Updated 24th April 2020 with the top Thai fighters of the past year(s)
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’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. He can be seen at Rajadamnern and ONE championship. He also now runs his own Sathian Muay Thai Gym located in Bangkok.
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 with the signature big kicks of Kiatmoo9 gym.
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 is following his peers to compete on international promotions. He has appeared on 3 Yokkao shows (held in UK and Hong Kong) and signed a contract for ONE Super Series since 2018.
Rodtang is the next big thing out of the famed Jitmuangnon camp.The 21 year-old is a 2-time Omnoi Stadium champion, and current ONE Championship Muay Thai champion. He is best known for his hard hands and lungs of steel.
Nicknamed “The Tank” by media, the 167cm fighter may be short in stature but has been known to run over his opponents in the ring.
He went on an 11-fight winning streak in Thailand, beating the likes of Seksan Or Kwanmuang and Yodlekpet before a decision-loss to Kaonar PKSaenchaiGym in February 2020.
In 2018, Rodtang made his Japan debut when he took on kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa. The Thai fighter lost the fight in a highly controversial 6-round match that went into an extra round.
He returned to Japan again in November the same year, dominating his opponent to reclaim his honor with an unanimous decision.
Rodtang made his ONE debut in September 2018, fighting his way to clinch the Flyweight world title with two convincing defense against UK’s Jonathan Haggerty. At just 22, he remains the one to watch for the coming years.
Muangthai PK Saenchai Gym
Fighting out of the renowned living legend, Saenchai’s very own PK Saenchai Gym, Muangthai is one of my personal favorites 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.
Like many of his peers, Muangthai has signed on with ONE Super Series but the elite stadium is where his style shines.
Neunglanlek is the man of the year for 2019, winning 7 out of his 8 stadium appearances with 4 ending by way of knockout.
Using his effective style mixing hard elbows and knees, the 24-year-old bested top names of the moment including Yodlekpet, Kulabdam, and Muangthai each two times over the last year.
Neunglanlek also holds wins over the best of elites like Yodlekpet, Muangthai, and Kulabdam. No easy feat at all.
For his outstanding performance, Neunglanlek received Fighter of the Year award from, Siam Keela, Boxing Sports Reporters Association, Wan Muay Thai Awards, and Lumpinee Stadium. He also received Fight of the Year award in his smasher with Kulabdam.
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 Punch Destroyer was crowned Siam Sports boxer of the year in 2018 and if you want to watch a good brawl, he is the one to look out for.
Tawanchai PK Saenchai Gym
Tawanchai was the man of the year (2018) and one of the brightest stars of my 2019 picks for the list.
The PK Saenchai fighter picked up the coveted Sports Authority of Thailand award together with the Lumpinee stadium fighter of the year award for his outstanding results in 2018. His career was at an all-time peak.
Tawanchai is an highly technical fighter with great teeps and precise timing. The agile athlete has not been knocked out in over 100 fights until his eventual KO loss to China’s Jia Aoqi at the Wu Lin Feng world cup semi-finals in January 2020.
Since the loss, Tawanchai has remained low-key but the 21-year-old remains one of my top picks for this list. He will be back at the top.
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 23 years of age with a fight record of 268 fights, 226 wins 38 losses and 4 draws. It would be interesting to see if he can take his career further into his 30s.
Panpayak shares his time between Rajadamnern Stadium, ONE Championship as well as Thai Fight. As he transitions fully to the international scene, it will be interesting to see how far he can take his femur style.
His younger brother and fellow campmate, Kiewpayak Jitmuangnon is also one to watch for.
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.