Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai is preparing for the biggest match of his six-year mixed martial arts career.
Wiratchai has already helped grow mixed martial arts and raise awareness of ONE Championship in his homeland. However, a victory over the Japanese legend in his next contest could encourage a surge of interest like never before.
Being in a position to share the cage with Aoki – a man he idolized as an up-and-comer – validates his development as a martial artist. “OneShin” also hopes it will open his countrymen’s eyes to what Thai athletes are capable of achieving in the cage.
Just days before the 29-year-old engages in the biggest bout of his career, he talks about the current climate of Thailand’s martial arts scene, what his bout with Aoki symbolizes, and much more.
ONE Championship: What are your thoughts about the progress of mixed martial arts in Thailand right now?
Shannon Wiratchai: It is changing a lot. Mixed martial arts in Thailand is now accepted by more people.
In the past, the Muay Thai and boxing community saw it as a barbaric sport – like an underground fight. Now they have started to learn about it. More and more Muay Thai fans and athletes are interested.
ONE: In what ways do you try to keep it moving in the right direction?
SW: Right now, we are trying to grow the grassroots. We want to do this with amateur competition, which is why we have been working on the One Shin Cup. We have had that competition many times already.
ONE: How big do you think your influence has been in Thailand?
SW: I think I am a big influence on the scene in Thailand in two ways.
People that like me might want to be like me, or follow my journey in martial arts. The other angle is there are people who think they can do better, and be better, than me. Both are good if they give people ambition.
I came from kung fu – a traditional martial arts background. Every kind of martial art that exists in this world – aikido, karate, mixed martial arts, wrestling, even tai chi in the park – is useful in its own way.
ONE: Do you think having ONE Super Series bouts on the same card as mixed martial arts bouts is a good thing for the sport in Thailand?
SW: It is a good thing, because Thai people always believe in Muay Thai. When we have [ONE Super Series bouts] on the same card, it is a symbol of how they can exist alongside each other.
It might be a good start for Muay Thai fans to accept mixed martial arts. It might take some time in the beginning, but as time goes on, people will start to learn and recognize that it is a good sport.
ONE: You were part of the press conference where it was announced that Thai Boxing hero Srisaket Sor Rungvisai will defend his WBC Super Flyweight World Title under the ONE banner in October. What are your thoughts on that?
SW: It is very good, because our world champion, Srisaket, is very famous right now. I shared the same stage as him and all the other Thai legends, and that was great for me. We did not talk much, but the vibe was positive.
Now, boxers and Muay Thai guys can see that although we are all different, we are all Thai fighters, and we are all trying to make Thailand proud, so that is a good start.
ONE: How did you feel when you were first offered the bout with Shinya Aoki?
SW: I was thinking about who was going to be the best opponent for me next – maybe Eduard Folayang, Timofey Nastyukhin, Ev Ting, or some other guys. Then I got offered Shinya. When I heard this name, I just said, “Okay!”
It is like the first time I competed in ONE against Mitch Chilson. He is American, and I thought he would be strong. I was so scared, actually, but when I took that offer, it became my motivation to step my game up.
This time, maybe it is a good chance [to step my game up again], because hearing his name already motivates me. It is like you have the chance to date your first crush!
ONE: If you win, where do you go from there?
SW: If I defeat him, surely I will get the title shot, right? But really, when I meet him, I will not care about the title. He is my title shot in life.
I watched him 15 years ago, and I wanted to be like him. I started my judo and jiu-jitsu, and now I get my chance to share the cage with him. Maybe that is what I have been preparing 15 years for.