(Updated 9th April 2018 with the top Thai fighters of recent years)
Champions come and go, titles change hands fast, and nothing last forever in the world of Muay Thai. Thai boxing is a sport where athletes peak around 20 and with most retiring from the ring not too long after their peak. As a national sport, Muay Thai is also fiercely competitive in its native country. Stardom is brief for many of the best fighters. But in every era, there will always be a handful of elite Nak Muays who stand out higher above the rest. Here’s my choice of the top Muay Thai fighters to watch now:
Sangmanee Aumkatongchiangmai (Formerly Sangmanee Sor Tienpo)
Sangmanee’s life is the stuff of legend. He started fighting at the age of 6, cleaning out all competitions in the region before moving to 13 Coins Gym in Bangkok. There, he found himself training alongside Saenchai, before taking over as the gym’s star when the legend started his own PK Saenchai Gym. In 2014, the young fighter was poisoned and almost lost his life, just so he would lose a fight. It is believed to be the malicious act, a result of the dark side of gambling pervasive in Thailand.
Sangmanee has held Rajadamnern titles across 3 weight classes as well as the 2012 Sports Writers Fighter of the year award. Like many of his peers, the million dollar baby looks to be slowly transitioning out of the elite stadium scene.
Superlek Kiatmoo9 (Superlek Wor Sangprapai)
Fighting out of Buriram’s Kiatmoo9 camp known for churning out champions (twice winning the gym of the year award), Superlek Kiatmoo9 is incidentally, the nephew of another Muay Thai legend, Singdam Kiatmoo9.
Superlek is a great fighter to watch, very technical, and also very deadly. He is 3x Thailand champion, 2x Lumpinee Stadium champion, 2016 WBC 130lbs world champion, as well as the recipient of the prestigious Sports Authority of Thailand Muay Thai Fighter of the Year award in 2012. He was ranked the top fighter in both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern in the super featherweight class in 2016. Superlek is fighting towards the tail-end of his elite circuit career and may follow his peers to compete on international promotions.
Yothin FA Group
Yothin FA Group has big shoes to fill after Petboonchu’s retirement from professional fighting to become a full time trainer in Evolve MMA (Singapore). Yothin is a Muay Khao, a clinch-knee fighting style for which the FA Group gym is famous for.
After an impressive 13-fight winning streak from 2016 to 2017, Yothin had to move up a weight class due to a lack of opponents which resulted in 2 back-to-back losses. However, he has since broke the brief spell and has started another series of wins. Among the stable of fighters at FA Group, Yothin has proven so far to be the fighter to watch out for. As far as clinch fighters go in the current stadium scene, he is right up there among the top. It’s a sacrilege that he hasn’t already been given a title shot at Rajadamnern where he regularly fights.
Muangthai PK Saenchai Gym
Fighting out of the renowned living legend, Saenchai’s very own PK Saenchai Gym, Muangthai is one of the most beloved fighters on the scene. The Elbow Hunter/Elbow Zombie earned his nickname from his dastardly elbow strikes. Muangthai has knocked out more than a few opponents in the ring with his elbows which many observed to be harder and sharper than usual.
Muangthai’s arsenal isn’t limited to just his elbows. He is also an adept clinch fighter which he uses to get his opponents into range for both his deadly elbows and knee strikes. It also helps that he has a very strong chin.
The 2016-2017 Lumpinee Stadium fighter of the year is also the recipient of Sports Authority’s award in 2014. Add to that a collection of titles from Lumpinee, Channel 7 and the Thailand championship, and you have one of the best fighter of the current scene.
Kulabdam Sor Jor PiekuThai
The Black Rose fought up the Channel 7 stadium with a fierce, unwavering style. Nicknamed “The Executioner”, Kulabdam is ruthless in the ring, always looking to finish the fights with his powerful punches. He is a Lumpinee, Thailand and Channel 7 champion. Each time he enters the ring, a warzone ensues.
After a 9-win streak, Kulabdam’s campaign was stopped in its track by the formidable Muangthai PKSaenchai in November 2017. The battle between the 2 remains arguably the best fight of the year with Muangthai walking away with the win on points. Kulabdam has bounced back from his defeat with a more matured fighting style and clinched his first Lumpinee title after defeating Genji Umeno.
Kulabdam received the prestigious Sports Writer Fighter of the Year award this year. His future looks to be brighter than ever in the years ahead.
Yodlekpet Or Pitisak
Muangthai, Panpayak and Sangmanee are some of the elite fighters who have fallen at the feet of the Punch Destroyer. Always moving forward to look for the kill, Yodlekpet pulls no punches -and low kicks- and bulldozes till he gets the win. The Tded99 Gym star is basically a tank in the ring and his opponents know to avoid clashing fist for fist.
The stocky fighter makes use of his strong build to his advantage with a perfect balance of impenetrable defense and a devastating offense. In a scene that is dominated by technical Muay Femurs and wins decided mainly on points. It’s always a joy to see a brawler like Yodlekpet smashing things up in the ring. The newly-crowned Siam Sports boxer of the year is the one to watch.
Yodwicha Kemmuaythaigym (formerly Yodwicha Por Boonsit)
Standing at 1.8m, Yodwicha towers above most of his opponents in the ring not just height-wise, but also with his fighting ability. Yodwicha’s tall stature and long reach makes him ideal as a knee fighter and Muay Bouk (attacking boxer), but some contest that he is an all-rounded Muay Femur. None of that really matters. To know how good he is, all you need to do is check his fight history. The 21-year-old has wins over Singdam Kiatmoo9, Nong-O Kaiyanghadaogym, Petboonchu FA Group and even Saenchai! Yodwicha is a legend-killer!
In the past couple of years, Yodwicha has started fighting outside of Thailand, mainly in France and China. He is a staple on Top King World Series where he won the tournament title two years in a row. Yodwicha now fights out of Kem Muay Thai Gym (owned by Kem Sitsongpeenong).
In terms of Muay Thai accolades, Panpayak is unrivaled by being the only fighter in history to win the Sports Writers of Thailand Fighter of the Year award 3 years in a row! Panpayak’s most notable records include 2 wins over Sam-A Kaiyanghadaogym including a first-round head-kick KO. He also holds wins over many top fighting peers such as Superlek, Superbank, Seksan, Pranjanchai, Wanchalong and 2016’s Sports Writer award winner Petutong Or Kwanmuang.
Panpayak has quick punches and kicks that he uses with great effectiveness in the ring. The 2-time Rajadamnern and 2-time Lumpinee champion is now 22 years of age with a fight record of 263 fights, 222 wins 37 losses and 3 draws. It would be interesting to see if he can take his career further into his 30s.
Notable Mentions: Pet-U-Tong Or Kwangmuang, Littewada Sor Nipapon, Boonlong Klongsuanpluresort, Rodtang Jitmuangnon
This is a list that reflects the impermanence of Muay Thai stardom. In a few years’ time, it’s hard to know if these fighters will still be active in the ring, or even fade into obscurity. But for now, these are the elite fighters, and perhaps legends in time to come. Are there other fighters you feel should be on the list? Leave a comment and let us know.