The word "legend" gets thrown around a lot in fight sports, but Saenchai is a true living legend of Muay Thai. 40 years old this year and still kicking asses in the ring when others his age have long hung up their boxing gloves.
Every sport in the world and every generation has its own hero. We can all recall at least one such athlete who dominated the game like no one other. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Diego Maradona are just some of the most famous athletes who have become larger than life figures.
We have seen many talented fighters becoming great champions in the Muay Thai world of powerful kicks and sharp elbows. But for many people, there is only one king, and his name is Suphachai Saenpong or just Saenchai.
Saenchai Sor. Kingstar, aka Saenchai, is the most dominant fighter of our generation and perhaps in Muay Thai history. Saenchai fight record is also amazing. From the first moment he stepped inside the ring at the age of eight to the present day, Saenchai has been victorious in over 300 bouts. As a result, he is a national hero and perhaps the first Thai fighter to enjoy great popularity worldwide.
For over two decades, Saenchai has entertained and captured the hearts of an entire generation of Muay Thai fans and beyond. So what makes him one of -if not- the best Muay Thai fighters of all time?
Who is Saenchai?
Born as Suphachai Saenpong in 1980, the fighter is now known as Saenchai PKSaenchaimuaythaigym (in keeping with Thai tradition, the first is his ring name, the latter is his gym name) is unanimously and unquestionably considered one of the greatest Muay Thai fighters of all time. Many fight fans and pundits go a step further and declare him to be 'the Greatest of All Time', period.
After seeing his older brother, already a fighter, the budding prodigy started training at eight years old and came home with a trophy for winning. Saenchai wanted some shiny trophies of his own, so he joined the gym, turned out to be completely natural and had his debut fight just one week after first walking through the gym doors. He won and was paid 30 Thai Baht, less than one US dollar.
At 14 he was bought from his regional gym by a major Bangkok team. Then, at sixteen, he won his first Lumpinee Stadium title, and he repeated the feat two years later at the age of 18, moving up in weight as he did so. These were the first two of four Lumpinee titles he would win, an almost unprecedented feat.
Saenchai is almost indescribably good. His cat-like reflexes captivate audiences in the same way that the superhuman movement of Muhammad Ali did in his prime. Of course, comparisons with Ali are overused in fight journalism, but in this instance, it is apt; such instincts and reaction speed are extremely rare.
What makes all of this doubly remarkable is Saenchai's size. He has faced bigger opponents for the entirety of his career, literally almost every fight he has ever had. In Muay Thai, his matches generally had him giving up a minimum of two pounds against fellow Thais; against foreigners, he would give up twenty pounds or more and still win, such was the difference in skill level.
He is a unique talent, the kind which genuinely only emerges once in a lifetime. The art and sport of Muay Thai have a documented history going back centuries in Thailand, and with fighters being trained from their infant years, the skill level is high across the board. Most of the competitors are masters of the art in their own right, yet still, almost to a man, they will point to Saenchai as being the best of them: even among a galaxy of stars, he shines brighter than the rest.
He is actually credited with inventing the cartwheel kick. He says it was inspired by moves used in the Thai/South-East Asian game Sepak Takraw, or a kind of volleyball in which the ball is kicked instead of punched. Fighters worldwide have adopted it; UFC fans saw it in 2015 when welterweight Alan Jouban landed one flush on Matt Dwyer's neck and nearly stopped him. Afterwards, Jouban praised Saenchai as his inspiration and urged people to watch his fights.
In Thailand, the sport's top honour is to be crowned a champion at either Lumpinee or Rajadamnern, the two major stadiums in the capital city of Bangkok. The Lumpinee stadium is slightly the more prestigious of the two, and it was this belt that Saenchai won – in four different weight classes. He has also held titles from the World Muay Thai Council and the WBC's Muay Thai sanctioning body. Almost all of these were won and held above his natural weight, underlining his status as the sport's pound-for-pound king.
Now let's dissect Saenchai's professional career of over 2 decades and make an argument on why he is -or isn't- the greatest Muay Thai fighter of all time.
Saenchai began competing in Bangkok in 1996 and came into prominence not long after. He won his first elite title (Lumpinee champion 115lbs) in 1997.
Between 1996 to 2014, Saenchai amassed over 200 fights at the highest level. He captured the Lumpinee stadium title 5 times across three weight classes and was awarded the Sports Writer Fighter of the Year award in 1999 and 2008.
If you consider his fights before turning pro, Saenchai's record (as of writing) stands at 346 fights with 299 wins, 42 losses and 5 draws.
Most Thai fighters retire before or around 30. However, he has indicated the possibility of retiring at 35 and subsequently 40 in past interviews. Now at 40, Saenchai looks like he still has a few competitive years in him.
Between 2014 to 2019, Saenchai competed in a total of 68 bouts. This averages around 11-12 fights per year, fighting almost every month for 6 straight years in his 30's. This is unheard of in modern fight sports.
Although no longer competing at the elite level, he is still fighting up-and-coming foreign fighters half his age who have a physical advantage under being younger and fitter. In a sport as hard as Muay Thai, his longevity is simply unparalleled.
Reasons Why Saenchai Is The Greatest Muay Thai Legend In History:
He Has Fought And Beaten The Very Best
History has shown repeatedly that a fighter's legacy is not determined by the number of wins he has but by the quality of fighters he has beaten. Saenchai has beaten everyone there is to beat in the world of Muay Thai and kickboxing.
In fact, he has beaten every Lumpinee titleholder in and around his division for over a decade. These include legends like Singdam Kiatmuu9, Orono Wor Petchpun, Petchboonchu F.A. Group, Sagetdao Petpayathai, Attachai Por Samranchai and many more.
He Has Reigned At The Top For More Than A Decade
Very few fighters can say that they've stayed at the top of their sport for more than 10 years. On the other hand, fighters like Boxing's Muhammad Ali or MMA's Georges St. Pierre transcended greatness because of their ability to compete and the highest level for many years.
Saenchai has consistently reigned at the top of Muay Thai and kickboxing for more than a decade, beating the very best from before, during and after his era. Being named the Sports Writers of Thailand Fighter of the Year in 1999 and 2008 (almost a decade apart) proves this and just how great of a legend he is.
Saenchai Often Fights Against Bigger Opponents
The truth is, Muay Thai fighters are putting their lives on the line for glory and respect. But, instead of chasing money and fame, they care about winning the hearts of the people around the world. Saenchai earned his fearless reputation and the hearts of many people by fighting against much bigger opponents.
Saenchai is 5'4″ tall, and he fights around his walking weight of 135lbs. But over the years, he has literally cleaned his division, and many fighters are avoiding him. So, he began pursuing new challenges and facing the fighters above his weight class.
He Is Revered Across The Globe
Saenchai's style and abilities as a fighter have brought him fame and recognition not just in his home country of Thailand but to all corners of the world. He has held seminars in many countries around the world with huge turnouts.
His influence in standup striking has even reached the realm of Mixed Martial Arts, with many fighters adopting his signature techniques. A good recent example can be seen at UFC Fight Night 71 when Alan Jouban executed a beautiful cartwheel kick, which knocked down his opponent Matt Dwyer en route to a unanimous decision win.
In his post-fight interview, Jouban credited the Muay Thai legend, saying that he started practising the kick after watching Saenchai and urged the fans watching and the audience in attendance to start watching Saenchai's fights as well.
Saenchai Is Very Intelligent
The secret behind his success lies in the fact that Saenchai is a very smart fighter who knows how to keep himself out of trouble. Although he may look wild inside the ring, Saenchai is actually a master tactician. He has the unique ability to read the rival's actions and adapt his style in the middle of the fight. These skills separate average fighters from the very best ones.
His Accomplishments Are Amazing
Saenchai is one of the most dominant fighters in the history of Thai boxing. Thus, he has achieved a lot in the sport, and his successes are admirable. Quite simply, he has won all of the prestigious titles there are to win in Muay Thai.
Saenchai has spent the majority of his career competing in his native Thailand. As you would expect, he won the greatest fights and titles while competing at the Lumpinee and Rajadamner stadiums. He won the prestigious Lumpinee Stadium title an amazing five times. What's more, he achieved this by competing in four different weight classes.
He is one of the most active fighters in the world.
Saenchai is also one of the most active fighters in the world. His incredible defence has greatly limited the amount of damage he takes during a fight, allowing him to fight even up to two times a month. And the fact that he takes on elite or larger opponents on almost every occasion makes him all the more impressive.
He Represents The True Art Of Muay Thai
Though Muay Thai fighters are known around the world for their power, the true art of Muay Thai focuses on technique. As the late great Muay Thai Grandmaster Kru Yodtong Senanan once said, "A technical style is much more effective than brute strength. Fighters like Samart Payakaroon and Chartchai Sityodtong never used strength or power, and they used pure technique to beat almost everyone."
No other fighter today represents this philosophy more than Saenchai. Being the smaller fighter most of the time, Saenchai outsmarts and outwits his opponents with unwavering technique, counterattacks and trickery. But don't be fooled. He possesses enough power and precision to knock anyone out cold.
There Has Never Been A Fighter Like Him
Although the sport of Muay Thai has been around for centuries, it's safe to say that there's never been a fighter quite like Saenchai. And in terms of style, no one even really comes close. With uncanny skill, agility and footwork, Saenchai possesses one of the flashiest and trickiest styles of fighting out there. Anyone who has watched him fights knows just how entertaining and unique he is.
And just to give you an idea of how special he is, Saenchai is actually considered to be the inventor of the cartwheel kick. The kick, he claims, was based on a sport native to Southeast Asia called Sepak Takraw, or kick volleyball. The kick itself and its variations have since been adopted by several other great Muay Thai fighters and even MMA fighters!
He Shares His Knowledge With The World
Saenchai is one of the first Thai fighters to become very famous in the western world. Due to his exciting style, it's very easy to fall in love with him. So today, he is one of the most famous fighters in the world and a true legend of Muay Thai.
But unlike many champions, he remained humble and focused on promoting the right values. In recent years, he began using his great knowledge and fame to inspire young fighters. He has held many seminars in his native Thailand and all around the world.
The win at Thai Fight this past weekend puts the five-time Lumpinee Stadium champion on a total of 299 career victories over his 32 years competing at the highest level in Muay Thai. There's no denying that Saenchai has the right to be the greatest Muay Thai legend in history.
Frequently Asked Question About Saenchi
Saenchai retired from the elite circuit in 2014 at the age of 34 after a loss at Rajadamnern stadium against an up-and-coming Petchmorakot Wor Sangprapai. However, he's been undefeated ever since he transitioned fully to fighting foreigners with 55 straight wins to date.
Saenchai is one of the most active fighters in the world. Thus far, he has competed in over 345 kickboxing matches. He is actually competing twice a month on average. Further, he has 41 losses, and 5 draws on his record.
Saenchai was so unmatched in skill at one point in his career that many fighters in his natural weight class would not take up fights against him. Because of this, Saenchai ventured to the higher weight classes to seek high-level opponents who were much bigger, lengthier, and stronger.