‘I Don’t Like To Fail’ – How World Title Challenger Smilla Sundell Rocketed To Muay Thai Fame At 17

Swedish teenager Smilla Sundell makes her way to the Circle at ONE: FULL CIRCLE

Smilla Sundel can become the youngest World Champion in ONE history next week, but the 17-year-old laid the foundations for this potential achievement with years of martial arts training.

Despite her tender age, “The Hurricane” feels more than ready to battle Jackie Buntan for the inaugural ONE Women’s Strawweight Muay Thai World Title at ONE: Eersel vs. Sadikovic next Friday, 22 April.

Ahead of that intriguing co-main event, find out how the Swedish phenom earned her stripes in Thailand to secure this massive opportunity at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Childhood In Scandinavia

Sundell was born in Stockholm, Sweden, where she was raised alongside her younger sister by her mother, a chef, and her father, a photographer.

As an active child, she took up combat sports at an early age, although it was originally intended for protection.

“The Hurricane” recalled:

“I started with martial arts when I was 5 years old, and I did karate back then. My parents wanted me to do it for self-defense.”

Years later, Sundell got her first taste of Muay Thai by chance after watching live bouts on a family vacation.

But while it piqued her interest, she didn’t think anything further would come of it. 

“I tried Muay Thai on a holiday when I was 10 or 11 years old, but it was only for two days so it was nothing,” the striker said.

“We found out about it because one night we were watching some fights. I got a brochure about a Muay Thai gym [at the event], and the next day, we went there. 

“The first time I saw it. I was a bit scared. But I thought it was inspiring and fun as well. And winning also looked fun.”

Moving To The Home Of Muay Thai

Shortly after her first brush with “the art of eight limbs,” Sundell’s family relocated to Thailand – the birthplace of the fierce striking art. 

That meant swapping the Nordic weather of Stockholm for the tropical climate of Koh Samui, and “The Hurricane” immediately enjoyed her change of scenery.

She said:

“I was 11 or 12 years old when my family moved because my parents started working in Thailand. I’ve been living here for almost five years now.

“Living in Thailand at such a young age is fun. It’s different from Sweden, so I like it. Thailand is really different because of the culture, the weather, and everything, I would say.”

However, the move also created a lot of change in Sundell’s life.

Without her usual hobbies in Sweden, the Swede needed something else to fill the void – and that led her to Thailand’s national sport.

“I started with Muay Thai when I was 12 or 13 years old,” she said.

“There was not so much to do in Koh Samui, so when we discovered a local Muay Thai gym, and we decided to join. The whole family trained in Muay Thai, but my mom and dad stopped because they couldn’t do it anymore, so I did it with my sister.”

Stepping Into The Ring Unexpectedly

“The Hurricane” stuck with her new hobby, and though her talent was evident, she didn’t have any intention to compete.

In fact, Sundell’s parents signed her up for a debut match with very little warning – and the 12-year-old Swede was not impressed. 

“I liked training, but I was I wasn’t planning on fighting,” she said.

“My parents kind of encouraged me and forced me to do it. I got last-minute notice. They told me like the day before I was fighting. So I was not very happy, but I’m very thankful for them helping me and pushing me to do it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”

Some fighters find an instant love for competition and can’t wait to get that rush of combat once again.

That was not the case for Sundell. She figured the sport would remain a hobby, but once she realized what was possible – even against elite opponents – there was no turning back.

The teen star told ONE Championship:

“After my first fight, I was okay because I won, but I still like didn’t really like it. It took like three fights to figure out that I was good at it and I wanted to continue. Because I liked training, but fighting at the beginning was not my plan, and I did not like it. 

I think I was just scared. I don’t like to fail. I don’t like to lose. But after I won a stadium belt, I thought, ‘Okay, what’s the next step?’”

In fact, “The Hurricane” detests losing so much that her first setback became the true catalyst for her unrelenting commitment to Muay Thai.

That dedication paid off, as the Swedish phenom went on to become the world’s #1-ranked women’s featherweight by WBC Muaythai and defeated top Thai fighter Sawsing Sor. Sopit at just 16 years old.

Sundell explained:

“After my first defeat, I felt very angry. I didn’t really eat because I was so angry. But I got over it after a day or two. I wanted to be better. I wanted to train harder. I wanted to beat everyone. I wanted to win every fight after that.”

Trying To Make History In ONE

“The Hurricane” competed 30 times while living in Koh Samui, but opportunities to compete in the area soon became limited.

To further her career, she knew it was necessary to join a world-renowned Muay Thai gym, and it was a ONE Championship superstar who inspired that change in October 2019.

“I watched a lot of Stamp [Fairtex]’s fights in ONE Championship and saw her train at Fairtex and was inspired by her. I wanted to be like her,” Sundell said.

“I ran out of opponents down south, so my dad and I went up on a holiday to Pattaya to check out Fairtex to watch them.

“I did a morning training session, a private one. But then they told me to come in the afternoon. That day, my boss saw me and he wanted me [to join the gym]. So it was a very short trial.”

The 17-year-old now has a close relationship with Stamp, and she’s following in her idol’s footsteps by going for World Title gold in the all-striking ONE Super Series.

Sundell earned her shot at the women’s strawweight belt with an incredible debut victory over Diandra Martin in February, and she can break new ground by defeating Buntan on 22 April.

Sundell added:

“Stamp is a big inspiration of mine. I look up to her. When I see her train every day, it motivates me to want to do better. I see her as a big sister.

“I would like to make history by becoming the youngest World Champion in ONE Championship and leave a legacy for the future generation and for the younger girls.”

More in Features

Chorfah Tor.Sangtiennoi stares down Petsukumvit Boi Bangna ahead of ONE Friday Fights 3
Alyse Anderson walks out at ONE 157
Thai mixed martial arts pioneer Shannone “OneShin” Wiratchai
Chingiz Allazov faces Superbon Singha Mawynn at ONE Fight Night 6
Tawanchai PK.Saenchai stands in the Circle at ONE 161
Thai MMA fighter Shannon Wiratchai in his fight stance
Kulabdam Sor. Jor. Piek Uthai celebrates his victory over Sangmanee PK.Saenchai
Sangmanee PK.Saenchai and Kulabdam Sor. Jor. Piek Uthai headline ONE Friday Fights 2
Sangmanee throws a teep at Kulabdam
Estonian Muay Thai fighter Marie Ruumet
Ahmed Mujtaba stands in the Circle at ONE 163
Danielle Kelly stands in the Circle