What would happen if two of the world’s greatest technicians – Samart Payakaroon and Saenchai – faced off? When looking at the greatest fighters of all time, these are the two names that normally sit at the top of people’s lists.
Their achievements in the sport are incredible with eight Lumpinee titles and seven Fighter of the Year Awards between them, and almost three decades of dominance in the top stadiums of Bangkok.
Samart was a dominant figure in the seventies and eighties Muay Thai scene and is widely regarded as the greatest Muay Thai fighter of all time. Let’s look at some of his major achievements in Muay Thai;
105 lb Lumpinee champion
108 lb Lumpinee champion
115 lb Lumpinee champion
126 lb Lumpinee champion
1981 Sports Writers Fighter of the Year
1983 Sports Writers Fighter of the Year
1988 Sports Writers Fighter of the Year
Samart also fought 23 times in western boxing and won the WBC boxing title in 1986.
Saenchai came after Samart and was considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world from around 1999 until he stopped fighting elite-level opponents in 2014.
115lbs Lumpinee champion
118lbs Lumpinee champion
130lbs Lumpinee champion
135lbs Lumpinee champion
1999 Sports Writers Fighter of the Year
2008 Sports Writers Fighter of the Year
Power & Speed
There are a whole load of physical and technical attribute that we could judge these two fighters on but I just chose a few that were most relevant to their styles.
The first area for analysis is power and speed. Saenchai was the quicker athlete in that he had quicker footwork and kicking ability and was much more mobile than Samart.
When it comes to power, I think Samart takes it, especially when you consider the KO power he had in his hands. Saenchai definitely had KO power, but his style didn’t require him to use it, nor would it have benefitted him to use any kind of aggressive approach – he beat his opponents using speed and superior technical skill.
Both fighters are known for their excellent defensive and evasive techniques.
Samart had phenomenal head movement and never really relied on quick feet – his feet were reserved for acting as a platform from which to launch his knockout punches.
Saenchai’s evasiveness was more holistic and involved foot and upper body movement more so than head movement – these movements were used as a basis for executing his kicks as counters.
Keys to Victory
The thing that Samart is significantly more skilled in than Saenchai is boxing. He had a lot of KO power in his hands which is something Saenchai has never had. In that respect, they are very different fighters.
Saenchai was a well-rounded fighter with no real stand-out skills – he was good at everything. If there ever was a “weakness” in his game then you could say it was his boxing. However, if a fighter uses his other skills to his advantage and doesn’t need to utilise one of his weaker weapons then, in my opinion, it isn’t a weakness. Other than the one KO loss against Thongchai when Saenchai was 15 years old, I don’t believe he has ever lost a fight due to punches which is testament to his overall game.
I think Saenchai’s main advantage in this hypothetical situation would be his slick footwork which he used to deceive his opponents and lead them into traps.
Samart – Use teeps to goad Saenchai into applying forward pressure and hit him with punches on the inside.
Saenchai – Stay out of range and throw middle/low kicks while looking to pick up Samart’s teep for the sweep.
Now that we’ve compared the fighters on face-value, let’s dig a little deeper.
Firstly, we need to consider the era in which these two fighters were active, who their opponents were and, most importantly, what level their opponents were. Samart was active (and dominant) during the golden era which is said to be mid-eighties to early nineties, or there or thereabouts.
The fighters competing during this time were of a higher level than the fighters competing in the stadiums of Bangkok nowadays. There are many reasons for this such as the rise of other sports, TV coverage and poverty (read more about the golden era vs modern era) but the point is Samart was facing tougher challengers during his reign as Lumpinee champ than Saenchai was. It would seem that Saenchai eased past even the most experience and technical of fighters Thailand has to offer, but were they as skillful as Samart’s oponents?
Another thing that needs to be considered when making a comparison between these two greats is the weight they fought at. Saenchai is renowned for fighting above his optimal weight class to make fights more challenging and only lost two fights between 2003 and 2014 when him and his opponent weighed-in at the same weight. So, although his opponents may not have been on par with Samart’s, Saenchai almost always had a weight disadvantage and still eased past the best Thais in Bangkok.
Longevity is another factor that must be examined. Having begun fighting at the age of ten in 1972, Samart made his way to Bangkok six years later and won his first Lumpinee title within the first two years of fighting in the prestigious stadium. Three Lumpinee titles later and a total of 150 fights saw Samart’s retirement from the sport.
Although Samart’s career was a respectable length compared to most Thai fighters’, Saenchai’s is nothing short of remarkable. He started fighting at the age of eight, won his first Lumpinee title at 16 and went on to dominate the sport for the next 15 years, retiring from top-level bouts in Thailand in 2014.
The mark of a great champion is consistency. There are plenty of fighters throughout history who were great but didn’t continuously mix it with the best fighters around and come out on top year after year. Chatchai Paiseetong is one name that comes to mind when talking about incredibly talented fighters that didn’t stay at the top for a long stretch. Mike Tyson is another example from boxing.
Although they are both classed as muay femeu fighters, Saenchai and Samart had very different skill-sets and, as a consequence, had very different fighting styles.
Any potential weaknesses they may have had were compensated for by an area of strength which made them seem like perfectly balanced fighters. Perhaps that was the secret to their success?
Finally, it’s important to remember that we don’t have footage of Samart in his prime – all of the footage available is from the late eighties after Samart returned to muay Thai from a career in western boxing. Because of this, it’s difficult to see exactly why most of the Thais think that Samart is the greatest of all time.
However, I’m reluctant to come to any type of conclusion about a fighter’s ability until I have seen the evidence with my own eyes. We are extremely lucky to have tons of footage of Saenchai fighting in the top Thai stadiums to analyse.
The way I see it, with Saenchai’s ability to toy with his opponents and grind out points victories, Samart would struggle to win this on points and would need to get the KO via punches. With both fighters in their prime, would Samart have the ability to KO the elusive Saenchai? In my opinion, the answer is no.
I’m going with Saenchai over five rounds.