With the biggest match-up of his ONE Championship career less than two weeks away, ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon has been fine-tuning his skills inside the gym.
The heavy hitter from the Phatthalung Province is set to defend his belt against compatriot and old foe Petchdam “The Baby Shark” Petchyindee Academy at ONE: NO SURRENDER on Friday, 31 July, in Bangkok, Thailand.
These days, “The Iron Man” has made Bangkok his second home.
However, it felt very different when the young athlete first moved from the south of Thailand to break into the capital city’s Muay Thai scene nearly 10 years ago.
“When I moved to Bangkok from the Phatthalung Province, I cried,” the 22-year-old admits. “I was really homesick. I had never seen such a crowd or traffic.”
With over 8 million inhabitants and over 9 million cars and motorbikes buzzing around the capital, it’s easy to understand why the young boy from a sleepy region felt overwhelmed.
“Everything was totally different between Bangkok and in the province,” he adds. “Everything was all new to me.”
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But despite the difficult transition, Rodtang was determined to adapt and thrive in his new surroundings.
“I had to adjust myself to the place that I lived in,” he says. “I had to adjust my lifestyle, my attitude – everything. I had to learn how to be a grown man because I didn’t live with my family.”
Fortunately, “The Iron Man” didn’t have to do it alone.
A family friend named Phorn, who had taken Rodtang to Bangkok to develop him in the city’s Muay Thai scene, quickly became a coach and mentor for the up-and-coming martial artist.
“He took care of me like he was my second father. I stayed there with him in his house,” Rodtang says. “He taught me how to behave and everything, which made me a better man. He taught me how to grow up and be patient.”
Outside of the home, Phorn oversaw Rodtang’s training as the future ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion battled his way through Bangkok’s stadium circuit.
“He was the one who helped me with game plans when I had bouts,” the flyweight competitor says.
With his second father by his side, Rodtang was always taken care of – even if that meant preparing a southern-style meal that made Bangkok feel like his childhood home.
“Anything I wanted to eat, he’d cook for me,” the superstar says. “He was a very good cook who spoiled me a lot.”
All that support allowed “The Iron Man” to continue blossoming. And before long, he caught the attention of the late Mr. Huan, who owned the esteemed Jitmuangnon Gym just outside of the city limits.
Mr. Huan wanted Rodtang to join his camp and get the training he needed to compete against the country’s greatest athletes.
Phorn, who was always looking out for Rodtang’s best interests, agreed that the move to Jitmuangnon Gym would do wonders for his pupil’s career – and that was that.
“He let me go,” Rodtang recalls fondly.
It turned out that Phorn was onto something. After Rodtang joined Jitmuangnon, he became the MAX Muay Thai Champion at 125 pounds in 2016, the Omnoi Stadium World Champion at 130 pounds in 2017, and won Rajadamnern Stadium’s ‘Best Fight Of The Year’ accolade in both 2018 and 2019.
Rodtang has certainly come a long way after his difficult start in Bangkok. And now, just under a year after his ONE World Title victory, the superstar striker will look to defend his coveted belt in the big city that once overwhelmed him.
But regardless of what he achieves in the future, “The Iron Man” will never forget his second father – or the valuable wisdom he imparted.
“I remember one thing that Phorn always taught me very well,” Rodtang says. “No matter if you are at the top or rock-bottom, never be ungrateful to those who helped you.”
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