Highlights of some of the successful Muay Thai camps in Thailand during the golden era.
These gyms were “bare bones” gyms in Bangkok. They didn’t have any fancy training equipment; just the basic necessities needed to produce some of the greatest fighters that ever lived.
Location: Klongsarn district, Bangkok.
Fighters: Chamuekpet Chochamuang (Hapalang), Jack Kiatniwat (Aichang Tokmun), Jock Kiatniwat, Kengkajnoi Kiatniwat, Khaokho Galaxy, Khaosai Galaxy, Choocherd Auesampan.
Location: Bangkapi, Bangkok.
Fighters: Chatchainoi Chaorai-Oi, Prakonglek Dejrat, Sakaoduen Dejrat, Chatpol Dejrat, Inseedam Dejrat, Promlikit Boonroj.
Location: Huaykwang, Bangkok.
Fighters: Mawin Lukerajwit and SangdaoLukerajwit.
Fighters: Xuan Jin Hwa, Lau Gin Ngai (Hongkongers).
Location: Air Force Gym, Donmuang, Bangkok.
Fighters: Wanpadet Puukrongfah and Jongdee Puukrongfah.
Golden Era vs Modern Era
Fans often get accused of being nostalgic when talking about the history of their sport who often refer to a “golden era” – a period of time when standards were highest.
In Muay Thai, the golden era is said to be between the mid-eighties to early-nineties. But why? Did the Muay Thai camps produce the best fighters during this time? What was different back then and what has changed?
In my opinion, this era produced the most elite Thai boxers in history. To start with, there were more fighters competing overall during the golden era than there is today due to the fact that there is less incentive for kids to fight for money nowadays. Education is more accessible and other types of work are more prevalent in Thailand than they used to be. Also, football (soccer) has gained a lot of popularity since then and, to a lot of kids, kicking a football about is more appealing than getting punched in the face. The numbers just aren’t there anymore which means there is less competition for fighters in their gyms and at the stadiums. Therefore, fighters have much less chance of developing into the type of elite fighters they used to.
If a Thai boy with bags of athletic talent walks into a gym these days he is less likely to realise his full potential than if he did so 30 years ago. There are less elite Thai fighters for him to train with and less elite Thais to compete with. Additionally, we now have an influx of foreigners training at most of the camps which means that our Thai boy is now clinching with Joe Bloggs who has been training for 6 months rather than tussling with top fighters who are going to help him improve.
Many camps nowadays are more interested in training paying foreigners than training up Thai boys. It makes sense; the foreigners are much easier to manage than Thai fighters and it’s quick and easy money. It takes years to build champions from scratch and the majority of boys will never reach the highest level so the gym doesn’t always make its money back.
So, although there are hundreds of new camps opening up all over Thailand, most of these (especially the ones on the islands) are not traditional Muay Thai camps and they are not producing elite fighters; they are training foreigners.
The worrying thing is, it’s not just the camps on the islands that are changing the way they train to suit foreigners – even the gyms in Bangkok are being commercialised to suit the needs of paying customers. Some of these gyms or “schools” are just as fake as the ones in Phuket and Samui. Gym owners have started to realise that it’s a lot easier to meet the needs of foreigners than to invest time and money into the youth and potentially reap no rewards from doing so.
So, although it may seem that the sport is growing, the art is being lost. Will we ever see golden era standards again? Never.