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Thai MMA has been on quite the journey over the past ten years, when the seeds of the sport were first planted in the country. From underground cage fights in the time of a national ban, to breaking onto largest stages of global Mixed Martial Arts, Thailand has seen its place in the sport shift wildly. All the while, striking enthusiasts have been waiting to see the elite level Muay Thai seen in the Kingdom make its way into mainstream MMA. Insiders may say that’s still far off, but a look at the state of the sport locally gives fans a lot to get excited about.
ONE Championship is Asia’s premier MMA promotion, and a natural benchmark for success in the region. For young Thais in the sport, ONE is a lofty but realistic goal to pursue. The promotion’s roster has no shortage of high profile Thai fighters, with the likes of Shannon Wiratchai and Stamp Fairtex impressing with their performances in the cage and endearing fans with open, unique personalities outside. Then there’s Muay Thai veteran Dejdamrong Sor Amnnuaysirichoke, who captured Thailand’s first MMA world title in ONE Championship.
In addition to the Thai fighters in the organization, ONE has been bringing high level Mixed Martial Arts events to the country. In 2016, arguably the peak year for the sport’s growth in Thailand, ONE held its first show in Bangkok. Previously resigned to flying to the more traditional MMA markets in Asia, Thailand’s top fighters could finally compete at home. In the four years since then, there has been nine ONE Championship cards in Thailand, all featuring local fighters. In 2020, despite COVID leaving athletes unable to compete globally, ONE looks ready to storm back in Thailand. The easing of restrictions and wealth of fighters in the country has given the promotion a unique opportunity, and in response they’ve planned six shows in Bangkok between July and September. With the combat sports world still in lockdown, that means all eyes are on Thailand. Feeding The Sport The spotlights of global promotions are vital for the growth of Thai MMA, but it’s the feeder organizations that have been laying the foundations of the sport for the past decade. There’s been several attempts at smaller MMA promotions in Thailand, but those still going strong are Thailand Fighting Championship in the islands to the south, and Bangkok based Full Metal Dojo. With six and eighteen past events respectively, featuring ONE, Rizin, Deep, and UFC veterans, both provide an opportunity for Thai amateurs and new professionals.
It should come as no surprise that COVID has been a setback for these organizations, with events being postponed and cancelled during the four month lockdown. However, with restrictions being lifted, both promotions have hinted at a return before year’s end. Given the difficulty of international travel, expect Thai fighters to be prominently featured.
At The Highest Level The UFC
Is the unquestioned elite of Mixed Martial Arts. In 2019, Loma Lookboonmee brought Thai MMA its most important milestone, becoming the first Thai in the promotion. Exhibiting the clinch heavy Muay Thai style her country is famous for and a rapidly developing ground game, Loma looks poised to bring success and international attention to the sport in Thailand going forward.
Her teammates are also signs of the sport’s growth in Thailand. Though not Thai nationals, the UFC currently has three Thailand trained champions in Valentina Shevchenko, Petr Yan, and Alexander Volkanovski. All three are products of Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket. The string of dominant performances put on by the three in their respective title runs has brought mainstream attention to a fact well known by athletes and fans in the country. Though still catching up to some of its ASEAN neighbors in terms of homegrown success, Thailand offers some of the highest level training in the world.
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