Photos courtesy of the author
Fighters come, and fighters go, but some go down in history, and legend, for their skill at arms and sheer force of character. One such fella was the late Muay Thai boxer, and Fairtex gym coach, Apidej Sit Hurun, a welterweight dynamo famed and feared for his brutal round kicks.
Born in 1941 in the small coastal province of Samut Songkhram in southwest Thailand, Apidej started out life as a 12 year-old nak muay (kickboxer) under the tutelage of coach Suporn Wongsaroj.
"At that time I hadn't told my family yet, but my father quickly learned about it and followed me to the ring. He was really upset and wanted to teach me a lesson by spanking me. However, the audience begged him to let me finish the fight first. I beat the opponent by knock out in the second round. This made my father extremely proud. From then on, he never stopped me from fighting again."
The devastating round kicker soon carved out a fearsome rep on the provincial fight circuit as "the Golden Leg," and the glittering bright lights of Bangkok beckoned. Apidej switched to the Sit-Hurun camp, adopted the gym's surname, polished up his boxing skills and headed to Thailand's capital city to fight for the brand.
Nak Muay, western boxers and MMA fighters are often remembered for bouts in which their formidable skills are showcased. One career-defining match for Apidej was his defeat of Danchai Yontrakit at Lumpinee Stadium in June 1961. The airburst of Apidej's round kicks against Danchai's torso were heard around the stadium, and the intensity of the ruck captivated sports fans and garnered the attention of the general public. The young man from the provinces had become an overnight sensation.
But Muay Thai boxing is much like a game of snakes and ladders. Such was the case in October 1961 when Apidej got felled by the knees of Adul Sri-Sorthorn in a shocking defeat. Though he had fallen down the snake on his first outing against Adul, Apidej got back up on the ladder for a pronto rematch and outscored the knee surgeon with his trademark three step round kick.
The wrecking ball legs of Apidej's came to legendary prominence in his bout against the psychotically aggressive Sompong Charoenmuang on February 5th 1963. Iron shinned Apidej dominated the match and famously broke both of Sompong's arms with his round kicks. Sompong was so messed up by this ruck of ages that he never fought in a boxing ring again. One sporting man's downfall leads to the accession of another, and this dust-up cemented Apidej's rep as the hardest kicker in the fighting art.
Apidej went on to mug all of the contenders and champions of his day with devastating aplomb. But it was back to snakes and ladders, win and lose, up the ladder and down the snake, with a series of bogeyman opponents. The most persistent of which was a pug by the name of Dejrit Ittianuchit. The hard kicking Apidej fought him on eleven occasions and both men took turns on the whipping post as winners and losers. Another hard bastard of Thai vintage was Kongdej Lookbangplasoi. Apidej met him for four bone snapping encounters during the Sixties.
A highly exceptional boxer, at one time Apidej held seven welterweight titles, both Muay Thai and western boxing, between 1961 to 1972 with a staggering record of 350 wins, 10 losses and 1 draw. It's a feat that's not been broken or equalled by any fighter in Thailand since.
Happily married, bored of fighting, and unsuccessful comebacks, in the 1980s "the Man of Seven Titles" retired to become senior coach at Fairtex Gym on the outskirts of Bangkok. He was there for four decades, grooming and producing champion fighters and top-level contenders both foreign and domestic. As a coach, Apidej stressed the necessity of mastering the basic skills of eight-limbed boxing. And he isolated one core essential often found lacking in prospects: good footwork.
"First I teach them Muay Thai footwork. Often, when students join the gym, they can't wait to start fighting. This won't be of any benefit since you must practice the basics first. You have to be able to quickly get away from dangerous situations. Then you can learn to fight with an opponent."
Then as now, the key to success in Muay Thai boxing is simple. Learn the basics, and the "master tricks" of the Mae Mai and Luk Mai will soon flow into your everyday practice and fighting style.
Apidej's deeds in the ring, and his work in the fighting sport, did not go unrecognized by the Thai establishment. He was crowned "Fighter of the Century" by the King of Thailand and was the first nak muay to be given his own display at the Thai National Museum. No Muay Thai boxer, before or since, has made such an impact on sporting history, much less been so honored.
Mortality caught up with the living legend and Apidej died of lung cancer at the age of 72 in a Bangkok hospital on April 4, 2013. As a fighter and coach, he inspired legions of men and women to excellence. The world of Muay Thai still mourns his loss.
But what was the secret behind the brutal round kicks of Apidej? Was he on the spinach like Popeye? No. The old pug attributed his prowess to good footwork and hill running with weights on his legs. Not ankle weights: a daily 10k run with lumps of cast iron tied to his bony legs. It's a bit old school. But, if it worked for the hardest kicker in the history of Muay Thai, it might well work for any legends out there in the here and now.