Muay Thai as a sport evolved from the military conventions from one of the early civilizations that occupied Thailand. Like many combat sports, its roots are deeply embedded in the ancient history of its country of origin
Under the reign of King Chulakorn the sport of Muay Thai took its root in Thailand’s Culture.
Lets take a look at the scene for Thailands National Sport.
Like many combat sports, its roots are deeply embedded in the ancient history of its country of origin, so knowledge on the earliest development of Muay Thai as a sport is hard to come by. The first major historical event surrounding Muay Thai followed the ascension of King Chulalongkorn in 1868, which ushered in what is considered a golden age in Thailand, and stimulated many areas of Thai sport, art and culture. Under Chulalongkorn’s reign, Muay Thai flourished in popularity and the development of new styles, somewhat due to the king’s own interest in the new martial art. The new ruler also ushered in a long-awaited peace in Thailand, meaning that many more people were free to pursue Muay Thai as a form of exercise, self-defence or recreation. Through this progress, the separate styles of Muay Thai from around the country began to influence one another and form new, more perfected techniques.
Over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, modern boxing rings were implemented in Muay Thai competitions, and a set of official rules were codified. These included the requirement for fighters to wear regulation gloves and coverlets on their ankles. As many of the old techniques became obsolete in the emergence of improved styles, the term Muay Thai became used exclusively to mean the competitive modern style, and the older techniques began being referred to as “Muay Boran” or “Ancient Boxing”. Traditionally, Muay Thai tutors would begin a module on ancient techniques once a student had become advanced enough, however it’s increasingly hard to find a modern establishment willing to teach students non-competitive styles.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century, many other advancements were brought in to modernize and promote the sport. In 1993 the International Federation of Muay Thai Amateur was established, creating a legal body for amateur Muay Thai competitions. Two years later this merged with another authority to form the World Muay Thai Federation, which included 70 member countries. The president of this organization is still elected at the World Muay Thai Congress. The latest significant change came in early 2015, when Muay Thai was granted Patronage of the International University Sports Federation. The first university World Muay Thai Cup is due to be held in Bangkok.
Muay Thai ranks among some of the most popular sports in Thailand, and over the years several large stadiums have been erected to meet the popular demand for live Thai boxing. One of the most internationally famous of these stadiums is the Rajadamnern stadium in Bangkok. This monolithic work of architecture was commissioned in 1941 by the prime minister at the time, Field Marshal P. Pibulsongkram, after an expropriation act made many landowners in bangkok turn their property over for nationalised projects. The office of the Crown Property was charged with setting the project in motion.
The original plan was to build the stadium near Misakawan Garden, but the given area was simply to small for the plans to become a reality. The stadium was instead founded and later completed on Rajadamnern Nok avenue, where it stands today. The Italian architect All’ Estero-Oriente had won the contract to design the stadium, and the foundation stone was laid on March 1st. Construction had to be stopped in the height of World War Two, due to disrupted trade routes for construction materials. In a recovery stage from the huge economic downturn that came with the war, Pramote Puengsoonthorn, the deputy director of the office of the Crown Property, brought the project into consideration again. After a period of fierce parliamentary debate, the plans were eventually pushed through, and construction on the stadium resumed. The stadium hosted its first match on December 23, 1945.
In the early fifties, a new government administration began focussing its resources on the stadium again. Seeing the inconvenience of an open-air boxing stadium, Chalerm Cheosakul, the new manager of the venue, began setting out plans to build a new roof and further seating. This jobs was given to the Christiani & Nielsen company, and finished in 1951. Over the next three years, several independent bodies voiced an interest in buying the stadium, seeing that it was making consistent losses under the government. However Mr. Chalerm, who was still the stadium manager, thought it would be damaging to the entire culture of Muay Thai for foreigners to take over such a significant venue, so to turn its cash flow around, sought permission to form the Rajadamnern Co Ltd, which still organizes all of Rajadamnern’s matches.
Another popular stadium is the Thaphae Stadium in Northern Thailand. This venue was erected some time after the first initial boom of Muay Thai popularity, and is well known in the boxing culture for fusing traditional Thai fighting customs with western influences, and comes highly reccomended for foreign visitors who want and introduction to the sport. In modern times, some smaller arenas have taken to the controversial practice of keeping a set stock of fighters, and performing staged or choreographed fights. The management at Thaphae has always strongly resented this, and every fight they host involves professional, ranked fighters. Thaphae Stadium is also one of the last remaining Muay Thai venues which still performs Muay Boran (ancient boxing) demonstrations, in which the fighters wear traditional Thai military garb, and wrap their hands in rope instead of regulation gloves and tape.
The Thaphae stadium was opened in the late 1980s, and was originally called the “Babia centre”. The Babia centre was originally intended for a tourist audience, and exhibited Muay Thai boxing alongside Ladyboy cabaret shows. After the millennium, the stadium was bought out by Mr Kob Cassette, and began focussing on pro Muay Thai exclusively, opening its roster to dozens of gyms throughout the country. Soon, prominent title fights were being hosted at Thapae, including the prestigious North Thailand Championship. As amateurs built their careers at the stadium, it began attracting more and more fighters from around the world, and many international favourites have regular fights there. Gambling has also become a big part of Thaphae, along with dozens of other Muay Thai venues. While gambling is completely legal at matches, there is no official box office involved, and bets are agreed between two regular spectators. Many Thai people have made a livelihood out of this custom, and wagers often reach past 100,000 baht.
This venue is probably the most famous and important after Rajadamnern, due to it being the second major Muay Thai arena ever constructed in Bangkok. General Prapas Jarusatien was the main force behind its construction, which began shortly before the completion of Rajadamnern, and was opened to the public on the 8th of December, 1956. Lumpinee is unique in that it is managed and operated by the Army Welfare Department of the Royal Thai Army, and all proceeds from ticket sales go to various departments of the military. Lumpinee is considered fairly exclusive in terms of Muay Thai, and at present there are just eleven promoters responsible for sourcing fighters to compete there. Over the years that it has been operational, the Lumpinee stadium has hosted many of the sport’s most famous names, including Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn, who is widely considered the Muhammed Ali of Muay Thai. Thanasukarn held the national lightweight title for four consecutive years, and eventually had to retire because he was simply running out of opponents!
Like any combat sport, professional Muay Thai has had its fair share of accidents, but one particular tragedy happened at Lumpinee in January 2012. The popular fighter Left Hook Jimmy, (born VIPUL R. Bamane) took a roundhouse kick to the back of the head, which caused Bamane a severe concussion and put him in a coma for around six weeks. Thankfully he recovered from this, but was paralysed for a further four months, effectively ending his career as a Professional MMA fighter. Jimmy was not medically cleared to fight for a further two years, and fans of the sport still talk about the tragedy of the incident, in the way that it snuffed out one of the rising stars of Muay Thai.