Muay Thai can be unforgiving for the uninitiated, but Nong-O Gaiyanghadao showed his warrior spirit to succeed the first time he stepped in the ring.
The Thai hero – who will defend his ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai World Title at ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH against Brice Delval on 6 September – was willing to accept the knocks so he could pursue his goals.
Nong-O’s journey in “the art of eight limbs” began right on his doorstep in the small village of Sakon Nakhon in northeastern Thailand.
The facilities at the family-run gym were humble, and at first, he admits he was not thrilled about the idea of practicing his country’s national sport.
“My path started off from a very small boxing gym next door [to my home]. There was one punching bag, one pair of punch mitts, and some boxing gloves,” he remembers.
“It was a small gym with a few people – only two or three. When I was young, I walked past, and there was [my friend’s uncle, Suriya Lukban Noon], he was training. One day, he just asked me to try kicking the punching bag to see if I’d like it. I didn’t like it at first, so I told him I had a stomach ache.”
Nong-O’s coach did not give up easily, though. He continued to try to convince his nephew to give training another go.
The youngster was also encouraged by his friends, and after enough persuasion, he could not resist the urge to see what he could do.
“After days of [Noon] asking, I just tried. There was also a friend of mine who was training there, so he also asked me to join. That was the beginning,” he remembers.
“I wanted to try. It was like a kid’s curiosity. I saw my friends doing it, so I wanted to do the same and play with them because when they competed, they had a chance to travel to another province. I never traveled to another province back then. I only traveled from home to school.”
The physical demands of “the art of eight limbs” soon revealed themselves to Nong-O, but this time, he stuck at it.
Though he did not find the training easy, he was surprised to discover that he had the mindset to push through the difficult moments. As he persevered, he started to improve.
“I was 10 years old. I thought it was hard because I had no idea about Muay Thai at all, but I really got the spirit,” he adds.
“Even when I got hurt, I didn’t give up. I got hurt, but I didn’t cry. I wanted to do it, so I focused.”
As well as heart, Nong-O also started to show promise with his ability, and it was not long before his coach decided he should be put to the test in the ring.
Some Thais are given a trial by fire after hardly any training, but he was given plenty of time to hone his skills to give him the best chance of victory. Better yet, when the time came to step over the ropes, he got to leave his village and travel to the event.
A few jitters were only natural for his first experience of competition, but the future World Champion quickly felt right at home in combat.
“After I trained for a month, [my coach] told me he’d take me to a competition. After I got my opponent, I came back to train for three months for the actual competition,” he explains.
“My first fight was in another district near my village. On the first bout, I was very excited. I was not scared. It was more exciting because it was the first time. My legs were shaking when I entered the ring. I didn’t know what to do.
“After the first round, all my fears were gone. I got the feeling, ‘I got this.’ After three rounds, I won on points and [my coach] gave me my share of prize money. I got 100 baht that day. I was happy that I won.”
Nong-O says he was hurt in that bout, but it did not bother him too much. After that first experience of going toe-to-toe, the aches and pains he experienced gave way to excitement for his next match.
As an adult, he still gets that feeling. Against Delval at ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH, he has the chance to add to his legacy and continue to provide for the people he loves. But as a boy, he just wanted to broaden his horizons, hang out with his friends, and treat himself.
“When I had to chance to travel around and see things when I went on the competitions, that was when I started to really enjoy it. That was when I was drawn to it,” Nong-O remembers.
“It was because I wanted to be with friends and travel with them. When I went to competitions, it was more like an excursion to another province. And when I won, I got the prize money to buy toys.”
Ho Chi Minh City | 6 September | 7PM | ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast