How Petchdam’s Father Helped Him Achieve His Wildest Dreams
Despite growing up in poverty far away from the bright lights, Petchdam “The Baby Shark” Petchyindee Academy had an improbable dream of becoming a Muay Thai superstar.
Many people in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province would have laughed at such a wild ambition, but Petchdam always had the support of his biggest fan.
That fan is his father, Surasee “Ceing” Wongkhan, who’s been with his son for every step of his martial arts journey.
And on Friday, 31 July, “Ceing” will watch Petchdam in the biggest match of his career. That night, the Thai star will challenge his longtime rival and compatriot, ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon, for the gold at ONE: NO SURRENDER in Bangkok.
There’s no doubt “The Baby Shark” would never have reached this point if it wasn’t for his dad.
The Dream Begins
While Muay Thai may be a career for “The Baby Shark,” it also allowed him to bond with his father from a very young age.
During his childhood, Petchdam remembers the pair tuning into the Muay Thai fights on their television set.
“There were matches every weekend, and they were on TV,” the 22-year-old says.
“I laid down beside my dad, watching with him every weekend. When I watched it, I thought to myself that I wanted to be that guy fighting on TV. I wanted to be on TV because I thought I’d look so cool.
“It was his dream that one day I too would fight on TV.”
That dream only intensified when Petchdam’s father brought him to local Muay Thai events in the province.
Then, as an 8-year-old child, the youngster decided to begin training. Despite being completely inexperienced, “Ceing” served as his initial coach and taught him lessons in a paddle field.
“My dad was the one who trained me even though he never trained Muay Thai, so it was not effective,” Petchdam recalls.
“When I was training alone in my house, there was no proper ring. There was no equipment, only two pairs of boxing gloves. There were only two pairs of boxing gloves for me and my dad.”
That lack of proper training would reveal itself in Petchdam’s debut.
During the Songkran Festival in Thailand, “Ceing” took his son to Muay Thai events that featured kids his age competing in the ring. This provided the perfect opportunity for “The Baby Shark” to put his homegrown skills to the test.
“My first bout was when my dad took me for the dual trial in the neighborhood,” Petchdam says. “He asked me if I wanted to join and I said, ‘Yes.’ So, my very first bout was at that Songkran Festival event.”
Petchdam would lose that bout, as well as his second and third fights. But his skid didn’t continue for long.
“Ceing” knew he couldn’t teach his son the skills that were needed to become a Muay Thai superstar, and he wanted to help him achieve that dream.
So, he brought Petchdam to the only Thai boxing gym in their village.
“My dad got me in at the Sit Ood Piboon gym near the house to get proper training with professionals,” he says. “They taught me the right techniques and there were many training buddies as well.”
One of those training buddies was a teenage Petchmorakot, and the pair of young fighters began their lifelong friendship.
Meanwhile, Petchdam was receiving an entirely new level of training. And soon, his luck competing on the local scene turned around.
“When I trained in the camp, it was full of various pieces of equipment,” he continues.
“I got stronger because of the bar training and weight training. There were coaches and training buddies to teach all the techniques, so it was definitely different.”
But even though he was acquiring the proper skills and winning matches in his region, “The Baby Shark” decided to take a break from the sport when he was 13 years old.
He wanted to hang out with his friends and also found it difficult to balance sessions with his school schedule.
“When I was in seventh grade, I had to go to school and train Muay Thai,” Petchdam says.
“I had to wake up at 5 a.m. [for training], and I had to finish training before 7:30 a.m. in order to get ready and go to school. I had to be at school exactly by 8 a.m. I could rarely make it on time, and I always got punished for being late.
“I would get really tired and often dozed off at school. Some days, I felt too tired and didn’t want to go to the classes. I got fed up for being punished too often. It was exhausting [trying to manage my] training and studying.
“Since it was too tiring for me, my dad made me choose one thing I really wanted to do – either study or do Muay Thai. So, I told him I wanted to pause Muay Thai and finish secondary school.”
For the next two years, Petchdam focused on his studies and enjoyed life as a teenager. However, he soon realized that life was not the same without “the art of eight limbs.”
In fact, “The Baby Shark” would get nostalgic every time he watched fights with his dad on television or saw local competitors run by his house.
After graduating from secondary school, he had another talk with his father.
“I told my dad I wanted to go back to Muay Thai,” he says.
“My dad took me to see the owner of Sit Odd Piboon, the first camp that I trained with. But they sent me over to Petchyindee Academy.”
With that opportunity to train and compete in Bangkok, “The Baby Shark” left the province and made one more promise to his father.
“[I said], ‘If I don’t get any championship titles or I am not famous, I won’t come back,” he recalls.
Fulfilling His Destiny
That move to Bangkok came in 2014 when Petchdam was 16 years old. At Petchyindee Academy, he reunited with his old pal, Petchmorakot, and began to train and compete in the stadium circuit.
Months later, he realized both his and his father’s original dream.
“I got a fight on True4You TV as part of a smaller Petchyindee promotion. It was a five-round Muay Thai fight against Manachai Lukmakamwaan. I won the bout on points,” Petchdam says.
“My dad was really excited. He told everyone in the village I was fighting and asked them to watch and cheer me on.
“After the fight, he called to ask if I was okay – if I had gotten hurt. I told him I was fine, and he told me to do better next time and that I needed to keep working hard, and stay focused. I was really happy to make my dad’s dream come true. I will never forget that fight.”
But even with success, there were obstacles to overcome. After Petchdam’s third bout, he started feeling low.
The training was very intense, and he missed his friends and family – so much so that he briefly returned to the Thai countryside.
“I was homesick. Even though I didn’t have anything that I promised my dad, I went home. I just went there to rest and get my family’s support,” Petchdam says.
“Training here was very tiring. It was exhausting. But my dad gave me moral support on the last day to return to the camp. My dad said to me to keep fighting and that I will achieve my goal if I focus enough.”
With those words of encouragement, Petchdam returned to the Thai capital more motivated than ever. He continued to train hard and was frequently booked for matches at both Lumpinee Stadium and Rajadamnern Stadium, earning plenty of victories.
His crowning moment came in December 2015 when he fought Khunhan Sitthongsak for the Thailand National Championship and the 118-pound Lumpinee Stadium World Championship.
“I won by knockout in round 5 and I got the championship title,” Petchdam remembers with pride.
“Then I went home to show my dad the championship belt. He was really happy that I finally achieved what I promised him [before I left for Bangkok]. My dad was happy and my mom was proud of me.”
Petchdam would give his parents even more reasons to be proud of him. He picked up more titles, including the Toyota Marathon Tournament Championship in November 2017, the WBC Muay Thai World Championship in May 2018, and then the inaugural ONE Flyweight Kickboxing World Title in May 2019.
ONE More Title
Now, Petchdam will take on his greatest challenge yet – a trilogy bout with Rodtang for his longtime rival’s ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Championship.
And even though his father won’t physically be in his corner on 31 July, “Ceing” will give his son a pep talk over the phone before he steps inside the Circle.
“Even though he can’t make it, he calls me before every fight to wish me good luck and give me encouragement, and if I am fighting on TV, he never misses it,” Petchdam says.
“My dad reminds me to stay focused on my career, and to never forget who I am.”
Read more: Petchdam Confident He Will Beat ‘Superstar’ Rodtang