Saenchai – from foe to friend. Fighting and training with the King of Muay Thai.

I get asked on a regular basis what it was like fighting Saenchai, or what it’s like training with him now at Yokkao Gym. So, I’m going to go into a bit of detail about both to give you an insight into our fights, training together and our friendship.

Our first fight now was around 11 years ago in London; Saenchai was in his prime around 27/28 years old and the King of the stadiums in Thailand. He’d not had too many International fights, but the ones he had had mainly ended in humiliation! I was only 21-22ish and had no fear; it was Saenchai’s first fight in the UK and was in London on Dan Green’s Legend promotion. The atmosphere was one of the best I have seen at any fight anywhere in the world; when we made our way to the ring, it was electric. At the time, I’d had about 45 fights, with about 40 wins and lots of KOs – so believed I could win 100 percent. The fight was exciting; it was even and ‘tit for tat’ right up until midway through the fourth round, when he used his craft and experience to pull away on the scorecards by having a big scoring round. He landed his trademark cartwheel kick in the first round and I even threw one back in round five, to his amazement. The fight was close but, in hindsight, I probably gave him just a little too much respect. After the fight, Saenchai personally came and gave me his fight shorts so I knew I had won his respect; I was happy even though I didn’t get the decision.

The rematch came about 18 months later. I knew how crafty and skilful Saenchai was and had no intention of letting this fight go the distance. Once again, this fight was in the UK and only half an hour from my hometown of Leeds, at the Doncaster Dome. I wanted to give the fight fans and all my friends a fight to remember, and they certainly got that! Saenchai was fighting around Europe more regularly now but he was still current Lumpinee champion in Thailand. This fight was an absolute war. I tried to stay clear of getting sucked into his games and really went to town with strong punches, elbows and low kicks; however, Saenchai himself is a great boxer and is unbeaten in professional boxing. He stood his ground and hurt me with some solid punches in the third round – just as he was going in for the kill I returned fire, stiffened his legs with a left hook, then cut him with an elbow. In round four, we both swept each other 2-3 times and I landed some more boxing and elbow combos. It had now come to my attention that, not only was he a technical genius, but one of the toughest men I’ve ever encountered. Although his eye was swollen and bloody he took all my best shots and stayed one-step ahead, with his amazing skill set, once again beating me on points. This was one of my favourite ever fights.

Our third fight was in Macau; I’d arrived in Thailand a week before flying out to Macau so hadn’t acclimatised properly and wasn’t over my jetlag. This time, there were two world titles on the line. I started well, and the first few rounds I landed solid punches, low kicks and a few elbows however, the fight was outdoors and after the third round my gas tank was empty – it was clear I hadn’t acclimatised enough to push the pace and Saenchai outscored me convincingly to win once again on points. I was disappointed in myself, but I had to accept that 3-0 was enough and I was beaten each time by a superior fighter who is an all time great; not only this we always had a drink together after the fights, had some fun times and became great friends.

Now our past wars are done with, I’m lucky enough to train alongside him at the Yokkao Gym in Bangkok; watching and learning from him is one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen. His fight IQ and technique are incredible; along with excellent timing, his eyes see everything! We often play spar when I’m there and he’s always one step ahead, often knowing exactly what I’m going to do before I’ve even started to throw it. What’s even better though is after he uses a technique on me, like a sweep or a takedown, he then takes the time to demonstrate what he’s just done so I can add this technique to my own arsenal. Sometimes he will watch me on the pads and correct subtle things where I’m going wrong; other times we will just have a laugh and a joke. I’m blessed to have shared the ring three times with this amazing fighter and even more blessed to now be able to learn from him and call him a friend.