Over the past year, ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon showed that he is truly game for anything.
And if that wasn’t enough, the 24-year-old accepted a special-rules super-fight against mixed martial arts GOAT Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, which will now take place for 2022.
After breaking so much new ground in 2021, it’s clear that next year could be massive for Rodtang. In this exclusive interview, “The Iron Man” talks about his goals for 2022, his training for DJ, and much more.
ONE Championship: You had several great moments in 2021. What would you say was your favorite?
Rodtang Jitmuangnon: When I went to fight [in front of] the American audience [at “ONE on TNT I”], my life changed a lot. I am more well-known among international fans. I have more and more followers on social media. People also want to learn Muay Thai from me, and many people like my fighting style, and they are inspired by me.
That all makes me feel so proud. I am really thankful to those people who always support me. It feels so good to be loved by more fans.
Also, I received a good opportunity to try a [special-rules] bout where I will face Demetrious Johnson, a legendary mixed martial artist and an American superstar. He is the best, and I have been following him for a long time. I never thought I would fight with him. Moreover, I have to fight in a way that I never thought would happen with a rule set, which is Muay Thai alternating with MMA for four rounds.
Well, it’s one of my favorite moments, I can say. I have become the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion. I also have the opportunity to meet an MMA champion in the first-ever Muay Thai-MMA rules fight. It is a historic match for me, and I must keep it as a valuable moment in my life. It’s also a great opportunity for me to practice MMA seriously, which is another new experience that I get to pursue and be successful at. I consider this the most impressive moment this year.
ONE: How about outside of the Circle?
RJ: I am happy with myself for the great success in Muay Thai, which has allowed me to improve the quality of life for my family. As you know, I come from a very poor family. My parents have separated. I used to live in an old house with ten brothers and sisters. Becoming a ONE World Champion completely changed my life. All good things came into my life. I can buy a house for my parents and help take care of all my brothers and sisters who are [facing] difficulties.
I am also happy to be able to help my fans who were in trouble during the past three waves of the [COVID-19] pandemic, as well as during the flood. I did what I could to help them. I am so happy to be here, where I’ve become a giver who can help other people. I am empathic for those people in need because I, myself, used to be at that point. Now, I have something to give, so I want to give. What I did may be a small thing, but I call it happiness.
ONE: You also had COVID-19. How did that affect you?
RJ: I never thought that would happen to me. We just went to a meeting, and then I came back feeling unwell and learned that I was infected.
Fortunately, as an athlete, I am always in a good health, so the symptoms were not severe. I went to self-quarantine at the hotel for 14 days without any symptoms. I could eat anything and smell everything. But unfortunately, the bout with DJ was [postponed]. For me, I took it just as bad luck and let it go.
ONE: Let’s briefly preview your future match with Demetrious Johnson, which is happening in 2022. How has your training been going so far? And where have you been training lately?
RJ: What the coach and I are working together on now is to practice how to defend the opponent’s takedown correctly in order to get back to the feet as quick as possible because DJ is great in his ground game, and of course, I am not as good as him. Therefore, I must know how to survive his ground game.
My coach is working hard to teach me defensive techniques, and I have to practice and repeat them many, many times to get used to it. But for the striking game, I will be at an advantage, for sure.
Let’s say, we both have different advantages. Whoever can control the game will get the advantage. For me, I will definitely not go with his ground game, and I would try to get him to [fight me] in the stand-up game. We have to wait and see who will fall into the pitfalls first.
As far as I have practiced MMA, my coach commented that I was a fast learner and that I had a good memory. I can learn and remember positions and techniques very well. Also, I can initiate a prompt resolution when a situation turns bad. Sometimes, I apply Muay Thai to the game as well.
ONE: Do you think one solid punch will be enough to knock out DJ?
RJ: Using small gloves, anything can happen. He or I can be knocked out. I won’t be careless. I think it depends on the game plan for each round. Whoever makes mistakes first will get in trouble.
I think both of us will tense up when we play in a game we are not familiar with. I would definitely worry when I get in his ground game, and he must feel the same when he has to fight in a Muay Thai round.
But as I watched DJ’s previous fights, he often showed his weakness when he got punched. I think if he eats my punch, he may fall.
ONE: Do you think you can finish the fight in the first round? Is that your goal?
RJ: If he opens a chance, I plan to take him down in the first round. But I believe that he will definitely not face off [with me] in Muay Thai, and he might use his footwork to avoid fighting face to face.
If we move past the first round, I have to play in the outer range. It is about solving the game. If he comes to stand and face me in Muay Thai, he will be playing my game, and I won’t hesitate to get him.
ONE: Share with us your perfect 2022. If you could design the perfect year, what would it look like?
RJ: Next year, in my career, I have planned to pursue MMA seriously and want to be an MMA Champion as well.
For my personal life, I want to take good care of my family. Whether it’s parents or siblings, I want to take care of them if they are in trouble. As for whether I want to have a new girlfriend? I still don’t want to think about it. Right now, I want to remain alone. I would like to make a strong foundation for my family. I want to see my parents and family live a better life.
And when everything is all set, I would like to have a small gym of my own so that children or foreigners can come and learn Muay Thai. And if there is a chance, I may go be a trainer at Muay Thai seminars overseas.