ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man Jitmuangnon enjoyed an incredible start to 2021.
The Thai megastar thrilled during two explosive bouts – first beating Tagir Khalilov in a captivating back-and-forth kickboxing showdown and then closing out “ONE on TNT I” with a spectacular Muay Thai victory over “Mini T” Danial Williams on U.S. prime-time television.
Along the way, Rodtang grew his international fan base, was featured on “SportsCenter,” shot a video with Muay Thai icon Saenchai, and even offered to fight MMA GOAT Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson in a kickboxing contest.
In this exclusive interview, “The Iron Man” reflects on his whirlwind “ONE on TNT” experience, reveals his plans for the rest of 2021, and much more.
ONE Championship: What was it like to make your big debut on U.S. prime-time television against “Mini T” Danial Williams two months ago?
Rodtang Jitmuangnon: I felt happy to have a new opportunity for myself. As the only representative from Thailand, I got to show the art of Muay Thai to fans all over the world, especially to the Americans. I was excited and honored.
Many athletes would like to have this opportunity, but ONE trusted me and picked me, so I knew I had to give it my all and show my skills to the American people’s eyes. They may be familiar with other combat sports like MMA, but I brought my Muay Thai to them, and I wanted to show that Muay Thai can be compared with other combat sports. I want to make them love Muay Thai.
ONE: “Mini T” took the fight on short notice, and although you won, he refused to go down. What are your thoughts on the fight and “Mini T,” and were you surprised he was able to keep going until the very end?
RJ: When my opponent was suddenly changed, that meant I needed to adjust my game plan and study the new opponent in a tight period of time.
At first, I planned to go all-out, but “Mini T” is a veteran in both Muay Thai and MMA, and he has a heart of steel. He is a good tactician, so that’s why I couldn’t go at him without thinking. I had to find my opportunity to break him. This man surprised me because he has heart. He took everything I threw at him, but he was still standing at the end.
ONE: You earned a lot of praise for your fight from American fans who tuned in to watch. How did that performance impact your international fan base?
RJ: My Instagram following has grown, as well as my reputation. After “ONE on TNT,” my followers increased to almost 100,000 – mostly from Americans, Germans, Japanese, and others outside Thailand.
Someone sent me a message and said something like, “If I come to Thailand, I will come to learn Muay Thai from you.” That made me feel proud, and I want to say thank you to all of you who are falling in love with Muay Thai and me.
ONE: That was the 10th fight you won in ONE Super Series, which no other Muay Thai or kickboxing athlete has done. It’s a record. How did it feel to accomplish this goal?
RJ: Many Muay Thai fighters want to have a chance like me, but I got this opportunity from ONE Championship, so I’m really happy and proud.
In the past, I was only famous in Isaan. When I went to Bangkok, I didn’t expect to be the World Champion. It’s hard to describe. It’s a warm feeling. The tables have turned for me. I have a reputation, and everyone welcomes me wherever I go.
Life has changed a lot since I found Muay Thai and kickboxing. I can see many opportunities in my career. I call it a profit in my life. More importantly, because of this career, I can take care of my parents and feed almost 20 people in my family, which is what I’m most proud of.
ONE: A few months ago, top-ranked contender Superlek Kiatmoo9 challenged Ilias Ennahachi for the ONE Flyweight Kickboxing World Title and came up just short. What were your thoughts on that match?
RJ: I thought Superlek won, but in kickboxing, it’s not uncommon for Ennahachi to move around and run away because kickboxing is about footwork, getting in and out, turning around, and trying not to lose points.
If you kick and he turns away, it will make your kick weightless, while he can throw a punch to your body and score. As for clinching and Muay Thai sweeping, it’s prohibited, and the referee will warn you.
People who want to fight under the rules of kickboxing have to study where they can get points. I probably didn’t learn enough because I’ve only had a few fights, but if I’m going to fight seriously or challenge for the title, I will have to study how to score well and then focus on that.
ONE: What would you rather do next – defend your ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Title against Superlek or challenge Ennahachi for the kickboxing belt?
RJ: I want to fight for the kickboxing title first. I’m the Muay Thai World Champion, so I can feel at ease now, and I want to move forward and win the kickboxing title quickly. Then I’ll focus on MMA because I want to try something new.
If you focus on many things at the same time, It will make you feel confused and you will lose focus on any of these because you need to divide the time to practice each discipline.
For MMA, I have no background. It takes a long time to practice and devote yourself to it. So, I want to win the kickboxing belt first, then hold it, and try MMA once. I don’t know if I will win or lose, but it would be my pleasure to experiment. Not many Muay Thai fighters would do something like this, but I want to give it a try.
ONE: We’re six months into 2021. What do you want to accomplish by the end of this year?
RJ: I’m someone who loves to compete often. I love fighting, and if I leave the stage for too long, I’ll get rusty – unlike other foreign fighters who can take a few fights a year. For me, I have to keep myself active.
In the old days when I lived in Isaan, I always fought two matches in one single day, so I’m used to it. Sometimes, I’m still injured from the last fight, but my body and heart demand that I go out and fight again. So, I would like to fight continuously.