weapons. Despite my lack of training partners, having a great trainer in Pi Noom made up for it. He would always emphasize the importance of hard work and tenacity and how we had to make a name for ourselves because of our perseverance. I never expected that I would become a superstar. All I wanted to do was fight to the best of my ability and see how far that would get me. In fact, I remember that as a child, my ultimate dream was to fight on channel 7 so everyone could watch me.

Of all the hundreds of fights I’ve fought, my favorite fight was when I won my first Lumpinee title at 20 years old. I fought an experienced fighter named Mongkoon Chai who was well known around the Bangkok circuit. The training camp for this fight was quite difficult. Because of the lack of training partners, I had to clinch with the farangs at Singpatong. Although they helped, it wasn’t the same as training with a Thai fighter who’d been training ever since he was a child. But I had no choice; I had to make do with what I had. This added to the nervousness and anxiety I felt about the fight. My strategy that night was to break my opponent’s will. I had seen him fight before and I noticed that after a few rounds, he would seem a bit broken. I had to keep on putting pressure on him and break him if I wanted to win. Sure enough, in the first three rounds, I did not hesitate to put pressure on him. I was aggressive. I kept on attacking and attacking, and in the 4th round, I was finally able to daze him. I had achieved my goal – I broke his will. That night, I defied the odds and proved everyone wrong – I was the underdog and I won the fight.

Of course, nobody can forget my battles with Sam-A. The first time we fought, I was only a 19-year-old, coming off of a big winning streak. Sam-A though was an established superstar. I knew it was going to be a tough fight; Sam-A would definitely give me a hard time and prove his mettle. From the moment we touched gloves, it was the most intense exchange. In the 3rd round, we were both landing strikes. I was using my knees, and Sam-A kept on going with his kicks. When I walked in to do a knee, Sam-A knocked me out with an elbow. I was devastated. This was the first time I had ever been knocked out in my entire career but I didn’t lose hope. I wanted to fight Sam-A again.

I felt a lot of pressure going into my second fight – whoever won the fight would win the Fighter Of The Year award. We were both coming off winning streaks; it was a good year for both of us. Training camp for this fight definitely took a toll on me; I had to cut a lot of weight and there was a lot of pressure on me to win because it was one of the biggest fights of the year. I knew that coming into this fight, I had no choice but to KO Sam-A. The fight was organized by Sam-A’s promoters, and the judges would surely give the fight to Sam-A if it came to a decision. The first round was close but I had the edge in the second round, with Sam-A behind on points. Before we started the third round, my trainer told me to really put the pressure on Sam-A and use my knees. But the fourth round was another story. My trainer warned me that I was behind on points and I really needed to put the pressure on Sam-A or else he would win the fight. I used every bit of strength I could muster to land those knees. Sam-A went for his kicks, and as he went forward, I was able to land an elbow. Sam-A went down, and I was able to cut him above his eye. I knew that Sam-A wouldn’t take this lightly and I had to give it my all in the fifth round. We both went at in the fifth round, attacking each other non-stop. I was able to land another elbow, and I cut him below his eye, finishing the fight. The happiness I felt when I received the trophy was simply overwhelming.

After winning a few titles, I decided to retire. I felt like I had achieved all that I could and that everything would just go downhill after my success in the ring. Sometimes, I like to look back at the old days with my friend and fellow instructor at Evolve MMA, multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Sagetdao Petpayathai. Life as an instructor is very different from my life as a fighter. I’m so much more relaxed and I have the freedom to enjoy the little things in life, unlike before. I love being an instructor. It makes me happy to see my students perform techniques with my style; it’s like I can see myself in them.


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