Here’s a very interesting interview with muaythai legend and gym owner Samart Payakaroon. My translations are NOT perfect and I missed a few things, but I hope you get the jist of the interview and the current problems being faced in Thailand at the moment and Samart’s bleak outlook for the future of Muaythai in Thailand.

Even though some people choose to believe the muaythai world in Thailand is a utopia with no issues and everything is perfect, well it’s not. Like in the west, they have their own issues and obstacles. Some can even argue that these are even greater than the ones we face in our own countries.

It’s a long read but its a quick job. Cheers

Samart Payakaroon discusses why Muaythai has fallen from the pride of Thailand to just another sport. He discusses his issues with the current scoring system in the Thailand and why he believes it’s causing fans to turn away from the sport.

Samart says he’s hasnt been to watch the fights in many years. I only go to watch the fights where my fighters fight. But when he watches some of the other fights, he looks and thinks “this boxers winning, but how come the odds are in favour of the other boxer?”  It’s like I don’t even understand myself.  Even some of my boxers don’t understand it. All the boxers who used to come to watch the art have disappeared. Because when they go to watch, they’re like me. Why does a boxer who’s landed all these kicks, punches, etc… then fall once and lose? All the fans have disappeared, it’s only the gamblers now. All the old boxers and fans like myself have all gone. I don’t see any of them any more, just all the new guys that I don’t even know. Do they give it to the stronger boxer? Do they award for the full range of techniques and beautiful shots? To win you don’t worry about these any more, just strength. I don’t think the judges even know but I think it’s just based on the odds of the gamblers.

An example is if a boxer in the blue lads a lot of kicks in 3 rounds, but the other boxer from the bigger camp doesn’t land anything, but waits for the odds and then in the 4th just lands a few shots, takes him down, then the odds sky rocket. Then the previous 3 rounds of the blue boxer have just disappeared and don’t mean anything. I’ll put it straight that I really just don’t know how the judges awards points any more.

He’s concerned that the current scoring system favours the strong clinchers rather than the technical boxers and fears the old style of Muaythai will disappear. He also discusses the decline in purses and attendance through the gates at Thai stadiums. It’s hurting the fighters who are really only getting 30-40k THB which has to be split with the gyms otherwise the gyms.

He puts some of the blame on the promoters controlling the direction of the sport. It’s also causing the disappearance of the smaller country gyms. Samart says that he thinks in the future the sport will be controlled overseas, as foreigners are passionate about the sport, and even more passionate about the culture which some Thai’s don’t even care about anymore.

All the top bigger boxers all to fight overseas now. It’s really difficult to match the top boxers at 150lb + and it’s just easier to match them with westerners. He scared what will happen and can’t guarantee what will happen in the next 10 years. He predicts a lot of muaythai shows will simply move overseas. To get the bigger foreigners to fight in Thailand its difficult because the purse is only 20-30k THB where as if they fight at home they receive 100k+ It only takes a few fight overseas for a Thai to get a good name, like Buakow 1M+, Saiyok, Yodsaenklai etc which can then push their purses above the 6-700k mark.

The country they believe is the scariest in the future is China. It’s getting harder to beat them. A lot of Thai’s are moving there to help them. They are promoting a lot of shows every month, and a lot of ex-boxers are moving there to become trainers.

Which then moves into the issues of rules overseas. A lot of the rules aren’t real muaythai rules. Some are abbreviations of the rules, like no elbows, 1 knee then break, etc… Kind of like K1.He wants all the Referees and Judges of all the stadiums to sit together to discuss, how to award points, what scores, and wants the gym owners to go and listen so they too can understand what the rules are. If it’s going to be just about strength and kneeing, then they will all go and clinch and the art will disappear.

Asked if there will be a problem if they all sit together to discuss he doesn’t think so, but the problem is there are different rules per different stadiums. It’s also very difficult for the judges as they know the odds and this effects decisions.

So who could sit with the referees and discuss this? Samart? Could the sports authority of Thailand do it? “Yes, it should be them.” He thinks the Sports Authority should dictate to referees how to score and how points are awarded.

Poptheeratham isn’t really a small gym, but we use it to teach anyone who comes all of the weapons and the art of muaythai from basic upwards. If they want to fight, then we can sponsor them too. We’ve got boxers who fight all over the world, Italy, France, china, etc…

For small gyms though it’s difficult to get fights overseas. The promoters don’t know the small gyms, they always go to the big gyms first. Where there are strong boxers who already go to fight overseas regularly.

Samart says it’s not a matter of 10 years but it will only be a few years until these smaller gyms disappear. The other concern is that so many of the good teachers are now themselves moving overseas to open their own gyms and become trainers there. They are getting paid well, we even have 3-4 of our own and they are getting paid 30-40k THB. Little gyms don’t have enough to keep them. Here they get 3-4k THB, if they move overseas and they are famous some get as much as 100k.

If the smaller gyms die, where will the strong boxers come from and what will happen to muaythai? If there’s only 5 or so gyms that keep fighting each other, and no smaller gyms to fight with them, if we go to fight with westerners we simply won’t be able to beat them!

The problem is overseas they don’t give points for strength, for muaythai technique, they give points for the fighter who is the busiest! When I’ve seen Thai’s go overseas to fight I’ve thought that they were cheated, but it’s not the case. They simply give points for strikes thrown, but at home its more on the stronger effect strikes. Overseas they don’t even look at the strikes or the strength of the strikes. If they throw 4-5 punches or kicks, they’re busier and they’re rewarded.

The other problem is no one is helping each other push forward and improve. The gyms are just saying, “just keep it the same, it’s easier”. No one’s helping. They’re helping the boxers become more independent or “free”. In the past, I was with Sityodtong, if I was to change gyms, I couldn’t. But now, if a boxer isn’t feeling a gym, they go home for 3-4 months, and then look for somewhere else. They don’t miss their trainers or gyms that they’ve been with for 8+ years! Even though they’ve been there from a kid, if the other gym’s giving more money, they change. The rules are helping the boxers, but not the bosses. They need to listen to the gym bosses as well. It’s not like the gyms have had these fighters for 3-4 months, they’ve had them since they were only kids! Then once they become big and around 19-20, they look to change to another gym. The rules say they can. They go home for 3-4 months and don’t train while we look for fights for them. Then after 5 months we can’t match them. The rules aren’t helping the gyms.

Then there is the problem with different promotions and not being able to share fighters. Samart has 3 boxers with one company, 3 boxers with another company. But the promoters don’t share them anymore. In the past the promoters could just ask and its ok. They weren’t fighting amongst each other so they could fight together. But now there’s only a few that work together and can organise Rajadamnern and Lumpinee fighters together. There are groups of promoters. This group has 3 or so promoters that can work together, and the other group has 3 or 4 promoters that can work together. And they don’t change.

Asked on the topic of “muay lom” or thrown fights, Samart says these days it’s difficult now. But if they are smart, it’s not so hard. Little things like grabbing the ropes can affect the odds. They can spit their mouthguard out and this can affect the outcome. So if a boxer wants to lose, they can simply spit out the mouth guard and lose. The same goes with a foul kick, if they do it, it’s a foul and the other boxer wins. There’s so many ways to do it if they are smart. So really, it’s not that hard as there’s so many other ways to do it.

So all of these issues, low attendance, rule changes, and thrown fights, where does it come from? From gambling. But it all comes down to the judges. And at the moment we are in a “deadlock”. The people of muaythai are not holding hands together, and in 10 years there may be no one going to watch muaythai. In 8-10 years there may even be only 100 people going to watch. A lot of gyms will disappear. I’m really worried.