When Nong-O Gaiyanghadao left his home village behind aged 14, he was devastated and faced with a long, hard road to become a successful Muay Thai star.
The legendary striker – who will defend his ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai World Title against Saemapetch Fairtex at ONE: EDGE OF GREATNESS – moved to the bright lights of Bangkok to build on his early success in “the art of eight limbs” and earn money to give his family a better life.
He had achieved everything possible in Thailand’s northeast, and the only way for him to continue earning money was to move to the Thai capital and compete in more prestigious bouts. However, that meant leaving everything and everyone he knew and loved behind, and he had to find the strength to move on.
“I began to win so often that I had no more opponents to compete with,” he explains.
“I was 14 years old when I moved to Bangkok and I went to Kor Kiattinan Boxing Camp. My first trainer and my parents brought me there. I cried when my parents went back, but after I finished crying, I got stronger.
“I had to go on. I had a goal. My sister had almost graduated from high school and was about to go to university. My goal was to help my family. I had to earn money and help them.”
Nong-O was lonely, but his seniors reminded him about his reasons for competing, which kept him motivated in the gym.
“It was my first time apart from my family. I didn’t know anyone in the boxing camp. There were about five or six other students from other provinces, but I didn’t know them all,” he adds.
“When I cried, my first trainer told me that I had to fight. He told me, ‘When you fight, you earn for your family.’ He said I should focus in order to win and make a lot of money to help my family.”
His competitive stint in Bangkok got off to a resounding start with a series of victories, but he was not well-known enough to command big purses at first, and he sent everything he earned back home to Sakon Nakhon to his mother.
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When he ran out of cash, he picked coconuts, but he was only paid with food, and that work – on top of his grueling training and competition schedule – left him exhausted, and he struggled to keep up in school.
“I didn’t just quit school, but I couldn’t focus much because I trained hard,” explains the four-division Lumpinee Stadium Muay Thai World Champion.
“I had to get up very early to train. I usually finished training around 7am and went to school at 8am. I went to school late almost every day. I always fell asleep during classes and I couldn’t follow.
“It was difficult, really difficult. I just kept going even though I didn’t understand anything. I focused more on training and boxing.”
Fortunately, his teachers recognized how hard he was working outside of his classes, and encouraged him to make the most of his talents.
Despite his struggles, he grew from a boy into a man as he met a series of daunting challenges head-on, and never gave up when things were tough. He learned to be self-sufficient in Bangkok, and became one of the top athletes in the game.
His tenacity meant the poor boy from rural Thailand became one of his sport’s most decorated competitors and, most importantly for him, achieved his goal of providing a better life for his loved ones.
“I think I’m strong in the way that I could live on my own. I could take care of myself. I was independent. My life didn’t depend much on my parents,” he says.
“I like to give or do things for my family. My parents just had to support me mentally, give me compliments, and say everything will be just fine. That was good enough for me.
“I could earn money and sent my sister to school. I could earn money to support my family. I was happy with what I could do.”