“Elbow Zombie” Muangthai PK.Saenchaimuaythaigym battled hard in the ring to bring his family out of poverty in Thailand’s impoverished northeast, and he credits his gym for helping him achieve his dream.
The Buriram native took his first steps in the sport as a 7-year-old under the tutelage of his father and then found success in Bangkok, but his family of farmers still relied on the yield of an unreliable rice harvest to survive.
However the bantamweight knockout artist – who will face Brice “The Truck” Delval at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW – says everything changed when he joined the team that carries the name of one of his heroes, Saenchai PK.Saenchaimuaythaigym.
For about a decade, Saenchai was regarded by many as the best Muay Thai athlete in the world. Just like Muangthai hoped to do, he had used his athletic ability to emerge from humble beginnings in Isan and give his family a better life.
Muangthai traveled through the same roughened trails of temple fairs and local festivals as his role model did years before, and showed enough talent to get the chance to try and make it big in Bangkok.
During his early days in the nation’s capital when he was just 15, he was inspired when he saw the living legend in action at the old Lumpinee Stadium.
“I was so inspired by watching him. I really like the way he fights,” the 25-year-old says.
“My style is so different than his, but I still like to watch him and appreciate his style. He’s amazing. His techniques are so different – especially his cartwheel kick.”
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However, in those early days, even though he claimed his first Lumpinee Stadium Muay Thai World Title just before his 18th birthday, the teenage star’s family still struggled with mounting debts.
That all changed when he was brought onto Saenchai’s team, which trains at a world-class facility in the Bang Kho Laem area of Bangkok.
Although he doesn’t train for his bouts at the gym, Saenchai frequently stops by to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of Muay Thai contenders, and Muangthai has learned a lot from the Mahasarakham native.
“He comes and will show some us of his techniques, and teach us how to throw things a certain way,” he says.
“He reminds us to stay focused and encourages us. He will tell us that we must keep training and fix our mistakes.”
Saenchai has also come to watch the “Elbow Zombie” in action, and encourages his protégé – whatever the result in the ring.
“He’s seen me fight a couple of times. He congratulates me when I win, and encourages me to keep going if I lose,” Muangthai adds.
Allied with his skills and entertaining style, Muangthai’s association with his idol’s gym opened doors, and he soon started to earn bigger purses, which he used to turn his family’s life around.
He also claimed his second Lumpinee belt in 2016, and then started to dream of taking the next step in his career – emulating his mentor by becoming a star on the international circuit.
Unlike Saenchai, who had to compete for many different promotions across the world when he was at the peak of his powers, Muangthai had the opportunity to join the world’s largest martial arts organization in 2018 soon after the launch of ONE Super Series.
With a remarkable 199-41-4 record, which includes a pair of victories from two bouts in ONE Super Series, Muangthai is on the path to becoming one of his sport’s modern greats, and his determination to succeed is as strong as ever.
A third win in The Home Of Martial Arts this Friday will take him one step closer to another World Title, which will help to give his loved ones a prosperous future and solidify his gym’s reputation.
“Because my family is so poor, I have that extra motivation to succeed. I want a better life and a better future for them. I don’t want it to be difficult for us anymore,” he says.
“I am doing this for my gym, I want to build a name for them. This is for PK and for my family.”