“Smokin” Jo Nattawut knows he is incredibly lucky to have the support of his family.
Many ONE heroes have spoken about parents who disapproved of their decision to pursue a career in combat sports such as Muay Thai.
Most fathers and mothers push their kids towards education, because they want them to have stable careers that can provide financial stability for them and their families throughout their lives.
Fortunately, Nattawut says his parents were nothing but supportive about his passion, from the first day he kicked a heavy bag when he was just 10 years old.
“At first, they supported me because it was really good exercise, and I really did not do it to fight. I just did it for fun,” he says.
“There were 20 kids – all 10 years old – and we were just playing all of the time. All of the kids played and had fun together.
“My parents were fine until I got into competing, and then they still supported me. They always supported me in whatever I chose to do.
“I really did not ask them about it. Nobody in my family expected anything from me, except for me to be healthy and happy. Otherwise, they wanted me to do whatever I wanted.”
Nattawut’s journey into Muay Thai was a little different from other kids growing up in Thailand, because it was not his childhood passion.
Growing up in Nakhon Ratchasima in the northeastern part of the country, he was hooked on soccer. He played competitively for the school team, but his attention was soon divided when he discovered Muay Thai for the first time.
“I played soccer, and I played seriously in school,” he explains. “We had a teacher move to the school, and he would always hit the heavy bag after class.
“After I played soccer, I came and asked him about it. So every day after that, I would practice soccer, and then I would train in Muay Thai – just for a workout and for fun.”
It would be quite some time before the athlete truly fell in love with “the art of eight limbs.”
Nattawut relocated to Bangkok after he graduated from high school to compete in Muay Thai, but things did not work out in the nation’s capital like he had hoped.
That prompted him to take a three-year break from the sport.
He immediately moved to a nearby island, which was a travel destination. The Thai worked at a hotel and served drinks at parties. Eventually, that led him to secure a job in the United States, so he left his home for Colorado.
In 2013, however, he turned his attention back to Muay Thai.
Nattawut missed competing in the ring and wanted to resume his career. He relocated once more – this time, from Colorado to Georgia, where he trained under the famed Master Khunpon at Bangkok Boxing Fitness. That is when he finally became hooked on his homeland’s national sport.
Although the 28-year-old experienced many trials and tribulations in his time of uncertainty, his family never judged him, nor did they ever try to force him to go back home.
Instead, his entire family stood behind him when he decided to take a shot and pursue a full-time career in Muay Thai, even though he lived on the opposite side of the world.
“Everyone in my family supports me,” he says.
“I have a really big family, so it is not just my parents and my siblings. I have my uncle, my grandma, and my grandpa on both my mom and my dad’s side.
“We are all really close with each other, because we all live a two or three-minute drive away from each other.
“All of them are supportive. They always make sure that I am okay and I am healthy. They never try to tell me what I should or should not do, and that is important.”
Now, the Thai would be especially happy if he defeats Yohann Fairtex Drai in the co-main event of ONE: PURSUIT OF POWER this Friday, 13 July, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.