Thailand's newest promotion, MX Muay Xtreme, has quickly become Max Muay Thai's biggest competition in the span of just a few months. The promotion has been airing weekly since its official start date in November 2016, and while Max remains at the top of the Thai TV rankings for Muay Thai, fight fans are quickly taking notice of MX. The—thus far healthy—competition has seemed to strengthen both promotions as they continue to revolutionize Muay Thai in Thailand.
MX follows a similar format to Max, pitting Thais against foreigners in three round fights. But under these rules fighters must wear modified MMA gloves. The gloves are slightly more padded than what you would see in the UFC, due to the increased emphasis on striking. The promotion lacks a permanent stadium like Max or Lumpini however, so the ring must be set up for each show. It's broadcast live from GMM Grammy Studios in Bangkok, every Friday on channel ONE 31.
We were first introduced to Muay Thai in MMA gloves by John Wayne Parr and his Australia promotion, Caged Muay Thai.
"When I first thought of the idea, I went to YouTube to see if anyone was doing Muay Thai in a cage. I found K-1 style fights, but everyone was wearing boxing gloves. Being a big MMA fan, I wanted respect from the MMA crowd, I needed to create the same kind of environment. Muay Thai is everything you see in MMA striking anyway, with knees and elbows, just add the cage and small gloves."
Parr's promotion began in 2012 and has seen plenty of success since it began with most fighters excited by the new challenge of fighting not just with tiny gloves, but in a cage with a locked door as well. Parr couldn't resist the opportunity to try it out for himself and has fought multiple times for his own promotion.
"I've had over 120 fights in normal gloves. But the MMA gloves feel amazing because all of a sudden you have fingers, so your hands feel a lot more free and makes it easier in the clinch, and when catching kicks."
It's hard to say however if Caged Muay Thai (CMT) was in fact the inspiration for MX Muay Xtreme's style of fighting. Many believe that the promotion got the idea from Muay Kard Chuek: Gloveless style fighting where rope is wrapped around the fighters' hands in lieu of gloves. This style of fighting goes back hundreds of years to the legend of Nai Khanom Tom, Thailand's father of Muay Thai; to the days before boxing gloves even existed. These types of fights were rare but have been known to happen in Northern Thailand near the Burmese border on a fairly regular basis to this day. It was popularized by Thai Fight, a somewhat defunct Thai promotion that during its heyday promoted fighters like Yodsanklai Fairtex and Saenchai PKSaenchaiMuayThaiGym fighting in kard chuek.
Regardless of where it got its origins, MX Muay Xtreme is a solid, stable promotion with massive production value. They have brought in big names like Rungravee Sasiprapa, Sirimongkol Singmanasak, and Wanchalerm Uddonmuang, instantly earning respect and attention from the Muay Thai community. They are also developing their own superstars and are allowing fighters to show their personalities at fights, even interviewing them on live TV after their fights, if they win. A relative first for most fighters in Thailand.
One of their rising stars, Army Sasiprapa, is a private in the Royal Thai Army and a singer in his spare time. Army got his start in Isaan, making the rounds, racking up fights, but he never really made it big. So he gave up fighting and put his energy into the military. But his love for fighting never died, and he continued to pick up fights on the side in his native Buriram while home on holidays. A free agent at the time, he was scouted by Sasiprapa gym. The owner of which, Thakoon Pongsupha, also happens to be the promoter at MX Muay Xtreme. Getting approval from his supervisors, Army is now back to fighting regularly. The promotion has even allowed him to walk out in his military beret and, on his birthday, even sing his own walk out song.
Fighters must weigh in the day before the fight in Bangkok at GMM Grammy studios. All athletes are given a free T-shirt, a great promotional tool spreading the work of Thailand's newest promotion quickly across the nation—even up in Isaan, where at the small temple shows, young fighters are stepping into the ring for the very first time, you can spot a few MX T-shirts in the crowd. The purse is higher than Max, but the bonuses have been scrapped. Fighters here are accepted on a word-of-mouth basis and unlike Max are not required to try out on a non-televised show. Instead fighters will start at 15,000 Baht (450 USD) and for exciting performances will be awarded an increase in their purse for subsequent fights.
Petchmai Lookboonmee hadn't fought for over a year before getting the call to fight on MX. A stadium regular who once fought Lumpini Champion Pakorn PKSaenchaiMuayThaiGym, Petchmai grew tired of the endless hours of training and repeated weight cutting required to make the cut at the elite stadiums in Bangkok. He pretty much just burned out and fights in Isaan that don't require a weight cut just don't pay the bills. So, after a brief stint teaching in China, Petchmai decided to give fighting three rounds a try. The result? He was hooked.
"It's so exciting fighting on TV, and the audience there is so lively. It's not like Lumpini where there is so much pressure from the gamblers to win. Here, as long as I fight exciting the promoters are happy."
With the Thai vs. farang format, Petchmai fights at his walk-around weight, while the foreigners generally cut a few kilos. This, similar to Max, keeps the fights exciting and evenly matched. And for fighters like Petchmai, training is kept at a minimal.
"Fighting three rounds I don't have to train as much as I did when fighting five rounds."
The exposure that Petchmai received from fighting on TV has already allowed him to book two fights internationally. Earlier this month he fought on French TV, winning by decision, and next month will be heading to Italy to fight for Hearts on Fire Fight Night. Petchmai, happy with his treatment at MX, will continue to fight for them for the foreseeable future and hopes to continue to receive international fight offers as well. His days of fighting in Isaan and Lumpini, however, are over. If the success of Army and Petchmai are any indication of the direction that MX is taking, it looks like Max's biggest competition may only get bigger.