So, I was on my first trip to Thailand – a planned 4 month trip, although it hadn’t gone to plan (never does) and I was left with barely enough cash to survive after two months. I also didn’t have enough money to change my air ticket to an earlier flight so I could get home. At the time, I was training at a muay Thai camp in Southern Thailand and living in a beach hut opposite the gym. I’d been there for about a week and I had received some pretty good training up until that point so I figured now would be a good time to become a sponsored fighter in Thailand…
I’ve been sponsored in a few gyms in Thailand and spent over a year travelling and fighting in Thailand and abroad. Most of that time was spent fighting and some was spent training other fighters. I cut lots of different deals with the gym owners and experienced some pretty crazy stuff. I’m going to talk you through exactly how you should go about becoming a sponsored fighter in Thailand, what the commonly asked questions are, what it entails, how to deal with problems you’ll come across, and what the benefits that come with it are.
What is a Sponsored Fighter in Thailand?
When I talk about being a sponsored fighter in Thailand, I’m talking about living as a Thai fighter does. The way it works in Thailand is that, when a Thai boy joins a muay Thai camp, his accommodation, food and training is all taken care of by the gym in exchange for the boy fighting for the gym about twice a month. The camp owner receives money from the boxing stadium promoters and takes a cut of the fighter’s purse. The owner and other trainers usually place bets on the fighter too.
So, that’s basically the way it works for westerners, except westerners can only usually be sponsored in the tourist gyms in places like the southern islands. The Bangkok gyms don’t profit from sponsoring foreign fighters (there may be exceptional cases), whereas gyms in places like Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Chiang Mai make money from the foreigner promoting the gym by fighting at the local stadiums or on TV. In areas like this, foreigners who headline the fight shows are the ones who generate the ticket sales due to the fact that all the tourists on holiday want to go and see a fighter from their home country pitted against a Thai or other nationality.
What Will I have to Do?
If the opportunity arises and you do get successfully sponsored by a gym in Thailand then you should know what you are signing up for.
The first thing you should know about muay Thai in Thailand is that it’s all about money. Ninety nine percent of gym owners in Thailand, Thai or foreign, have only one goal – to make money. So, if you were to become a sponsored fighter tomorrow then you would instantly become a walking ฿ sign. You won’t see much of that money, but you will certainly generate it…a lot of it.
One of the pre-requisites you’ll need to become a sponsored fighter in Thailand is fight experience. Now, this isn’t hard to come by in the tourist areas of Thailand as promoters and gym owners will throw pretty much anyone in the ring just to earn a few quid. But as I explained in a previous post about why you should NOT have a muay Thai fight in Thailand, I don’t recommend becoming one of those people get in the ring before learning basic technique and end up looking like a muay Thai douchebag. Depending on how new/established the gym is, you may not need to be an amazing fighter to be taken in; the gym may just want a few guys representing the gym on a regular basis. If you have no fight experience then I doubt your chances of being sponsored.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to become a fighter in Thailand:
1. You will arrange a a deal with the gym owner. You won’t always get the same deal at every gym but here’s a few of the deals I cut with the gym owners:
Example 1 – Free room, free room, free food, shared motorbikes, kept 100% of my fight purse
Example 2 – Free training, kept 100% of my fight purse
Example 3 – Free training, free room, free food, kept 70% of my fight purse
Example 4 – (Trainer) – Free training, free room, free food, 10,000 baht per month flat rate + 25% commission on all training fees generated by me through social media and word of mouth.
Now, these arrangements aren’t set in stone. You go to the gym and you try to cut the best deal possible. After all, they will be making money from you, so why the hell shouldn’t you get your fair share?
2. You will train for six hours a day, 6 days a week. Depending on what gym you’re at, you will either get better training than the tourists in the gym because you’re a fighter, or the quality of training you receive will be lower than the tourists in the gym because they are paying customers. This will all depend on the mentality of the owner.
If you’re lucky enough to get into a good gym then you will have a strict routine; you turn up for training morning and evening and you work hard. In gyms like this, you’ll get trained harder and longer than anyone else, receiving more attention than other westerners in the gym. This is the ideal scenario, you’ll be well prepared for your fights and your learning curve will be steep.
People bitching about not being able to train twice a day because they’re not Thai is laughable. It can be done, and it has to be done if you want to fight for a living.
In some of the other more populated tourist camps, you’ll be allowed to turn up drunk and miss sessions whenever you feel like it. You will likely receive less attention than anyone else due to the fact that those camps care more about pleasing their paying guests than giving their fighters quality training. You’ll likely receive the same amount of rounds as the tourists and get little or no clinch training. This is what happens when foreigners with little or no knowledge of muay Thai take over muay Thai camps…
3. You will fight twice a month. Again, this number isn’t fixed (unless you’ve signed some type of contract) but, as I’ll explain in the next section, your gym will want to recoup some of their training/living expenses from you and you will also need the fight purse, so one fight every 2-3 weeks is the norm for a fighter in Thailand
These fights may take place in the local stadiums, stadiums across Thailand or abroad. Clearly, you don’t want to be fighting in local stadiums down south forever so you need to push the gym owner to get you bigger fights.
What if I Get Injured?
Say you have a tough fight; your ankles are swollen, shins are sore, face is cut. You can take a week off, right? Well, in some cases, yes, in others, no. In any case, you will be fighting within 2-3 weeks anyway, regardless of how much time you have had to prepare for the fight.
You need the money and your gym needs money. It’s that simple. You fight.
Apart from your gym requiring you to fight on a regular basis, you have your financial situation to think about too. Even if you’re getting free training, food and a roof over your head, you still need money to buy other essentials such as toiletries, pharmaceuticals, extra food, petrol etc. Needless to say, when your cash is running low, you have to fight. This is what you do for a living now, you fight for your money…and believe me, you will earn your wages!
Even if you don’t need the money, your gym isn’t going to give a shit. They have to pay their trainers who have been coaching you for the last few weeks and they may or may not have given you free accommodation and food which also costs them money, money which they want back. They employ you to fight, so they expect you to fight.
I’ve had every injury you can think of while being a sponsored fighter in Thailand and there’s only one thing you can do when you fight for a living, and that is to fight injured. I’ve fought injured in most of my fights. Some serious injuries and some just niggles. I limped into the ring in my last four fights I had before returning home on my second trip. It’s pretty messed up but it’s something you sign up for when you’re a fighter in Thailand.
There was a time when I had stitches in my face from a few days before and my coach decided it would be a good idea to throw hooks at me during boxing training, re-opening the cut. This is the Thai mentality and you should probably get used to this.
The final injury I had was my foot injury which I received during training. I had four fights in seven weeks with that injury and it ended up keeping me out of training for 16 months. It was a serious injury and I made it worse because I kept trying to train and fight.
See, gym owners in Thailand all have something in common, and that is that they don’t think about the future. If they think they can make a quick buck out of sending you to fight with barely any training then they will, but they don’t think about the implications that this will have on their gym. I mean, it doesn’t look too professional when a guy is limping into the ring before the fight has even started, does it? I have been that guy on many occasions but this is something that you sign up for when being sponsored.
Should I become a fighter in Thailand?
It depends on your goals, mentality, level of muay Thai and what stage of your life/career you are at. Take the position I was in before I got sponsored; I was in University in the UK and had already been sponsored in Thailand for 4 months. I had had five fights at this point and I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was 26 years old, had no girlfriend, no kids, no job, (I know, get out your violins) and no mortgage. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The muay Thai training in my area was awful so it would have taken years to progress (if at all) and I would have had to work full time while training too. Apart from all of the above, there was one other thing I didn’t have – money. There was no other way that I could go to Thailand and live my dream apart from being sponsored.
What do I do next?
Most gyms won’t advertise the fact that they are looking for a fighter to sponsor or even actively search for one. If they did, they would get every “Billy Big Spuds” on the planet approaching them and telling them about how tough they are and how they are 100% committed because it is their dream to be a fighter and all the rest of the bullshit.
To find out if a gym sponsors fighters you need to ask around, look online or ask the gym directly. Most gyms will expect you to pay up and train with them for 1-3 months first so that they can get to know you watch you fight before they commit to an agreement.
My advice would be to email the gym and check that sponsorship is a possibility, then go and train there. If you like it then stay and hope for a deal to be struck. If the gym isn’t for you then get yourself to one you like.
My Final Thought on Being a Sponsored Fighter in Thailand
So, as you can see, getting sponsored by a gym isn’t all rosey and shouldn’t be attempted by somebody who isn’t completely obsessed with muay Thai and fighting. If you don’t love fighting then this option isn’t for you.
My advice to you here is, if you want to go down the sponsorship route, you must be prepared to put your body on the line. This can have serious implications on your health (as I have found out from personal experience).
Secondly, you must be prepared to be “dry-bummed” on quite a few occasions by everyone from trainers, gym owners and promoters. At the end of the day, they are in control and you are a toy that they can gamble with, but they don’t care about your body and, to an extent, you can’t care about your body if you are prepared to do this either.
Thirdly, you will scrape by with the money you make from fighting whilst being sponsored unless build up your fight purses and begin earning good money. In which case, you don’t need to be sponsored anymore and can pay for you own training and fight whenever you want.
Is it worth it? After 19 fights in one year, I can safely say – Hell yeah!
Huge amount of fight experience in a short amount of time
Don’t need large amounts of money to make it happen
Free training and maybe more
Get to live in Thailand and all the amazing stuff that comes with it
No responsibilities, no bills, no worries
If you love fighting then you’ll love your job
Get to know the industry and the people in it extremely well
You’ll need to put your body on the line
Restricted to training in the tourist areas
Very basic living…no luxuries
Not fighting to the best of your ability/constant injuries
Can often feel like you’re being controlled
Come across some extremely shady people