Joe Rogan – the host of the world’s most popular podcast – recently spoke about his love for Muay Thai, claiming it’s more exciting than America’s most popular sport, football. In a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, the self-professed MMA aficionado spoke about Muay Thai’s potential to improve mixed martial arts (MMA).
Even though UFC fighters are yet to start incorporating Muay Thai techniques in their fighting styles en masse, Thailand’s national sport has already made an entry into the world of MMA.
To help you comprehend the huge potential Muay Thai has, we need to take you on a journey to 16th-century Thailand. That’s when the initial version of the sport was born.
A Brief History of Thailand’s Own Martial Art
In the late 1500s, Thailand was ruled by King Naresuan the Great, whose army defeated a number of enemies during his reign. In-between battles, his soldiers used to practice a martial art that would put them in top shape ahead of the combat.
Fast-forward to the 19th century and the golden age of the sport has started. Rather than practicing Muay Thai to prepare for war, people from Thailand started enjoying it as a form of entertainment. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who was a huge fan of Muay Thai, played a key role in popularizing the sport. Eventually, its popularity grew so much that it practically became the national sport of Thailand, surpassing other martial arts popular in this part of the world, like boxing or wrestling, for example.
Still, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the sport started gaining worldwide attention. That’s when Muay Thai fighters from Thailand started competing in international boxing, kickboxing, and MMA competitions, shocking the world with their skills.
Muay Thai Fighters Taking Over the World
One of the best examples is the story of Samart Payakaroon, who’s generally considered the greatest Muay Thai fighter in history. After winning four Muay Thai titles in four different categories, Samart decided to try his hand at boxing. It was 1986 when he shocked the planet by knocking out favored Lupe Pintor and winning the WBC Super Bantamweight title.
His older brother Kongtoranee also made it to a title bout in boxing. Actually, he had two shots at the WBA World Super Flyweight title but failed to take it each time.
Apart from boxing, Muay Thai fighters have also been doing great in kickboxing. In fact, the world’s #1 pound-for-pound kickboxer Superbon started out as a Muay Thai fighter, winning several major titles in the early 2010s.
When it comes to mixed martial arts, Muay Thai fighters are just starting to get into the world of MMA. Although as of 2022, there’s just one Thailand-born fighter MMA competing in the UFC – Kanda Kokietgym – it’s very likely many others will follow suit. At least that’s the impression we get from what we’ve been seeing from them in the ONE Championship.
Muay Thai Fighters Dominating the ONE Championship
The ONE Championship is a promotion that organizes events in several combat sports, including Muay Thai, kickboxing, and MMA. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say Thailand-based fighters have been dominating the event in recent years. In the ONE Championship Kickboxing, Superbon is the Featherweight champ, while Capitan Petchyindee and Rodtang Jitmuangnon are the #1 ranked fighters in the bantamweight and flyweight divisions, respectively.
When it comes to the ONE Championship Muay Thai, Joseph Lasiri of Italy is the only non-Thai fighter currently in the possession of a championship belt. The other three weight divisions are ruled by Thailand-based fighters. However, when it comes to the MMA section of the ONE Championship, there isn’t a single Thai fighter in control of a championship belt. In fact, Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke remains the only Thai who’s won an MMA title in the ONE Championship. He did it in 2015 when he became the Strawweight champ after defeating Roy Doliguez.
Truth be told, Thailand could’ve gotten another champ (or two) earlier this year. It was March 26, 2022, when ONE Championship: X took place in Singapore, with several former UFC fighters coming to fight for the title.
One of them was Demetrius Johnson, a former UFC champion, who fought for the ONE Championship title against Rodtang Jitmuangnon of Thailand. Mighty Mouse defeated his Thai rival by technical submission in Round 2. A similar thing happened in the title bout between reigning champ Angela Lee (Canada) and Stamp Fairtex. The Thai fighter lost in the second round by submission.
Although they’re yet to do great in MMA, Muay Thai practitioners have already gotten on the radar of mixed martial fans and fighters alike. In fact, some elite UFC fighters have started incorporating Muay Thai techniques, the most notable example being Jiří Procházka, the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
In fact, Procházka’s peculiar hairstyle is an homage to the headgear worn by Muay Thai fighters in the past.