Sam-A Gaiyanghadao is one of the greatest athletes in the history of Muay Thai, but his success would not have been possible without a ton of sacrifice during his 25 years in the sport.
The 36-year-old from Thailand – who will face Rocky Ogden for the inaugural ONE Strawweight Muay Thai World Championship at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE – has had to give up so much to ensure his success at the highest level.
However, knowing he has lifted his family out of poverty has made everything worthwhile for the Evolve representative.
“I see the rewards of my sacrifices and it always kept me going,” he says.
“Even as a kid, I would get to fight and make money. It was always worth it to me.”
Sam-A developed his mentality during his earliest days in “the art of eight limbs” after he started to practice aged 9. Like most children, there were times when the Thai just wanted to mess around with his friends, but success required him to focus on his training.
“Sometimes I just wanted to play, but I never could because I had to train after school,” he adds.
“All the other kids finished school and would just get to go and play, but I chose this path and had to follow it through. I figured it out early, I was at a big gym by the time I was 10 years old.
“I still had a lot of friends in Muay Thai. I was fighting and making money. It was fun for me and when I went to school I had money for snacks – more than my friends so it kind of evened out! Sometimes I really felt it though, and just wanted to play, but I just had to keep training.”
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Back then, Sam-A was competing at a relentless pace as he traveled in the back of pick-ups to temple fairs and local festivals to make a name for himself on his regional circuit.
That meant celebrating New Year, Songkran, Loi Krathong, and other festivities were out of the question because they are the busiest times of the year for an athlete in his homeland.
“Sometimes I would get a little jealous of my friends when I was a teenager,” he admits.
“They would get to out to concerts and I had to go to bed really early, but I’ve always been able to think it through. The sacrifices were worth it, and I could always go out after a fight. I’m not big on going out anyway, so it was easy for me. I like to just have a quiet time.”
Despite that focus, he concedes he had a hard time when he moved away from his native Buriram to Bangkok in search of glory at the highest level. This time, he didn’t just miss out on some fun, he was away from his family.
However, even at his lowest moments, he never lost sight of his goals as a martial artist.
“When I went to Bangkok it was the hardest for me. I was away for my family, and it was a brand new environment,” he says.
“I missed nature and didn’t like the noise of Bangkok. It took me a month a adjust. It was rough for me. I always thought of my wife and kids. This was a big opportunity. There was nothing for me to do at home so I had to do this. I had to give it my best shot.
“I always had to remind myself I was there for work, and that as soon as I fought I would get to go home for a week. That kept me motivated, and was something I could rely on.”
His reward was a collection of World Titles that few martial artists can match and a reputation as one of the best to pull on the gloves. Then, just as his career began to wind down, he was given another opportunity to safeguard his loved ones’ futures when he took a job at Evolve.
This time, he left Thailand altogether to coach and train at the gym in Singapore, but despite the distance, Sam-A says things are much easier for him now.
“Nowadays it is easier for me at Evolve than it was at Petchyindee (Academy) because I can video chat with them and they can send photos. My wife and daughters come to visit me too,” he says.
While he misses being able to see his daughters every day, his continued sacrifice means he can give his family a life beyond his dreams. It also gave him the opportunity to add to his legacy by winning two ONE Super Series World Titles – including his first in kickboxing. Plus, a third could follow at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE.
“I see the rewards of my sacrifices and it always kept me going,” he adds.
“I’m working hard, but I don’t have to worry about [my family]. It keeps me motivated to keep working, knowing they have a good life. It gives me happiness.”