Grace & Destruction: Saenchai- The P4P King
There are few people who would choose to step into the ring with a Muay Thai tiger who has mauled 350+ men. Those who do and subsequently come out the other side know him by a single name, because a tiger doesn’t need more than one. Those two syllables should strike fear into the heart of anybody so bold as to challenge him. He is Saenchai.
Born Suphachai Saenpong in Mahasarkham, Thailand, but now fighting out of Bangkok, he is the most decorated and successful nak muay who has ever set foot inside the squared circle. Delve into the brutal and spectacular style of this living legend.
Legacy: The Greatest Nak Muay Ever
Standing at only five-foot-five, Saenchai is in no way overwhelming in his stature nor demeanor. But his size conceals an outlandishly distinguished career as one of the most accomplished nak muay to ever live. He has won the Lumpinee Championship title- the most prestigious in Muay Thai -in four different weight divisions. Not only in four different weight divisions, but while fighting much larger opponents.
Saenchai is renowned as the best pound-for-pound Muay Thai fighter- and as one of the best fighters of all time. In 2009, he even took on two fighters in the same bout at Lumpinee Stadium – rounds one, two and three against Petchboonchu, and then four and five against Sakeddaow Petchpayathai. Saenchai was awarded the unanimous decision victory.In Thailand, he would often give up weight to find worthy opponents in Thailand. When your optimal weight is around 135 lbs., the flock of top-tier fighters is quite thin. He sometimes fights as high as 147 lbs., 15 pounds above his optimal weight class, because of the gap in skill.
Retiring from serious competition in Thailand in 2014, he now solely travels around the world competing against foreign fighters, having fought in 15 different countries 88 times – making him the single most active international fighter. He is the reigning king of Muay Thai – and could fell any opponent placed in front of him.
Approach: Big Things Come In Small Packages
Saenchai is small, quick and agile. It would make brilliant sense for him to work a lot of movement- slipping and getting good positioning to get the upper hand in a fight, because head-on confrontation could result in losing ground.
This is most certainly not how Saenchai fights.
Fighting southpaw, he works a lot of defense and kick catching, with strong dumps and sweeps. Using these he controls the ring, deciding when to strike but also when to let his opponent lead the dance. Employing a southpaw stance is a very bold move- and has proven to be incredibly effective. Orthodox fighters have their lead leg in line with their opponent’s rear leg. This means that any offensive kicks with the rear leg will be blocked easier with the defending lead leg.
Utilizing both southpaw and orthodox, along with his excellent defense and kick catches, Saenchai entices opponents to take “open” kicks, but then uses this to shut them down and execute a throw or a sweep. Saenchai is one of the only fighters to ever knock an opponent out with a throw, along with various other KOs from hard-hitting blows such as elbows and knees.
In Western bouts, a fight is all about landing scoring blows and either a TKO, KO or the judge’s decision based on who scored the most points. In Thailand, a fight is all about telling a story. Who’s more offensive? Who pushes more? If you have an open opportunity, do you take it or do you lull your opponent into a false sense of security and let them make a mistake? Taking a step back is seen as more than just bargaining for position- it’s a display of weakness. A step forward- a show of resilience. Instead of backing away from your opponent’s punches and kicks, you must power through to show that you can get as good as you give so to speak.
Style: Muay Femurs & The Art Of Performance
In terms of categorizing his style, Saenchai is a Muay Femur fighter. Instead of brute force and aggression, Muay Femurs use all the weapons of Muay Thai with precise and well thought-out technique. They draw huge crowds to stadiums, displaying poise and balance throughout the fight. Knowing went to attack and went to retreat, as well as how to adapt to their opponent’s style, Muay Femurs will use their opponent’s tactics against them. Because of this, they like to keep distance and use long-range jabs, kicks and teeps to do this.
This is the style of fighting that Saenchai uses incredibly well, treating his bouts as a performance, not all-out war.
Here are a few other types of Muay Thai fighters. Note how their styles differ from Saenchai’s:
A fighter who specializes in heavy punches and crushing low kicks. In the ring, they charge forward looking to inflict a large amount of damage to their opponents, even if it means taking a lot in return and losing points as a result. They go for the knockout, pressuring opponents and putting them off balance with low kicks and heavy punches to the body. A good Muay Mat fighter focuses on wearing opponents down with punches and low kicks before landing a knockout punch to the chin.
This fighter employs deadly knee strikes to devastate opponents. Muay Khaos are incredibly adept at using raw power to manipulate opponents and work the clinch, controlling the opponent and overwhelming them with a barrage of knees to the abdomen, rib cage, solar plexus, thighs and head.
The deadly kick is a Muay Tae’s weapon of choice, using roundhouse kicks to the head, body, arms, and legs to devastate opponents and wear them out until they have no power left to fight back. With enough strength, these kicks have the ability to knock out one’s opponent in one shot, twisting the entire body to maximize torque.
As you progress in Muay Thai, you realise that your fighting style becomes more distinct each time you spar with a different opponent. A lifelong process that evolves with your technical prowess, strength and endurance. Embrace your strengths and find the style that feels most powerful in each of your eight limbs. Be like the water; free flowing and adaptable – not like the rock; stoic and immobile.
- Ben Evans is a 17-year-old Brit with a year of Muay Thai training under his belt. His experience in martial arts so far has inspired him to continuing learning and helping to teach others about the sport.