Two-sport ONE World Champion Sam-A Gaiyanghadao has been granted his wish.
That chance will come on Friday, 9 October, as Sam-A defends his ONE Strawweight Muay Thai World Title against the Australian striker in the main event of ONE: REIGN OF DYNASTIES.
“I [heard] he had always wanted to fight with me, since before the COVID-19 outbreak,” the divisional king says. “Now, I’m glad I’ll be fighting him.”
Sam-A has looked absolutely dominant ever since competing in ONE Championship’s inaugural Muay Thai bout in January 2018, in which he dismantled Joseph “The Hurricane” Lasiri.
Four months later, the 36-year-old knocked out Sergio “Samurai” Wielzen in highlight-reel fashion to claim the inaugural ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Title.
Fortunately for him, the promotion had just created the strawweight division, so the living legend moved down to his natural weight class and made history.
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In December 2019, Sam-A conquered a new sport, as he defeated “Golden Boy” Wang Junguang to win the inaugural ONE Strawweight Kickboxing World Title. And just three months later, he decimated Rocky Ogden to capture the inaugural ONE Strawweight Muay Thai World Title.
Although the Muay Thai icon has been mostly dominant throughout his promotional tenure, there was a time when he didn’t believe he’d get another chance to wear ONE World Title gold – let alone two more belts.
“I didn’t think I would be able to do it,” Sam-A admits.
“I was the flyweight champion, but Chatri [Sityodtong, ONE Chairman and CEO] still gave me a chance to prove myself at strawweight. And I did it.
“Every boxer’s dream is to win something big, and I just did it. But another thing I want to do is to remain a champion as long as possible. Winning a championship and being a champion is hard, but defending it is even harder. I still practice very hard these days.”
Even though Tonna will be entering this bout as an underdog, Sam-A will not be taking him lightly, and for good reason.
The Australian had a difficult start to his ONE Super Series career. Just like his Thai foe, the 32-year-old Canberra native competed in a bigger weight class – the flyweight division – where he experienced both triumphs and hard losses.
But when the strawweight division was created, Tonna, an ISKA K-1 World Champion, moved down and showed just how quick and powerful he could truly be.
In February, he knocked out five-time Muay Thai World Champion Andy “Punisher” Howson and became an instant threat to the top of the order. In fact, he climbed his way up the ladder to become the #1-ranked contender in the division.
Needless to say, that caught Sam-A’s attention.
“I have been watching his fights. He did great in the last one, maybe it’s because it was his natural weight class,” the Thai offers. “When he fought in the flyweight division, he was slower – way slower. But in this weight class, I think he got faster and stronger. His strikes were also harder.”
Sam-A believes some of the challenger’s attributes are especially dangerous.
For instance, he knows “Timebomb” will have a strength advantage when they enter the ring, and that the Aussie could surprise him with his boxing and knee strikes.
Tonna brilliantly displayed his punching ability, kicks, and knees in both his flyweight decision victory over Yoshihisa “Mad Dog” Morimoto in July 2019 and his second-round knockout over the aforementioned Howson.
This is something Sam-A will have to deal with come fight night.
“He strikes in combinations, so I have to be able to defend myself and find a good way to hit him back,” the Singapore-based Thai says.
“From what I have seen, he is good at punches and knee strikes. His kicks are alright, but his punches and knee strikes are powerful.”
However, there are plenty of factors working in Sam-A’s favor.
For starters, the living legend holds a tremendous experience advantage. He owns a jaw-dropping 369-47-9 professional record and nearly three decades of competition experience.
Furthermore, the Evolve star is known to have fierce strikes, an incredible defense, and some of the fastest kicks in the entire sport.
After all, he showcased his phenomenal elbow strikes to knock out the aforementioned Wielzen, and he could look to do the same to “Timebomb.”
“What I have better than Josh Tonna are probably my kicks, Muay Thai strikes, and elbow strikes,” Sam-A says. “So, before he tries to use his knees on me, he’d get my kicks and elbows first.”
Now, Sam-A is hoping those famed Muay Thai strikes will lead to another highlight-reel win. He’s certainly gunning for the finish, and he’ll do everything in his power to defend his belt in extraordinary fashion.
“Everyone wants to, if possible, knock his opponent out in order to save himself and make it a beautiful victory,” the reigning ONE World Champion says.
“But if that’s undoable, I want to win on points and with good self-defense because foreign boxers’ weapons are different from Thai boxers. You can’t be careless. You have to be careful all the time.”