If you grew up in Thailand, chances are, you’ve heard of multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Nong-O Gaiyanghadao from the EVOLVE Fight Team. When you come across this noble, soft-spoken human being, you would probably never guess that he is, in fact, a legendary Muay Thai fighter.
The 31-year-old from Thailand is known as one of the most decorated Muay Thai fighters in the history of the sport. He is revered for the incredible speed, precision, and power behind his strikes. Regarded by many as one of the most exciting Muay Thai fighters to ever step into the ring, Nong-O is a fixture in some of the most memorable battles in the sport.
This Friday, 20 April, at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, Nong-O returns to action, making his debut for the highly-anticipated ONE Super Series. On the supporting card of ONE: HEROES OF HONOR, Gaiyanghadao faces 33-year-old Fabio Pinca of Lyon, France in what should be an entertaining fight from start to finish.
But before Gaiyanghadao makes his way to the ONE Championship ring this Friday night, let’s take a closer look at how he got to this point, how he discovered the art of Muay Thai and became a legend, and what the future holds for one of Thailand’s biggest superstars.
From Humble Beginnings
Nong-O was raised in a small village in Sakon Nakhon, Thailand. Growing up in poverty, Nong-O’s parents struggled to make ends meet as farmers and as construction workers in Bangkok.
Due to their economic struggles, his family lived life on the edge of a knife, dealing with the difficulty of putting food on the table on a daily basis. They had very little means to make a living, earning just enough money to survive.
It is this hardship that inspired Nong-O to become a Muay Thai fighter.
“I started Muay Thai to help my family get out of poverty,” said Nong-O. “I grew up very poor and saw Muay Thai as something that would help give me a brighter future.”
As a young boy watching Muay Thai legends from afar, Nong-O recalls wanting to emulate fighters such as Somluck Kamsing, Samart Payakaroon, and Kaensak Sor Ploenjit, among others.
“I would learn from watching their fights and studying them,” said Nong-O.
One day, with his family’s financial situation in dire straits, Nong-O would soon make the discovery that would forever change his life.
One of the family’s neighbors was, at the time, a promising Muay Thai fighter who would often train while Nong-O looked on in amazement. As the young legend stood in awe, watching intently as his neighbor honed his skills in his own backyard, a fire began to burn deep inside of him.
It was at this moment, captivated by his own imagination and the rhythmic beat of kicks and punches connecting on hard leather, that he would make the decision to become a Muay Thai fighter.
Discovering Muay Thai
Not long after that, Nong-O began training. He described his early days in Muay Thai as being incredibly difficult. In addition, he had a little trouble telling his parents because he knew it would be hard for them to accept that their only son would go into a life of fighting.
One evening, when his mother and father were away in the city, Nong-O fought in his first match.
“After a month of training, the fighter said I had heart and that I was ready to fight. I was nervous,” said Nong-O. “My parents had no idea that I was even training.”
He, of course, won the bout, making 100 baht which he gave to his grandmother. The next night, he fought again and won again. He was a natural.
Nong-O would go on to fight eight more times before his parents finally found out. At first, his mother and father had difficulty accepting his decision and refused to watch him fight live. But eventually, they caved and gave their support. To his surprise, Nong-O’s parents began to show interest in his fighting career.
At the age of 14, Nong-O left home and moved to the nation’s capital, Bangkok. As a village kid from a small town, Nong-O felt lost in his own country. It was as if he was a foreigner in his own country.
But the young fighter knew he had to maintain focus and give a hundred percent into his training. With tremendous work ethic, Nong-O began to excel, and soon became known as one of the greatest ever.
“A great martial artist is someone who knows his responsibilities, someone who is disciplined and can stick to a schedule and work hard,” said Nong-O. “If you listen to your teachers and train hard you can become as great as you wish to be.”
Becoming a Pound-for-Pound Legend
At the age of 15, Nong-O fought in his first big fight at the prestigious Rajadamnern Stadium. He fought Sipaenoi S.Sisompong, winning by decision. Not long after that, Nong-O started to become a popular fighter.
The true greatness of Nong-O lied in his understanding of the fight game. Nong-O was a cerebral assassin, analyzing his foes carefully while devising effective game plans in his mind.
“Before my fights, I would do an in-depth study of my opponent,” said Nong-O. “When it was fight night, I would use his techniques against him. I would set my sweep up with kicks and punches.”
After two decades of excellence, Nong-O is considered today as one of the greatest Muay Thai fighters to ever live. A true living legend, Nong-O has amassed a 255-54-1 record over 22 years of competition. He is a 4-time Lumpinee Muay Thai World Champion, a Rajadamnern Muay Thai World Champion, and a 2-time Thailand national champion.
Among his most memorable accolades, however, is when he won his first of two ‘Fighter of the Year’ awards.
“I knew I was a good fighter because I trained hard and won a lot of fights and titles, but this award was different,” said Nong-O. “Finally, I felt like I had truly brought honor to my family. I had always given my family a large part of my prize money, but this kind of prestige was different. Everyone in Thailand knew my name, they knew my family’s name. It was a great feeling.”
Return to Action
After competing in his final professional match in 2015, Nong-O soon joined the ranks as an instructor at the prestigious Evolve MMA in Singapore, where he now guides students in the study of Muay Thai.
But the allure of professional competition, and the call of the ring beckons. With the recently announced ONE Super Series, Nong-O’s legendary Muay Thai career receives new life.
This Friday, 20 April, Nong-O takes on former 2-time WBC World Muay Thai Champion Fabio Pinca at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR. The 31-year-old says that although he understands Pinca is a tough challenge, that he is ready to make a triumphant return to competition.
“Pinca is a good fighter. He is well rounded and has good technique, but I am not too worried about anything in particular,” said Gaiyanghadao. “I’m confident in my own abilities and confident I will win this fight.”
It has been more than three years since fans have seen Nong-O in action, and many have missed his particular brand of carnage. Nong-O says he is incredibly honored to showcase the beauty of Muay Thai once again.
“I’m very proud to be able to compete in ONE Championship. I and extremely happy and excited for this bout,” said Nong-O. “ONE Championship’s global platform is the biggest I’ve ever competed on and can’t wait!”