Muay Thai Champions

How big is Muay Thai in Thailand? If you’re sitting down in a bar, pub, or streetside watering hole in Thailand, expect to watch tons of Muay Thai much like you would football in Europe. Much like football legends, Muay Thai champions are revered as heroes who not only defined the sport with their skill but also as entertainers who captured the hearts of Thais.

This is by no means a definitive list, but here are our picks for some of the most legendary Muay Thai champions and fighters in no particular order.

1.) Buakaw Banchamek (บัวขาว บัญชาเมฆ) – the White Lotus that hasn’t wilted in over 30 years

Image credit: @buakaw1 via Instagram

Buakaw is perhaps the most internationally recognized Muay Thai fighter in the modern era. He has been an active fighter for over 30 years, and has only decided to bow out of kickboxing in Thailand this year at age 41. 

In addition to his incredible prowess in the ring, one of the reasons he is so well known internationally is that many of his fights were abroad with the Japan-based K-1, China-based Kunlun Fight, or even in Europe.

2.) Saenchai (แสนชัย) – the giant slayer with a penchant for showmanship

Image credit: @saenchaithailand via Instagram

Saenchai is perhaps the most dominant Muay Thai fighter in the modern era. While many may get blinded by his cartwheel kick, his true dominance lies in his unbelievable technical skills. 

He is often praised for creating his own style that fits his unique strengths, by mixing in bits of Muay Boran. 

His mental warfare through various taunts and antics are also huge crowd pleasers. 

But what is most impressive is that Saenchai would often go up against fighters who were not only taller than him, but also heavier. Despite those disadvantages, he would still come out on top. 

3.) Sagat Petchyindee (สกัด เพชรยินดี) – the fighter immortalized in Street Fighter

Image credit: @samartpayakaroon via Instagram

Street Fighter fans might recognize the name Sagat as the primary antagonist of the first Street Fighter game. But did you know that this video game Muay Thai practitioner is possibly based on a real fighter?

Sagat Petchyindee shares his name with the famous character as well as his skill. Although there has been no official confirmation, many think Sagat’s fame from his time in Japan inspired the video game developers. 

One of Sagat’s most famous stories is his quickest KO, which clocked in at only 4 seconds.

4.) Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn (ดีเซลน้อย ช.ธนสุกาญจน์) – the “Sky-piercing Knee”

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The “Sky-piercing Knee” (ขุนเข่าทะลุฟ้า) is a fearsome nickname for a Muay Thai fighter. Despite its very clear warning about his knee, many of his opponents still found it difficult to counter Dieselnoi’s incredible kneeing ability. 

His knee skills may have been partly due to his incredible height at almost 190cm. His height also made him seem awkward in the ring, but that feeling quickly went away once he started fighting.

He was so dominant in his career that he was ultimately forced to hang up his gloves after he literally ran out of opponents to fight.

5.) Samart Payakaroon (สามารถ พยัคฆ์อรุณ) – hailed as the Muhammad Ali of Thai boxing

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Samart is one of the contenders for the best Muay Thai fighter of all time. Part of this is due to his mystique as a lot of his fights are lost forever because of when he was active. 

What little footage remains showcases an impressive display of evasive footwork that is reminiscent of Muhammad Ali. 

While many fighters on this list are known for their technical mastery or their brutal strength, Samart is much more well-known for his intelligence. This was something he needed to do because he had smaller lungs than his counterparts. 

He would often use the teep (ถีบ), a powerful push kick, to create distance. He’d then use that distance and his footwork to lure his opponents into his range while remaining safe. 

In addition to multiple prestigious national titles like the Lumpinee Stadium champion, Samart was also the World Boxing Council World Super Bantamweight Champion in 1986.

6.) Rodtang Jitmuangnon (รถถัง จิตรเมืองนนท์) – the Tank

Image credit: @rodtang_jimungnon via Instagram

Rodtang is one of the two fighters still in his prime on this list, at 26 years old. His name literally means tank and it is a fitting nickname. 

If you’ve seen clips of Rodtang, you’ve no doubt seen him take absolutely huge hits straight to his face and jaw and shake them off as if they were nothing. His remarkable endurance and durability no doubt puts fear into his opponents as he slowly advances on them like Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movies.

His energy, showmanship, and durability has made him a crowd favourite.

7.) Tawanchai (ตะวันฉาย พี.เค.แสนชัยมวยไทยยิม) – a rising star known for his powerful kicks

Image credit: @tawanchay_pk via Instagram

Tawanchai P.K. Saenchai Muaythaigym is another young face to this list at only 24 years. If you’re wondering why his name is so long, that’s because it’s a tradition in Thailand for Muay Thai fighters to change their last name to the name of their gym. 

This young fighter is a legend in the making. He’s known for his powerful kicks that have knocked blocking opponents to their knees.

8.) Nai Khanom Tom (นายขนมต้ม) – a mythical figure hailed as the father of Muay Thai

Image credit: เกร็ดประวัติศาสตร์ via Facebook

Nai Khanom Tom is a historical figure that most Thais only know from the history books. While there are disputes over whether this story is true or how embellished it may be, Nai Khanom Tom’s story still serves as an inspiration for many Muay Thai fighters today.

The legend goes that when the Burmese Empire conquered Ayutthaya in the mid-1700s, Nai Khanom Tom was taken as a prisoner of war. The Burmese King wanted to see Siam’s Muay Boran, so he pitted Nai Khanom Tom against the Burmese boxing champion. 

Nai Khanom Tom performed the traditional Wai Kru pre-fight ritual and proceeded to win against the Burmese boxer. The results of that fight were nullified because of accusations that the Wai Kru ritual was black magic. But then the Siamese boxer proceeded to beat 9 additional Burmese fighters thus earning the respect of the Burmese king.

This is why Nai Khanom Tom is often considered the father of Muay Thai.

Enjoy these Muay Thai champions and legends

As the national sport of Thailand, Muay Thai has a special place in Thai hearts. Many Thais will know the names of these Muay Thai champions and stars from the time they watched these matches from little box tvs that have so much static you’d get shocked from touching it. 

For more Muay Thai stories, here’s when Buakaw agreed to teach an American boy, when he taught the US Army troops, and when a French boxer’s boxing tattoo made for an embarrassing story.

Cover image adapted from: and @samartpayakaroon via Instagram

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