One of the greatest Muay Thai practitioners on Earth will arrive in ONE Championship next Friday, 8 November at ONE: MASTERS OF FATE
Despite being just 22 years old, “Million Dollar Baby” Sangmanee Sathian MuayThai has already packed a lifetime’s worth of achievements into his young career.
He escaped a life in poverty in rural Thailand and became a household name in his homeland with his slick style and boyish looks, and now he is ready to step up to the world’s largest martial arts organization.
Ahead of his ONE Super Series debut against Azize “The Magician” Hlali in Manila, Philippines, the seven-time Muay Thai World Champion reveals how he has made his incredible rise from life on a farm to the global stage.
A Childhood Of Poverty
Sangmanee was born and raised in Khon Kaen Province in Thailand’s Isaan region – one of the poorest and most underdeveloped areas in the nation.
Like most of the villagers there, Sangmanee’s parents were rice farmers, which meant they led a difficult and unstable existence.
The labor-intensive profession brings in little to no income – their compensation is mainly rice to eat – and they rely solely on Mother Nature to irrigate their crops, which means drought, flooding, or even just irregular weather, can devastate the yield.
Because their success relied so much on luck, the family had to go the extra mile to ends meet. They planted small vegetable crops, foraged for whatever food they could find, and counted on the kindness of others.
“We just had a tiny little house. We had to pull electricity from our neighbors and use their bathroom too,” Sangmanee explains
“We ate whatever we could find. We ate a lot of fish.”
Despite being at the tail end of his career, his father also competed locally in Muay Thai to supplement their income with meager purses.
A Way Out
When Sangmanee was just 6 years old, his father decided it was time for his son to follow in his footsteps.
They trained together at home in a makeshift gym in the dirt patch in front of his family’s simple home, but their setup quickly took off when they were joined by some eager village kids.
After just one month of training, Sangmanee showed a natural aptitude for Muay Thai and he was soon lifted into the ring for the first time to compete because he was too small to step over the ropes.
“I won my first fight and was so happy and excited. I wanted to fight again,” he remembers.
“Even though I only made 200 baht, the money helped my family. From there, I just went to temple fairs or wherever I could find match-ups.”
His dad was proud to see the youngster succeed and soon retired from competition to focus on his son’s budding career, despite the naysayers that criticized them.
“People used to look down on us because we were so poor. They said Muay Thai wouldn’t help us amount to anything,” Sangmanee says.
“I’ll never forget how difficult it was for my family during that time. It took a long time before we started to get comfortable.”
Rise To The Top
It was not long before Sangmanee needed to travel farther for match-ups as he cleaned out local competition. When he was 10, he was invited to Bangkok to contest for an Assawindam Stadium title.
The long drive to Bangkok was a new experience, but he took it in his stride and won his first of many titles after five nail-biting rounds. That was a significant milestone in his career, but even at such a tender age of 10, he hungered for more success.
“I felt that I had reached a point where I was good, but it was still the beginning for me,” he says.
“It was my dream to win a Lumpinee Stadium or Rajadamnern Stadium title. Even though I was young, I didn’t feel the pressure – we just went as we went. I loved it, and saw the lives of my family improving.”
His competition schedule was relentless as he chased his goals, and at one point, Sangmanee had eight matches in just seven days. However, he was happy to go into battle for the ever-increasing purses that changed his life.
“My life was a lot harder before Muay Thai,” he explains.
“After I started fighting, my life got better and better for my family. I could make money and had a steady income. In the beginning, even though it was just a little, it helped. We could buy pork, and I had money for school.”
The Big Leagues
As “Million Dollar Baby” closed in on Muay Thai’s highest honors, he moved with his father to the famed 13 Coins Gym in Bangkok, where he switched from being a clinch specialist to a more technical competitor – a muay femur.
He remembers how people said he needed to be more diverse to make it in the stadiums, and he developed a style that balanced offense and defense with the help of his new coaches and training partners, including the legendary Saenchai P.K. Saenchaimuaythaigym.
“It was incredible to train with him. I learned a lot of new and different techniques from him,” he says.
When he was 15, Sangmanee fulfilled his dream and won the 105lb Lumpinee Stadium World Title, and that was followed by three Rajadamnern Stadium World Titles and an S-1 World Title.
His incredible success earned him the prestigious Sports Writers Of Thailand Fighter Of The Year award in 2012. That cemented his status as one of the best practitioners of “the art of eight limbs” on the planet, and now he wants to show the world what he can do in The Home Of Martial Arts.
“I’m proud of my accomplishments, but I want more,” he says.
“I want to go worldwide and become a World Champion with ONE Championship.”