My Life As A Muay Thai Fighter: Sam-A Gaiyanghadao

Sam-A Gaiyanghadao was born on October 13,1983 in Buriram, Thailand.  He is regarded as one of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world. He is a multiple time Lumpinee Super Flyweight World Champion, Lumpinee Bantamweight World Champion, Thailand Super Flyweight, Super Bantamweight, and Bantamweight Champion, ONE Championship Muay Thai World Champion and more. With over 20 years of fight experience, he has made a name for himself as one of the top Muay Thai superstars in the world. 

When you’re a fighter, you’re always ready for the unpredictable. As ironic as it may sound, being in the ring conditions you to face the unexpected. An elbow to the head, a kick to the thigh — you just anticipate what you can and see what happens next.

One day, you could be holding up a title belt, working on a building site as a construction worker the next, or be on the other side of the pads and holding them up for your students. Sometimes it’s all luck — that’s why my fighter name is Sam-A, it means 3 aces. It’s the best hand you could ever have in a game of cards. But even with all the luck in the world, you still never know what to expect.

When I was 9, there was a festival in my hometown. There was a Muay Thai ring being set up next to the temple and my uncle was in charge of organizing the fights. There was a boy around my age on the card in need of an opponent. “Who wants to fight this boy?” my uncle asked. The crowd was silent. I looked around and thought, why not? “Me, I want to fight!” I told my uncle. He looked at me and clucked his tongue. “But you’ve never fought before,” he laughed. He obviously wasn’t taking me seriously. But I was dead serious. “I want to fight!” I told him again. My uncle knew that I wouldn’t take no for answer. “Go home and ask your parents,” he told me.

Sam-A at 12 years of age.

Sam-A as a young fighter.

I rushed home, eager to tell my parents the news. I was going to fight Muay Thai! Even if I had never fought before, just the idea of fighting excited me. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t think the same way. “You’re going to get hurt,” they said. “It’s not safe.”

At that moment, I felt all my dreams crashing down — I had to fight, I just had to. “Please let me fight,” I begged my parents, looking at them hopefully. They just looked at me and shook their heads. And just like your typical 9-year-old, I started rolling on the ground and crying. After a few good minutes of crying and shouting, my parents relented. They knew there was no other way out.

I spent the whole day pacing around the house. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. As I stepped into the ring, I realized that it was more than I had bargained for. It dawned on me that I had never fought Muay Thai before, I had never even set foot in a gym or kicked a bag – I had no idea what to do. The music for the wai kru came on and I just copied my opponent’s movements. He was a young, skinny boy just like me. From the moment we touched gloves, I had no idea what was happening. I just kept on hitting the guy whichever way I could and hoped for the best. After three rounds, nobody was more surprised than I was when the referee held up my hand – I had won the fight!


Sam-A at 10 years of age.

Later on that night, I counted my earnings. Although it was just a few baht, it was a start. It was then that I decided I wanted to become a Muay Thai fighter. Although I knew my parents weren’t exactly happy about me becoming a fighter, I thought that my win would change their mind.

“I want to fight again,” I told my parents the next day. They were happy about my win, but still weren’t sold on the idea of me becoming a fighter. The referee from the fight had taken an interest in me and asked if I wanted to fight again. High off my first win, I didn’t even hesitate about agreeing to my second fight. Unfortunately, I lost. It was a very close fight, and I had lost by just a few points. I was completely heartbroken.

My parents eventually relented and decided to let me train. After all, they were farmers. They knew how hard it was to find a way out. I was lucky because my parents believed in my talent. They even hired a trainer for me. Considering that we didn’t exactly come from a rich family, it meant a lot that my parents cared so much about my dreams. Instead of real boxing bags, we used old rice sacks that we filled with sand. I would train everyday after school – fighting became my life. I trained with him for two months and after 6 or 7 fights, a gym scout asked me to join their gym.

Sam-A has over 20 years of martial arts experience.

Sam-A has over 20 years of martial arts experience.

That same year, I moved out of my home and into a Muay Thai camp. My father would pick me up every morning and take me to school, then drop me back after. Even if I was training so much, I knew I had to finish school. It took me longer than most people – I finished high school when I was 20 and got my polytechnic diploma shortly after that. I needed to have a backup plan because I knew Muay Thai wouldn’t be forever. Something was bound to happen.

Surely enough, just like a bad omen, after winning my first Lumpinee belt at 19, I left my camp. It was a nightmare. Fighters were leaving the camp, trainers were leaving – the only people left were two other trainers and myself. Every time I won a fight, I’d have to give my share back to the camp, which turned out to be more than I was actually making. I was the one risking my life each time I stepped onto the canvas, nobody else. And it wasn’t fair.

Because of this, I stopped fighting. I needed to find a way to make money and at the time, Muay Thai wasn’t it. I felt so disheartened because I devoted 10 years of my life to a sport that I loved so much, only to find myself cheated out of my hard earned money. I ended up finding a job as a construction worker and did that for a year.

Sam-A won this fight using technique, beating his opponent with knees and kicks.

Sam-A won this fight using technique, beating his opponent with knees and kicks.

It’s funny how things turn out — a Lumpinee Champion toiling in the hot sun, shoveling dirt and laying bricks. But you have to make money to eat. That year was tough; I had to be really strict with money. I spent 5 baht a day on a small bag of rice and I had to make it last the whole day.

I didn’t think I was ever going to fight again, all my hopes and dreams felt like they were getting further and further away from my reach. I thought of going back to school, so I started making plans for that. But as fate would have it, my old camp owner found me and asked me to come back to training. I won the Lumpinee 115 pound title that year.

For the next few years, I would train at two gyms. I met my future wife while training at my old camp and moved to her father’s camp when we got married. It was then that I really started making a name for myself and people started to find out who I was.

Winning my first title didn’t come easy. It took me four tries before I finally won a title fight. When I won, I felt so relieved. Everyone, including the Thai media, was saying that I was a good fighter, but I would choke before title fights. I was able to prove that I was truly a champion and that I wasn’t just some guy with good technique.

I became known for my kicks, especially my left roundhouse kick. To make my kicks fast, I had to strengthen my legs first. For this, I would run 20 kilometers a day, which was more than anyone ran in my camp. My left roundhouse kick was something my trainer and I worked on. We watched fights and analyzed techniques. I realized that if I kicked by swinging straight up and rotating at the last second, I could kick my opponent faster.

2011 was a good year for me. I won 8 fights and 1 draw. In March of that year, I fought Pokkeaw Fonjarngchonburi. It was one of the biggest fights of my career. I had just moved to Petchyindee from my old gym and a lot was at stake for my new gym. Two million baht, to be exact. Because of this, I felt pressured to win. I was fighting under a new name and I had to make sure I was worth the investment for the gym owner. I was so anxious the entire time that it took a toll on the first three rounds of my fight. When the fourth round rolled in, I bucked up and used energy I didn’t know I had. I just went all out, and gave Pokkeaw all that I had. I kept up the energy till the 5th round and eventually had my hand raised in victory.

My toughest opponent was Superbank. I lost to him by a small margin twice; his technique was just really good. He’s a tricky fighter and you always have to be on your guard or else he’ll outsmart you. If I had the chance to fight him again, I’d probably try to be more calm and composed. That’s the only way to beat that kind of fighter.

When I think about the career I’ve had, I never expected I would be a teacher. I thought that I would probably settle down and just focus on my family and raising my children after I retired from fighting. But being able to share what I’ve learned with my students at Evolve MMA and see them apply it during sparring feels great.

Looking back at the crazy journey I’ve been on, I feel very grateful to be here at Evolve MMA in Singapore and see my life completely turn around. For me, it’s proof that Muay Thai or martial arts, can truly change lives.


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