Muay Thai legend Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex takes to the ONE Championship stage for the second time this Friday at their ‘Destiny of Champions’ event in Kuala Lumpur in a headlining Super Series Muay Thai featherweight bout against promotional debutant, Australia’s Luis Regis.
Fox Sports Asia spoke exclusively to the man known as ‘The Boxing Computer’ or Yod to his friends, at his home gym, Fairtex Training Center in the coastal resort town of Pattaya, Thailand.
His organisational debut in May saw him pick up a decision win over Chris Ngimbi, and like that fight, this Friday’s event will see the icon fighting Muay Thai in an MMA cage in much smaller MMA gloves, which can often result in more knockout power and more decisive fights. Luis Regis may only have 25 wins to Yodsanklai’s 200, but has already won a WFO World Title, IKBF Commonwealth Title, and WMC Australian Title.
“It’s always dangerous with small gloves, but unless I am careless and get caught, I anticipate winning this match,” Yodsanklai told us.
He has trained at Fairtex since 2005, and alongside company founder Philip Wong and his son and GM Prem Busarabavonwongs, is one of the faces of the gym and their famous Muay Thai and combat sports apparel brand, known the world over for high quality and durability.
How is life and training at Fairtex Training Center? “Life at Fairtex is good,” Yod explained. “They have a very good facility and good equipment. Training is hard there. Twice a day, 6 days a week. They really push you.”
2018 has seen a number of Fairtex fighters signing with ONE Championship’s new Muay Thai and kickboxing Super Series divisions, including Yod’s sparring partner Saemapetch Fairtex and newly-crowned ONE Super Series Kickboxing Atomweight World Champion, Stamp Fairtex.
Like many Muay Thai greats, including his peers, Buakaw and Saenchai, Yodsanklai hails from Isan, Thailand’s northeastern region, a large rural heartland and the source of much of the nations’ Muay Thai fighters and fans. And like most Muay Thai fighters, he started training and competing in childhood, eight in his case, chasing the earning opportunities that are rarely available to most men from the poorest region in the country.
However, few fighters make it to the pinnacle of the sport, the most prestigious belts being those from Bangkok’s Lumpinee Stadium, with Yodsanklai winning a Lumpinee flyweight belt in 2001 at just 16 years old, and then a welterweight belt in 2005.
As well as two Lumpinee belts Yod has gone on to claim titles with the WBC, WMC, Lion Fight, Thai Fight and many more. We asked him what he considered to be his finest accolade. Surprisingly, he responded, “I am most proud of my success at The Contender Asia.”
It was in 2008 that Yodsanklai achieved international stardom when he appeared as a contestant on AXN’s ‘The Contender Asia’ TV series. Based on the US boxing series’ The Contender’, the reality show saw sixteen contenders from around the world, including Australian great, John Wayne Parr, living and training together in Singapore, and competing in various challenges and tournament bouts. It was possibly the most high-profile international TV series ever made about Muay Thai, and promised “the highest prize money ever to be paid out in the sport of Muay Thai.”
In the fifteenth and final episode, the series culminated in a grand finale between Yodsanklai and John Wayne Parr. The epic showdown went to the final bell, but it was the super confident young Yod that walked away with the decision, his second victory over Parr, the US$150,000 prize money and a new global fanbase.
In case you’re wondering, the IWE in his name for his ONE fights comes from IWE Gym in Kunming, China, where Yodsanklai now spends part of the year training and helping to promote his country’s national sport in the People’s Republic. What are the differences in training and lifestyle in China to Thailand?
“I train at my own pace in China,” Yod tells us, “but at IWE they provide a cardio coach. Life in China is not as convenient. Getting around, speaking the language, knowing what food to get, and so on. These are all little inconveniences that I don’t face in Thailand. Of course I’m biased, but the food is also better in Thailand, and my family and friends are in Thailand. China can also get cold, but it never really gets cold in Thailand where I’m at.”
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Many promoters and fans that have always dreamed of seeing Yod face off against the sport’s biggest name Buakaw Banchamek, with both men usually fighting at welterweight and Buakaw being just three years older than him.
Fans had hoped that the two might meet under the Kunlun Fight banner which he and Buakaw were both fighting under from 2015 to 2017. Despite Yod defeating big names such as Marat Grigorian under their kickboxing ruleset, the two did not meet in the ring.
Another Chinese organisation, MAS Fight, recently announced Yodsanklai would be fighting Buakaw in 2019. However, fans will have to keep on dreaming a little longer as Yodsanklai put the rumours to bed, telling us, “This is the first I’ve heard about this. I don’t know MAS, and they haven’t even approached me about fighting Buakaw in 2019.”
Is there anyone else out there that the highly-decorated 33-year-old would like to face off against? “I don’t like to call any fighters out. I’m going to leave that up to ONE Championship.”
So what other ambitions does one of the top talents of his generation have for the future? “Eventually I’d like to own my own gym and train new and upcoming fighters. That would be my first choice, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy to work as a trainer overseas.”
For now, another victory at ONE Championship on Friday night will certainly put The Boxer Computer on the road towards claiming yet another belt for his collection.