Nong-O Gaiyanghadao never had to look far for motivation.
For the 31-year-old Muay Thai legend, the desire to succeed comes not from surpassing his predecessors and other legendary strikers. Instead, inspiration comes from making his loved ones proud of his achievements.
“I did not really have an idol growing up. There were many athletes I admired and respected, but not just one that I would consider my idol,” he says.
“Being known as the best is not too important to me. Yes, I liked watching many different athletes like Somluck Kamsing, Samart Payakaroon, and Kaensak Sor Ploenjit, among others. I would spend a lot of time watching their bouts, and studying them. But being greater than they were is not something that pushed me to be the best I can be. It has always been family.”
Gaiyanghadao cherishes his family, and always wanted to help them ever since he was a child.
Raised under meager circumstances by orchard farmers in Sakon Nakhon, a rural village in Northeastern Thailand, Gaiyanghadao pursued Muay Thai as a means to help his family escape the clutches of extreme poverty.
He discovered the martial art at the age of nine, and trained and honed his skills in a neighbor’s backyard. The young Thai made a mere 100 baht (USD$3.20) in his first bout, and gave the winnings to his grandmother.
Despite being just a small amount, Gaiyanghadao realized he could use Muay Thai as a means to make a living, and help his family out, financially.
“I started competing in Muay Thai to help my family get out of poverty,” he explains. “I grew up very poor, and I saw Muay Thai as something that would help give me a brighter future. I continue to compete to give my family the best future possible.”
At first, Gaiyanghadao kept his young career a secret. But after competing eight more times, his parents learned of his activities, and soon supported his endeavors.
That served to be rather beneficial to the Thai, because he looked to his family as his ultimate strength. It further motivated him to succeed when he moved to Bangkok at age 14, and when he had his first big match at the iconic Rajadamnern Stadium.
“My family are my biggest motivation. They have supported me since the very beginning,” Gaiyanghadao explains. “My mom would go to all of my bouts. My close friends are also a big support. I am lucky to have these people in my life.”
Today, Gaiyanghadao is considered to be one of the best pound-for-pound Muay Thai competitors in history. He has a professional record of 255-54-1, defeated some of the biggest names in the sport, and captured multiple world titles across five weight divisions.
Just some of the many titles he has won includes four Lumpinee Stadium World Championships, two Thailand national championships, a Rajadamnern Stadium World Championship, and a pair of “Fighter Of The Year” awards.
However, it appears as if the best is yet to come.
On Friday, 20 April, Gaiyanghadao is scheduled to make his ONE Championship debut in Manila, Philippines. He will face two-time WBC Muay Thai World Champion Fabio Pinca at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR in a ONE Super Series Muay Thai contest.
Gaiyanghadao, who represents Evolve MMA in Singapore, receives the opportunity to showcase his incredible skills to the largest audience he has ever performed for. But the Thai is not out for glory, nor recognition from the millions of fans watching around the globe. The only recognition he seeks remains to be that from his own family.
According to Gaiyanghadao, to become a true martial artist, he believes he must continue fighting for the people he loves.
“I believe a great martial artist is someone who knows his responsibilities – someone who is disciplined, and can stick to a schedule and work hard,” he says.
“Throughout my career, it has always been my family that drove me and inspired me. They still do. Doing my best to give them a bright future is what has motivated me from the start. If you listen to your teachers and train hard, you can become as great as you wish to be.”
Manila | 20 April | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onehonor18