Firstly, this is not the definitive list for the best Muay Thai fighters of any era. This list features 10 Thai native fighters, past and present, that have come to shape the sport in various ways over the last few decades. To me, these are inspirational fighters, be it their skills or spirit. You can also learn a lot from watching their fight videos and perhaps try to incorporate some of their fighting styles in your sparring or fights. In no particular order, 10 Muay Thai fighters that you should know:
Buakaw has probably brought more international interest in Muay Thai than any other Muay Thai fighters ever had. Not coincidentally, he was the first Muay Thai fighter I know of, even before I started training. And yes, that’s him kicking down a banana tree in the popular YouTube video that has close to 3 million views.
Buakaw’s fighting style is aggressive. He is known for his strong KO punches and powerful low kicks, which makes him a very exciting fighter to watch in the ring. Buakaw’s dedication to training is apparent in his amazing physique and striking power. He may not be the best Muay Thai fighter, but his popularity continues to grow with his involvement in China’s Kunlun Fight, garnering countless Chinese fans, many of whom make the pilgrimage to his Banchamek gym in Bangkok. Certainly a Muay Thai legend in his own rights.
The Contender Asia was broadcasted on our local TV station and that was when I came to know of this now famous fighter. The reality-based television series showcased 16 fighters, with elimination fights that led to the final where Yodsanklai emerged as the winner.
Yodsanklai is most well-known for his fan-favorite, powerful left roundhouse kick, on top of his mastery of Muay Thai techniques. A fight between him and Buakaw was one that everybody wants to see. Sadly, Yodsanklai announced on 11th June 2017 (Updated) that he would retire from fighting after being plagued with serious injuries, including a knee injury that had to be operated on.
Saenchai is a legend of our times. Nobody fights like him and his style is entirely, uniquely his own. His short stature (1.66m) may make it seem like a disadvantage when it comes to clinching, but his incredible ability to throw down everyone is a true testament of his skills. He is a technical wizard in all aspects of Muay Thai, and makes it look so deceptively easy in his fights. His arsenal of fast movements, crazy kicks, wild leg sweeps and the famous cartwheel kick makes him the most interesting fighter to watch in the ring. At an age where most Muay Thai fighters would have long retired, the living legend continues to fight on a regular basis, entertaining fans the world over.
For the past few years, Saenchai trains and fight out of Yokkao Gym in Bangkok. (Related article: “Gym Review: Yokkao Gym Bangkok”)
Nicknamed “The Emperor”, Namsaknoi (NSN) holds one of the best fight records in Muay Thai, winning 285 fights out an illustrious 300-fight career. He also ran a 6-year undefeated campaign at Lumpinee between 2000-2006 that is unimaginable in a fiercely competitive sport like Muay Thai.
After a dispute with his gym over his fight winnings, Namsaknoi retired and returned to his hometown with no money in his pocket. In a wonderful turn of fate, he was recruited to teach Muay Thai at Evolve MMA Singapore where he remained for 5 years. Namsaknoi recently started his own Muay Thai gym (Namsaknoi Muay Thai Club) on Koh Phangan (renowned for its full moon parties) in an idyllic part of the island.
Petboonchu FA Group
Petboonchu/Petchboonchu is the clinch fighter par excellence. During his career, his clinching is second to none. Coupled with his deadly knee strikes, he has 14 titles under his belt, making him the most decorated fighter in Muay Thai history.
Petboonchu formerly fought out of FA Group gym in Chatuchak, Bangkok, well-known for their emphasis on clinching training. Petboonchu is a classic Muay Khao, who dominated his fight with superior clinching and aggressive knee strikes. The Muay Thai multiple-time champion currently teaches Muay Thai full-time in Evolve MMA Singapore.
You might have seen his YouTube video before, where he pad-kicked 50 times in 22 seconds without breaking a sweat. Yes, that’s the guy. His powerful and lightning-fast kicks have won him numerous championships and 2011 Lumpinee fighter of the year. Sam-A’s quick and aggressive style in the ring makes his fights very exciting to watch.
Sitmonchai Gym’s rise to fame can be attributed to its former star fighter, Pornsanae Sitmonchai. Possessing an aggressive, unrelenting fight style, powerful punches and crippling low kicks, Pornsanae was one of the most exciting fighters to watch in the ring. Pornsanae had many famous fights to his name but the most known of which must be Lumpinee’s Fight of the Year in 2010. The legendary fight that pitted Pornsanae against Pakorn PKSaenchaimuaythaigym was an all-out war with videos of the fight widely shared online to this day.
Along with Sam-A, Petboonchu and many other Muay Thai champions, Pornsanae worked as a full-time Muay Thai instructor at Evolve MMA Singapore. He has since returned to Sitmonchai camp as a trainer, a place dear to his heart.
Samart is often cited as the best Muay Thai fighter of all time, the GOAT in Muay Thai. He was both the Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali of Muay Thai. Training under the legendary Yodtong Senanan, grand master of the Sityodtong camp, he was awarded the prestigious Sports Writers of Thailand fighter of the year 3 times. Samart was very good with his hands and after winning 4 Lumpinee championships, he turned to boxing and won a WBC junior featherweight title. He was also well known with his mastery of using teeps (push kicks) in a way that is unmatched to this day. In his peak, he could rip apart his opponents simply with the use of his strong teeps.
After his peak days of fighting, Samart seeked a brief career in singing and starred in a few films including a major role in a French production. Samart currently runs the Poptheeratham gym in Bangkok.
It’s mesmerizing to watch Somrak’s fights. He was so good that you can see how easily he outclassed his opponents in his fights, wearing his confident smirk.
Somrak is Thailand’s pride, having represented the country in boxing and winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal. He has never won a Lumpinee championship in his career. Not because he wasn’t good but contrary to that, he was so good that the big promoters of the stadium barred him from competing, or so it has been said. Basically, he would be certain to win and the gamblers lost interest in him. The stories that legends are made of.
Somrak runs his gym in Bangkok, on top of his busy schedule as a singer, celebrity, trainer and taking up occasional fights on the side.
Wait a minute. Sagat probably brought more attention to Muay Thai than Buakaw ever did. The one-eyed villain in the classic fighting video game, Street Fighter (by Capcom), was believed to be based on a real-life fighter (Sagat Petchyindee) and probably the first Muay Thai fighter every kid of my generation got to know.
The eye patch, the bald head, the prominent scar across his body, this was a badass fighter who mean business. Sagat might just be the most iconic Muay Thai fighter in the entire history of the sport. Man, this is so nostalgic. I’m gonna work on my “Tiger Uppercuts” in the gym tomorrow.
It’s impossible to rank them without some disputes or disagreements but we can all agree that the 10 fighters featured here are all legends in their own right. There are so many good fighters, there is no way to feature them all. If you have a favorite fighter and he is not featured here, I would like to hear about your choice of the best fighter. Meanwhile, check out my picks of the top current active fighters in Thailand.