Summary: In this story, we retrace Ramon Dekkers’ journey. From his homeland in the Netherlands to the birthplace of Muay Thai itself, Thailand, we take a glimpse into his triumphs and battles on his way to eternal stardom.
Muay Thai traces its origins and is deeply rooted in Thai culture and the Thai people. That much is obvious and needs no further explanation about the beautiful and yet brutal art of eight limbs.
The greatest legends of the art are mostly from Thailand and that is understandable. But there are also a handful of non-Thais who have impacted the art and helped popularize it throughout the West and the rest of the world.
Among those figures, perhaps none stands taller than the man known as “The Diamond”. We are talking about none other than the great Ramon Dekkers – the most beloved Muay Farang (translation: foreigner fighter) of them all.
Although Ramon Dekkers is no longer with us, his impact and legacy continue to inspire new and old fans alike. The example that he set is being followed by countless practitioners of Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and other combat sports.
We celebrate the legend of Ramon Dekkers, Muay Thai’s undisputed Diamond!
In the Beginning
Ramon Dekkers was a native of Breda, in the Netherlands, a country known for its aggressive and exciting Dutch-style Kickboxing. However, that was not the first martial art that Dekkers tried.
It was actually in the art of Judo where he first trained at the tender age of 12. After half a year, he made the switch to boxing. That started what would be a lifelong connection to the striking arts.
A Diamond in the Rough – Discovering Muay Thai
After switching to boxing, it was only a matter of time before Dekkers discovered Muay Thai.
He started training in the art under Cor Hemmers at the Golden Glory Gym. And as fate would have it, Hemmer’s and Dekker’s mother would eventually fall in love and get married. It meant that their relationship was more than just trainer and fighter but also as father and son.
Dekkers career took off in spectacular fashion as he bested his opponent in spectacular fashion via Knockout. His foe was already established and quite well known but Dekkers was not fazed and more than lived up to the challenge.
The Diamond got off to a great start to his career. He continued to win most of his matches through knockout. Those string of victories got Dekkers noticed in the local fight community. He eventually won his first title at the age of 18, when he captured the MTBN Dutch Championship in 1987.
A year later, he fought for and won the EMTA European Championship against reigning champ Richard Nam of France. Dekkers won by knockout in the fifth round, avenging a decision loss a year earlier.
It was time to take on the best fighters of the sport: the Thais.
Forging A Legacy
After capturing a string of European titles, Dekkers finally arrived on the world stage. Fittingly enough, it was against a Thai champion in Namphon Nongkeepahuyuth, who happened to be the reigning Lumpinee champion at the time.
The year was 1990. The fight was for the IMF World Light Welterweight title. The location was Amsterdam, which was right on Dekker’s home turf. Whether that played a part in the match is debatable. When the smoke cleared, he was able to secure a victory via judges’ decision after five rounds.
The rematch would take place just two months later in April 1990. But this time, it was in Namphon’s backyard in Bangkok, Thailand. Dekkers was not able to duplicate his earlier feat and succumbed to a close decision loss.
In between the two matches with Namphon, Dekkers fought another golden era legend, Cherry Sor Wanich, in Amsterdam. The Dutch legend knocked out Cherry with his famous left hook in round one!
For context, Cherry was a number one ranking fighter at Lumpinee Stadium at the time.
Turbine from Hell
Following his Bangkok debut loss against Namphon, Dekkers returned to the famed Lumpinee again in August of the same year (1990). He took on Superlek Sor Esarn, another golden era legend on this occasion for a truly thrilling fight.
After a 5-round war, Dekkers had his hand raised, making him an instant household name in Thailand. But things really took off the following year when promoters matched him against many of the big names of the time.
In 1991, Dekkers fought the likes of Santiennoi Sor Rungroj, Sombat Sor Thanikul, Sakmongkol Sithchuchok and of course, Coban Lookchaomaesaitong. While he lost 3 out of his 5 fights at Lumpinee, he was the first foreigner to beat the kingdom’s top fighters at their game.
It was the same period that the Thai media dubbed Dekkers as the “Turbine from Hell” (Thai: ไอ้กังหันลมนรก) for his high-octane style and hard punches.
Dekkers has already attained stardom and success on the world stage at this point. But probably what caused him to leap to the level of a superstar, especially in Muay Thai, was when he collided against Thai star Coban Lookchaomaesaitong in a series of legendary fights.
Between 1991 and 1993, Dekkers and Coban went to war a total of four times. The rivalry of these two legends became one of the most renowned and greatest in the history of Muay Thai.
In their first meeting in April 1991, Coban prevailed by knocking out Dekkers with a left hook. Dekkers returned the favor in their rematch when he also finished Coban courtesy of a highlight-reel knockout.
The third fight between the two rivals lasted the full five rounds and it was Coban who claimed the hard-earned decision. However, he was able to even up the score between them when he managed to claim victory in their fourth and final fight.
Many Muay Thai fans all over the world consider the series of fights between Dekkers and Coban to rank among the very best all-time.
Success in Thailand
One thing that truly made the Diamond stand out in the world of Muay Thai is the success that he was able to have in Thailand.
He went up against the very best that Thailand has to offer and went head to head with them and gave as good as he took. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re going up against some of the greatest Nak Muays ever.
But his indomitable spirit and determination, backed up by his skills and conditioning, allowed him to persevere and claim his own share of victories. By the time he retired, his record came up to 186 wins in 224 fights appearances, with a solid stat of 95 KO victories.
Not only was Dekkers able to win in Thailand against some of the top Thais, but he was also able to receive the support and admiration of the people. Although he never did win a Lumpinee belt, they showered him with the respect that few Western fighters were able to enjoy in previous years.
In a sense, he opened the door for more Western fighters to come and compete in Thailand. Conversely, he also opened the minds of a lot of Thais to finally accept more foreign fighters to their fold.
In fact, Dekkers was recognized not just by ordinary Thai fight fans, but the Thai Royal family.
He received a royal award in January of 2013 on the occasion of the 85th birthday of the King of Thailand (King Rama IX) in recognition of his services to the art of Muay Thai.
In addition to that, he was also hailed as the ambassador of all foreign fighters in Thailand, an honor that he held dear and was very proud of.
Ramon Dekkers was a fighter known for his aggressive and exciting fighting style. He always displayed incredible toughness and determination in each and every fight that he participated in. So imagine the shock of everyone in the combat sports world when he died at the relatively young age of 43.
A month after receiving the royal award, Dekkers passed away at that young age on February 27, 2013. He was said to be riding a bicycle in his hometown of Breda. The reported cause of death was myocardial infarction (heart attack).
The Diamond might have left this world early, but his achievements and memory live on. He achieved so much on top of the ring as a true warrior who fought some of the greatest warriors of his era.
However, Dekker’s true legacy is perhaps the fact that he competed against the Thai legends on equal terms in their own art and in Thailand no less. And to top it all off, he earned the respect and admiration of both the Thai warriors and the Thai public alike.
Dekkers inspired a new generation of foreign Muay Thai fighters, paving the path for those who arrived -and continue to arrive- in Thailand to build a name in the sport. Everyone from John Wayne Parr, Damien Trainor, and Liam Harrison, all cite Dekkers as a major influence and inspiration.
That is what separates the Diamond from everyone else – truly the greatest Muay Farang to have ever competed in Thailand!
Photos source: Ramon Dekkers: In Memoriam Facebook Page