The Muay Thai Grind, The Muay Thai Dream: Yothin FA Group
Breaking a 13-fight win streak at Rajadamnern only means one thing: keep fighting.
Photos by Matt Lucas
Yothin FA Group broke his 13-fight win streak with not one but two back-to-back losses at Rajadamnern Stadium. He was the next best thing to come out of Northern Bangkok's FA Group gym since the semi-retirement of Petchboonchu, arguably the most decorated fighter in Muay Thai history. And with Petchboonchu spending most of his time teaching at Evolve MMA in Singapore, the weight of the gym's legacy was now firmly resting on Yothin's shoulders.
Fighting since the tender age of six, Yothin has amassed over 300 bouts. Moulded by the dirt roads and rough trails of Muay Thai, Yothin got his start in Isaan. Those days of constant travelling to and from the match-ups interspersed with grassroots training in the village allowed his natural ability to shine and soon it was time to move on to the next level. Originally from Udon Thani, he was moved to Sakaethongresort gym in Nong Bua Lam Phu where he stayed for many years before being scouted, just three years ago, by FA Group.
So what was it then, that broke Yothin's impressive win streak at Rajadamnern? A lack of focus? Inadequate training? It was actually much more simple than that; Yothin ran out of opponents and was forced to move up a weight class. The Muay Khao style that Yothin is known for demands incredible durability and conditioning from its practitioners, and the act of walking down opponents to get into the clinch eats up these fighters' vast reserves of stamina. Moving up a weight class against bigger and stronger men proved difficult for Yothin. Stylistic and evasive fighters like Saenchai have an easier time when faced with a weight disadvantage and thus generally have more success with it. Despite the back-to-back loses, Yothin still did enough to impress both the promoters and the gamblers, losing on points by only slight margins.
Showing that focus and conditioning were not the issues, Yothin headed for a short break in his hometown in Udon Thani where he is building a house with his earnings. He sets an ideal example for other fighters at the gym, sending money every month to his parents while at the same time saving for his own future and investing in a place to live. He's not deterred by the losses. A veteran of 20 years of fighting, it's all part of the career path he has chosen.
"I am dedicated to fighting. Everyday is a grind but everyday I am living my dream."
As gyms in Thailand tend to be more welcoming of foreigners coming to train, due to the obvious financial benefits, many speculate that it waters down the quality of fighters. Raising fighters is a long-term investment, an investment where the payoff is not always guaranteed. With foreigners it's more of a cash crop scenario; a short-term investment with instant gratification. From an economic perspective, running a gym as a business that caters to foreigners makes sense but doesn't create the same legacy or have the same long lasting impact in the Muay Thai community. It's a delicate balance that many gyms just can't seem to handle. Gyms like Kiatmoo 9 and Petchsiri gym are notoriously unwelcoming to foreigners, whereas gyms like Sitmonchai and Lamnamoon Muay Thai have been able to create and manage that delicate balance of paying customers and Thai fighters.
With a new website, T-shirts for sale, and a new foreign liaison, Matt Lucas, FA Group is looking to do the same. According to Matt:
"FA Group is a lifestyle business based on the love of Muay Thai. The owner and manager are interested in creating strong fighters, like Yothin and Petchboonchu, who not only make money but create a legacy for the gym. Therefore, we cap the foreigners at 10. Do the foreigners influence Yothin's training? I would say no. Yothin still mainly spars and clinches with Thais, as do the rest of the fighters, but foreigners do join in if they are good enough. It is good for Thais to have experience with foreigners, as fighters these days have more opportunity for overseas bouts. Being exposed to the way foreigners spar, clinch and fight is highly beneficial to Thai fighters these days. Fighting abroad also gives the Thais a chance to extend their fighting careers past the generally short life span of Bangkok stadium fighters."
There are no undefeated fighters in Thailand. And even a more than ten-fight winning streak against Thailand's elite, while not rare, is hard come to by. Having beaten the likes of Kiewpayak Jitmuangnon, Wanchalong PK Saenchaimuaythai and Channel 7 Champion Jomhod Eminent Air, Yothin almost certainly has a title run in his future. Starting out at just 100 Baht (3 USD), Yothin is now commanding 200,000 (6,000 USD) Baht a fight. With so much already invested into the daily grind that is Muay Thai, he remains focused on the long-term goals he has set for himself.