How Fairtex Became The Gold Standard In Martial Arts
The world-famous Fairtex Training Center is a state-of-the-art facility located in Pattaya, Thailand, but before its big move to the current 3.5 acre lot, it was just a modest Muay Thai gym located in central Bangkok.
Now with World Champions in “the art of eight limbs” like “The Boxing Computer” Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex, Saemapetch Fairtex, and Stamp Fairtex, and mixed martial arts stars such as Denice “The Menace Fairtex” Zamboanga and Mark “Tyson” Fairtex Abelardo, the Thai super-gym has become a household name.
Few, however, know its rich history, which dates back nearly 50 years.
The Beginning Of Fairtex
In 1958, the name “Fairtex” was registered as a trademark in Thailand.
However, it was not until 1971 when Philip Wong established Fairtex Garments Factory Company Limited, which made quality textiles for the Thai market and beyond.
Wong always loved Muay Thai. As a child, he was bullied, but he was able to use the martial art as a form of self-defense and earn the respect of his peers.
Remembering what the sport had done for him, the man who would go on to create a global brand vowed to one day give back, and in 1975, he did just that when he opened his first gym in the Suanplu neighborhood of Bangkok.
It was conveniently located near the old Lumpinee Stadium, which Wong frequented as a spectator.
For him, the gym was a way to give back to the sport and help create opportunities for those at risk of succumbing to the poverty they were born into. With a thriving manufacturing business to run, the camp initially started off as a hobby that he funded himself.
However, it didn’t take long for Wong’s natural leadership skills and attention to detail to pass through to the gym.
He later expanded and moved the gym from downtown Bangkok to the Bangplee District, where his young charges would have access to fresher air and a more natural setting for their twice-daily training.
For Wong’s son, Prem Busarabavonwongs – who now heads operations at their Pattaya location – it was here where his love for Muay Thai started.
“Since I was growing up, the only thing I could remember was hearing loud noises and kicking. Every day, I would go to the gym with my dad and stay there to watch people train,” Busarabavonwongs says.
“It became a part of my life. I wanted to continue what he was doing – not for the money, but for the passion and the heart of it. Now, I am in love with Muay Thai, and it is my job to expand it and make it bigger.”
Soon after establishing the gym, Wong became a promoter at Lumpinee Stadium. Over the years, the gym gained notoriety by producing several champions of the golden era – most notably Bunkerd Fairtex, Neungsiam Fairtex, and Jongsanan “The Woodenman” Fairtex.
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Wong was a visionary. He saw beyond his native Thailand and dedicated himself to spreading Muay Thai to the global audience.
In fact, back in the 1980s, Fairtex was one of the first gyms in “The Land Of Smiles” to accept foreigners to train. Wong even had a hand in bringing some of the first foreigners to compete at the famed Lumpinee Stadium.
According to Busarabavonwongs, it was the gym at Bangplee that truly allowed Fairtex to make a name for itself, both in their native Thailand and abroad.
“It was at Bangplee gym when everything really blew up,” he recalls. “It was where we first had foreigners come to train and stay in the dormitory. When I was born, we moved to the Bangplee house, so this was the first gym I really remember.”
As the industry changed, manufacturing went abroad to other countries such as Vietnam and China.
The family patriarch decided to focus on the Muay Thai market and try his hand at equipment manufacturing. In 1994, Fairtex manufactured its first pair of boxing gloves. From there, the brand expanded into a full range of functional equipment, tried and tested by champions.
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Fairtex Makes Its Presence Felt On The Global Scene
It did not take long for Fairtex to establish itself as one of the top Muay Thai brands in the nation and eventually break out onto the international market.
Wong saw the same potential in his equipment that he did in his athletes. When he purchased Yodsanklai’s contract from the striker’s previous gym in 2005, many doubted his ability to turn “The Boxing Computer” into a superstar in the West.
That same year, the visionary opened up the Fairtex Training Center and Hotel in Pattaya and moved his pugilists to the beachfront city.
Wong is known to have had a hand in all his athletes’ successes, monitoring every last detail of their training.
For example, Yodsanklai was a clinch specialist when he competed on the Thai circuit, but it was Wong who changed his style to better fit international competition. It was through Wong’s tutelage that the heavy hands and thunderous left kick of Yodsanklai really took root.
In 2008, “The Boxing Computer” burst onto the scene when he defeated the legendary John Wayne Parr on the season finale of The Contender Asia. The victory was a defining moment for the Fairtex name and the newly-established gym in Pattaya.
Wong took many chances in the industry and ultimately, it all paid off.
He has seen the sport change from one that was viewed with great stigma as a poor man’s venture, to one of the most popular forms of exercise in Thailand and beyond.
Although Wong will never fully step back from his passion, his son is now holding the reins at their Pattaya location. Busarabavonwongs grew up idolizing his father and everything he created.
Looking to continue the Fairtex legacy well into the 21st century, the youngster follows the example his dad has set.
“We do it for the love of it. We try to make it professional,” he says.
“We’re one of the first gyms to go on to make a professional, clean mega gym. It’s always been like that. The Fairtex ethos is in each of our products and fighters – professional, clean, and high quality.
“Constantly honing our training and our fighters led us to a natural accomplishment – becoming a premier training spot in the world.”
The Future Of Fairtex
The camp now has a brand new stable of warriors leading the way – most notably, the young Stamp Fairtex, who is the gym’s first female competitor.
Stamp, who is the reigning ONE Atomweight Muay Thai World Champion, has been competing since the tender age of 5, but it was not until she came to Fairtex when she was able to break out on the international scene.
The Pattaya-based mega gym is also where she began her mixed martial arts career, and she now holds a perfect professional record of 4-0.
Fairtex’s decision to get involved with mixed martial arts was a big step, but it was also a much-debated one.
Busarabavonwongs, who is the managing director of Fairtex Training Center, admits his father was not keen at first to integrate the burgeoning sport into the gym’s legacy.
“My father was hesitant because he always loved Muay Thai, but about two and half years ago, we convinced him,” he says.
“The market was changing, and we wanted to start a mixed martial arts team. The equipment side has started to expand into mixed martial arts with gloves, gis, and training gear. Also, we want our own mixed martial arts champions, so we have started to build a team.”
Among them include ONE Championship standouts like Mark Abelardo, Denice Zamboanga, Jenny “Lady GoGo” Huang, and, of course, Stamp.
The first Thai lady to grace the floors of Fairtex also holds the distinction as the first Thai athlete from the camp to compete in mixed martial arts on the global stage, and the Rayong native is thrilled for the opportunity to represent the legendary brand.
“Fairtex is a gym that is open and gives opportunity. Mr. Wong is always there to support and care for us,” she explains.
“Fairtex is different from other gyms because of our camp leader, Mr. Wong. He takes care of us in every detail. We stay and eat for free, and he even helps with our education. He also brings in special coaches, who are the best in their field, to train us.”
Stamp’s success as a female in the sport has inspired practitioners all across the globe.
For example, Zamboanga left her home in the Philippines to move to Thailand so she could train full-time at Fairtex. The Filipina now holds a spotless 7-0 professional record in mixed martial arts, and she is currently the #1-ranked contender in the women’s atomweight division.
“I chose Fairtex because I want world-class training, and to train with champions so that I can challenge myself,” she explains.
“One of the biggest advantages of training at Fairtex is that my training partners are just normal people, but also World Champions like Stamp Fairtex.”
The success of Fairtex stems from a passion to be the best. Now as the gym starts a new era with ONE Championship, there is no telling just how far it will continue to take its athletes.
Read more: The Person Who Changed Stamp Fairtex’s Life