With the biggest match of his career drawing near, Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon is thinking more and more about the person who transformed him into the martial artist he is today.
The 22-year-old Thai is putting the finishing touches on his game plan, but he could not have reached this point if it wasn’t for his mentor, the late Mr. Huan.
When Rodtang was a young child, he gained valuable experience competing in small villages all throughout Southern Thailand.
It was during this period when Mr. Huan, the owner of Jitmuangnon Gym, magically entered his life.
“Mr. Huan was friends with the owner of my gym in Phatthalung. He came to the gym to watch us train and scouted me when I was just a kid,” the athlete explains. “He thought I had talent, and asked my dad if I could come to Bangkok to train at his gym.”
Though he was too young at the time, the wheels were now in motion for Rodtang to eventually make his way to the nation’s capital where he could pursue Muay Thai as a full-fledged career.
After a few more years developing his craft and building up his record, “The Iron Man” made the long journey north to Jitmuangnon Gym in Bangkok. He was welcomed with open arms and was surrounded by some of Thailand’s best talent.
Despite all the changes, Mr. Huan took his young charge under his wing and began the long process of grooming him for superstardom.
“He taught me everything and took care of me like I was his own— just like a father to a son,” the warrior says. “He was very calm. He would always take the time to teach me, and he never yelled.”
Mr. Huan even helped Rodtang through one of the darkest moments of his career, when he experienced a string of high profile defeats on Bangkok’s elite stadium circuit.
The losses made booking matches more difficult, leaving “The Iron Man” without any prospects on the horizon. The thought of quitting even crossed his mind — until Mr. Huan stepped in, that is.
“He said that it is normal to go through ups and downs in our careers, and that we must weather the storm,” the Thai recalls. “It was a really difficult period in my career, but he supported me through it.”
With the support of his mentor, Rodtang turned his career around and became a two-time Omnoi Stadium Muay Thai World Champion.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse.
When Mr. Huan suddenly died in March 2018, it was as if the Muay Thai community in Thailand came to a halt. It was a major shock, and a significant loss to all who knew him.
With his unexpected passing, there was a major void and immense uncertainty at Jitmuangnon Gym.
“Everything stopped when he died. I didn’t know what to do. He was like a father to me. He taught me everything, and then, all of a sudden, he was gone. I couldn’t believe it,” Rodtang says.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen to the gym. It was chaos at first, but we knew we had to keep it going in his honor.
“I had to take care of myself, by myself. It was a really hard time in my life, but something I had to get through. He had booked fights for me, and I knew I needed to keep going. I knew I needed to win for him.”
Times has passed, but Rodtang will never forget the impact Mr. Huan made on his career, his life, and his character.
In fact, he even keeps a small memento of the late gym owner’s with him and recognizes his presence before every match.
“I have his funeral shroud. I keep it with me all the time now,” he says. “Before all my fights, I call to him and ask him for his support and protection.”
Although the void will never truly be filled, the athletes at Jitmuangnon Gym rallied together to ensure Mr. Huan’s legacy would live on.
The large brood was even there to help as Mare Ae — as she is affectionately referred to — stepped up to the challenge to continue her late husband’s work.
With the support of Mare Ae, Rodtang continues to strive in honoring his late manager. He knows that perseverance, even through the most difficult of times, will be key to his success.
For “The Iron Man,” defeating Haggerty for the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Championship would be the ultimate way to pay tribute to the man who changed his life.
“He was really proud of me. He built me from nothing, so I want to win this title for him,” the challenger says. “It is because of him that I am here.”
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