Irishman Ryan Sheehan Hoping To Inspire His Local Community With Muay Thai Success

Ryan Sheehan

Ryan Sheehan is in the midst of putting Ireland on the map in the world of Muay Thai.

The 25-year-old rising star will fly his nation’s flag into the biggest match of his career against Thai legend Sam-A Gaiyanghadao at ONE Friday Fights 9 on March 17, and he believes he can do his country proud in this strawweight promotional debut.

The iconic Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, is a world away from Sheehan’s humble roots, but he’s worked hard to get himself to the point where his idols have become his rivals.

Here’s how “The Avenger” has taken himself from a teenager wandering the streets of the Irish suburbs to an elite athlete competing on the planet’s largest platform for martial arts.

Growing Up Around Trouble

Sheehan was born, raised, and still resides in Knocknaheeny, a working-class suburb outside Ireland’s second city of Cork. 

He grew up as the middle child of five siblings, with his father earning a living as a farmer while his mother kept the home. Though they’d eventually separate, Sheehan always felt love from both of his parents.

He said:

“I grew up in the city’s north side. I still live there at the moment. I don’t think I’ll ever move, to be honest.

“I lived with my mum. My mum and dad split up when I was about 12. So we had my mum’s house where we lived, and then my dad lived down the road. We had two homes to go to. We were a close family.

“My mum and dad couldn’t have done any more for us. I’m very grateful for the support they have given me over the years.”

While Sheehan’s home life was solid, his town was known as one of the rougher areas in the city.

With few opportunities around him and not much interest in school beyond just getting through his exams, the young Irishman could have easily been drawn down the wrong path.

Thinking back to his youth, he recalled:

“If you live in Cork, the reputation is that there’s a lot of crime and joyriding. There’s not a whole lot of sports activity up there. There are a lot of gangs around the place and stuff like that.

“We have one or two boxing clubs in the area, but I was never really interested in boxing growing up. I used to play football (soccer), but then the football clubs folded. And then I suppose at that age, 13, 14, 15, you’re easily led on.”

The ‘Shock’ Of Muay Thai

Although Sheehan always liked sports, he never planned to follow his dad and younger brother into the striking arts.

But when some school friends began training at a Muay Thai gym in the city during their teen years, he decided to take the plunge and try it out.

He said:

“There were a couple of lads that had gone to Siam Warriors, the club I’m in. It was local enough, probably a 10-minute walk from my house, so I went to try it out.

“When I first went, it was completely new to me. I didn’t know what to expect. But I remember the next day my arms and legs were killing me because it was pretty intense. 

“My dad always thought that I would have just been playing soccer or hurling. I was never really the one to pick a fight. It was a shock to him when I started doing Muay Thai.”

Despite the aches and pains, Sheehan knew from his first session that he’d discovered his passion.

It captivated him right away, and even when his friends stopped going back after a couple of months, the excited teen stayed the course to learn all he could about “the art of eight limbs.”

He said:

“I remember just going home [after the first session], and I said to my mum, ‘I want Thai boxing shorts.’ She said, ‘I’ll get you a pair if you stick to it.’ And I stuck to it, so she bought me my first pair of shorts. From the first class, I knew I wanted to be involved in the sport.

“I was obsessed with everything about it, like watching the fighters from the gym competing for titles and stuff. I soaked up a lot of the sport in a short period of time.”

Staying On Course

It didn’t take long for Sheehan to get the competitive bug, too. Just nine months after his first session, he competed in his first fight.

The Siam Warriors representative faced a much more experienced opponent in that debut and lost via decision, but that didn’t turn him away. If anything, it made him more motivated to keep chasing his goals. 

He explained:

“I remember walking out to the crowd. Obviously, I was very nervous. I hadn’t trained that long, and my opponent had just fought for a European title at the junior level. 

“It was a split decision, but I didn’t really take anything negative away from the fight. All the lads were like, ‘Look, you went out and you fought the guy who had 30 or 40 junior fights in your first fight, and you kept in there.’ But I remember when I lost, I was determined to come back and get at least a win.”

Sheehan traveled to England for his next match and picked up the victory he wanted. From there, things snowballed, largely due to his consistency and work ethic.

The support from his family and his team at Siam Warriors was also a major factor, and the Irishman believes it was the key ingredient that helped propel him toward the top.

He said:

“I remember I was really hungry to win [in my second fight]. I got the win. After that, I think that’s when it felt right. Like, ‘I know I can do this,’ especially when there are people who are willing to help you and who believe in you.”

Uplifting Those Around Him

Even in the early days, Sheehan had high hopes for his Muay Thai career. And through his dedication and hard work, reality eventually caught up with his ambitions. 

Now a decorated WBC and ISKA Muay Thai World Champion, the Irish striker has taken on some of the biggest names in the sport and has proven he can hang with the best.

He reflected on his journey to date:

“I have a wild imagination. When I started Thai boxing, and when I got decent at it, I always said to my friends, ‘I want to be a World Champion.’ I think I have spoken things into existence by saying something. I know if I keep saying it over and over again, I will achieve it because that’s kind of my work ethic and my mentality towards things.”

While Sheehan’s already achieved a lot, the goals keep on rising as he moves his way up the ranks.

Now set to take on a true legend of the sport in Sam-A – a former two-weight, two-sport ONE World Champion – he feels ready for the immense challenge.

But a win wouldn’t just be for him. It would also be for all the young people wandering around his hometown without a goal – showing that there are huge possibilities if you’re willing to put in the effort.

Sheehan added:

“I still live in the middle of Knocknaheeny, and there are about five or six young kids who live on my block. If I can get one of those kids into a gym and one of them kids off the street, that’s what I want.

“A lot of the time you hear things bad about our area. We’re trying to give it a new life and make people say, ‘Oh, Ryan Sheehan is from Knocknaheeny.’ We’re just trying to make a good impact in our community.”

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