Many Thai men do not look forward to their country’s military lottery draft, but Saemapetch Fairtex was glad to serve his country.
Long before his days with The Home of Martial Arts, the 24-year-old – who will face Rafi Bohic in a ONE Super Series Muay Thai bantamweight co-main event clash at ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH – was a soldier in the Royal Thai Army.
Although his conscription came as he was enjoying a successful spell as a Muay Thai competitor, his military career did not hurt his martial arts success.
In fact, when the man from Pattaya left the military, he emerged with skills to set him up for great things in the world’s largest martial arts organization, and in life.
Every April, a lottery draft takes place in “The Land Of Smiles,” and many young men hope they draw a black card, rather than a red one that will signal the start of two years in the service.
However, although Saemapetch had made a successful start to his Muay Thai career, he always wanted to be a police officer or soldier, so he was happy to join up.
He packed his bags and traveled to Phetchabun Province, where he was scheduled to be stationed.
“I was so happy when I pulled a red card. I already wanted to enlist, so it was perfect,” he says
“It was actually my first time leaving Chiang Rai, but I was used to being away from my family because I had been living at a gym since I was 12.
“I was a bit nervous about leaving, but was also excited to finally be part of the military.”
Shortly after he arrived, Saemapetch’s athletic gifts were noticed, and he was chosen to represent the force as an athlete, but before his Muay Thai training could begin, he had to go through the mandatory three-month boot camp like everyone else.
He was used to tough training, but nothing like this.
“The first three months was unbelievably intense. It was much harder than anything I had experienced in Muay Thai before,” the MTGP Welterweight World Champion says.
“Every day started at 4am, and we didn’t finish until 10pm. I missed home and its comforts, but I was motivated by my family to improve the quality of our lives.”
Once the boot camp was complete, Saemapetch was sent to the military’s top-notch facility where he continued his Muay Thai education, started to compete in boxing, and learned so much more to prepare him for life in the outside world.
It was a time in his life that the Fairtex representative recalls fondly.
“I met a lot of new friends that I am still close with today. There were lots of high-level fighters there, and training and living with like-minded people made it really easy. The time went by so fast,” he remembers.
“The military taught me a lot of practical life skills like money management. It also helped prepare me for life outside of the military, and just to how to be successful in life.”
The highlight of his service came during the National Military Muay Thai Championships against some of his country’s most talented athletes.
His exceptional work ethic paid off, as Saemapetch won gold in the 63.5-kilogram division.
“Fighters from all over the country came together. There were both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern [Stadium] World Champions, so many of the best fighters in Thailand were there,” he explains.
“I was so happy to win gold for the military against the best in my nation.”
When his service was over, the Chiang Rai native was recruited to become a member of the world-famous Fairtex Training Center’s competition team.
However, he will always look back with fondness at his time in the army, and he is grateful for the determination and work ethic instilled in him when he wore the uniform.
“The discipline is next-level at the military – if you are scheduled for 9am, you have to be there even earlier. It definitely set me up for success as a fighter, especially at an international level,” he explains.
“I miss my time there, it was fun for me. Now, I make enough fighting that I wouldn’t go back. You don’t have the same freedom that I have now, but I am grateful for my experience.
Ho Chi Minh City | 6 September | 7PM | ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/oneimmortal19