‘Everyone Considered Me A Bad Fighter’ – How Thongpoon Followed His Own Path To Muay Thai Stardom
Thongpoon PK Saenchai grew up in poverty, so earning a six-figure ONE Championship contract has completely changed his life.
Next, the 26-year-old Thai will make his U.S. primetime debut against Ellis Badr Barboza on December 8 at ONE Fight Night 17: Kryklia vs. Roberts on Prime Video, and he hopes their 120-pound catchweight Muay Thai battle will further elevate his status on the global stage.
Coming off three exciting victories in the ONE Friday Fights event series, Thongpoon is ready to showcase his imitable style on the biggest platform of all at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand.
Before he steps into the ring for the most important fight of his life, find out how the PK Saenchai Muay Thai Gym representative used his humble beginnings to fuel his rise in “the art of eight limbs.”
A Troubled Youth
Thongpoon grew up as the youngest of five children in Maha Sarakham, Northeast Thailand.
While his parents worked as traders in Bangkok to make money for the family, Thongpoon and his siblings lived with their aunt, but it was tough, and they grew up with very little.
The Thai star recalled:
“I came from a poor family. We had a hard life. I hardly lived with my father or mother. The total time I spent with them throughout my life was probably only about three years.
“I was very young at that time. I didn’t know how difficult life was. But when looking back, I realize that my childhood was super difficult. I didn’t have money to buy snacks like other kids.”
Perhaps due to his circumstances and their effect on his mentality, Thongpoon was always in trouble at school.
Describing himself as “hot-blooded,” the youngster would either miss class or cause chaos when he did show up – even though it rarely ended well for him:
“When I was in elementary school, I was a mischievous student. I had skipped school since kindergarten. I always had fights with my friends in class, but I was always the one who got beaten up. I always cried when they hit me.”
Growing Stronger Through Muay Thai
Although he had a willingness to fight, Thongpoon didn’t have the skills, and that’s what made him try his first Muay Thai class at Aewtamsang Gym.
He went in with a clear purpose, determined to get the better of any peers who had messed with him:
“I was just a troubled kid, always fighting with other students. When I transferred schools, I saw many of my friends practicing Muay Thai. I wanted to try it for exercise and fun, so I asked them to allow me to train there.
“I started when I was 11 years old. I didn’t feel nervous or scared at all because this was my intention – I wanted to learn Muay Thai to beat my classmates. I had fought with them before and got beaten. So I learned Muay Thai to get revenge on those mischievous children.”
Despite his lack of experience, Thongpoon showed some aptitude for Muay Thai and soon started competing. From there, he was able to put his aggressive nature to good use inside the ring.
Above all, fighting had the benefit of helping him earn some money to buy the things he saw others with:
“At that time, I still didn’t think seriously about [a future in the sport]. I only competed because I wanted to earn pocket money and play games like a child.
“My first coach was the gym owner, and he taught me how to punch. In my first and second fights, I got the knockout with a punch, so he knew my strength was my hands.”
Right Mentality, Wrong Style
While he initially competed for personal reasons, Thongpoon also knew he could help his family when his career started to pick up steam.
His purses gradually began to increase, and that brought extra money into the home to feed his mother, father, and siblings:
“Because I came from a poor family, I wanted to help my parents to put food on the table.
“The more I fought, the more fight money I received. From 200, 500, 700, 1500, 3000, until I got 10,000 baht (US$285) per fight. Then I moved to Bangkok to get serious in this career.”
Thongpoon’s heavy hands and all-out aggression made him a success regionally, and he made the jump to the elite stadium circuit in Thailand’s capital city.
However, he initially struggled to adapt to a new type of Muay Thai among the sport’s top athletes.
It was more of a sport played for points than the fights he was used to. He often punched himself out going for broke, while his opponents knew how to play the long game. This led to a series of defeats – but the slugger from Maha Sarakham never lost hope:
“Everyone considered me a bad fighter because I only pressed forward without thinking twice. And my style was not favored by five-round Muay Thai. So I was not a success in this field. Another reason was that I was still a kid with a hot head. I was still quite impulsive at that time.
“Because my style is to go all-out from the beginning, I always ran out of gas in rounds four and five. I got criticism from people that I exhausted myself too soon.
“I felt discouraged at that time. But I am a person who can manage my emotions quickly. I can bounce back to do my duty in no time. Like pressing a reset button.”
Reaching The Global Stage
Thongpoon committed to improving his skill set in order to become a more well-rounded fighter – while also staying true to his all-action nature.
Looking up to reigning ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon, he knew it was possible to be successful at the elite level with an aggressive style.
He sees a lot of his own traits in Rodtang, and with a growing fan base of his own, he hopes to offer up similar inspiration to others now that he’s in the world’s largest martial arts organization:
“My idol is Rodtang. He is a persistent person like me. The most important thing is his persistence and effort. And he is a nice guy, friendly with everyone. He is my role model in life.
“For people who look at me as a hero, I want you guys to be persistent and try hard like me. I am a very determined person. Just remember: focus, try hard, and be patient. Your efforts will not be wasted.”
Now set to make his ONE Fight Night debut after a pair of knockouts and a Fight of the Year candidate at ONE Friday Fights, Thongpoon is determined to bring the same intensity to U.S. primetime.
His ONE contract has already altered his present situation, but he won’t stop doing his best to thrill the crowds so he can secure his future, too.
The rising star added:
“I’m really proud of myself that I was determined and tried until I got to this point. And I vow to push myself harder and continue to improve myself so that everyone can continue to enjoy my performances for a long time.”