“The Million Dollar Baby” Sangmanee Sathian MuayThai dreamed of turning his family’s lives around when he started competing at the age of 6, and his outstanding success in his homeland helped him to lift them out of poverty.
When the 22-year-old from Bangkok enters the Impact Arena to face Kenta Yamada at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW next Friday, 10 January, he will be celebrated as a hometown hero thanks to an incredible career that has seen him win more than 180 bouts and almost every accolade on the Thai capital’s stadium scene.
If he can get his hand raised, he will take another big step toward the greatest honor of his career – a ONE Super Series World Title – and securing a better future for him and his loved ones.
The journey to Bangkok was like a rite of passage for the Khon Kaen native.
Any practitioner of “the art of eight limbs” who wanted to make their name knows they have to go through the venues that have hosted all the legends of the sport.
When he was 14, Sangmanee got his chance at the world-famous Lumpinee Stadium in the Thai capital where even the lowest purses were nearly double what he was used to making in the Isaan region.
There was a lot of pressure on the young athlete’s shoulders, but he rose to the occasion.
“I was really excited and nervous to fight. There were so many people there, at the old Lumpinee. It was right in central Bangkok,” he explains.
“I won by points, and at that time I was still fighting in both Bangkok and Isaan.”
His purses increased as he continued to win to the point his rewards eclipsed everything he had ever imagined.
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The allure of great prizes meant ever-tougher assignments, but “The Million Dollar Baby” continued to rise to the challenges that were put in front of him.
He won the 105-pound Lumpinee Stadium Muay Thai World Title just a year after his debut and was named the Sports Writers of Thailand Fighter of the Year – the country’s most revered Muay Thai accolade.
On the surface, it looked like Sangmanee had no problem with anything he faced, but he reveals it was a hard life for someone so young.
“Of course everything was difficult. The hard training, the weight cuts, studying – but you just have to be responsible for your own time,” he explains.
“Your discipline must be on point. The hardest part for me was managing school and homework.”
It was a delicate balancing act that allowed the teenage star to keep up with his academic pursuits and train hard enough to succeed.
The busy schedule that required him to compete every month meant that he had to forgo all the usual pursuits of a boy his age – even New Year’s celebrations – but his determination to achieve his ultimate goal kept him on track.
“I’ve never been someone who wanted to go out with friends, so it wasn’t a big deal for me,” he says.
“I’ve never been lazy or gone into drugs. I’ve always taken my job very seriously.”
Sangmanee’s discipline paid off as he won three Rajadamnern Stadium Muay Thai World Titles and an S-1 World Title before he left high school, and never got worn down by the demands that were placed on him.
He added another pair of World Championships to his résumé in the following years, which made him a shoo-in for a call up to The Home Of Martial Arts following the launch of ONE Super Series.
Following his a successful ONE Super Series debut in the Philippines, the bantamweight competitor will look to build on his momentum with another victory against his Japanese rival back in the city where he has enjoyed so much of his success.
Although he is now on the global stage, he will still be able to count on the support of his countrymen as he strives to claim a victory that will propel him toward his sport’s top prize.
“I was really happy to fight for a worldwide promotion. It was a brand new experience for me,” says “The Million Dollar Baby.”
“I’m happy to get to fight at home in Thailand. I have lots of fans that will be coming to watch me. I’ll make sure to get the win in Thailand!”