In sports there’s always those who succeed and those who dominate. From Kobe Bryant to Mike Tyson, the domination has always been the forefront of what captures people’s imaginations. Fans aren’t drawn to a case of akrasia, but instead are attracted to greatness. They love it, flock to it even. What is it like fighting those legends? That’s what I’ve always wanted to know. In this new limited series, I’ll be diving into first hand experiences of what’s it like going against some of the best to ever do it. Our first subject is Muay Thai living and competing legend: Saenchai.
Quite probably the most well respected nak muay in the world today, Saenchai has long been a staple of Thai boxing. With over 300 professional wins and has won the Lumpinee Stadium title five times, the first being when he was 16. He’s fought up in weight to give his opponents a fair chance, going north of a 15 pounds (6.8 kilos) weight disadvantages.
In this post, I’ve gathered five opponents who have shared the ring with the legendary Saenchai and asked about the night they fought a legend. You can expect words from Ognjen Topić, Sean Clancy, Morgan Adrar, Valerii Abramenko, and Victor Conesa.
Ognjen Topic and Saenchai: Respect but Don’t Grovel
Ognjen Topić is one of Thai boxing’s staples. He’s been around, fought the best, captured belts in Lion Fight, IKF, the WBC and more. He’s a very accomplished nak muay. In 2016, he had the honor of challenging Saenchai at YOKKAO 22 in Hong Kong. This article was originally called Surviving Saenchai but, Topić made a great point which eventually led to the renaming of the article. He said, “Before I answer the question, I want to first say that I did not go into this fight trying to “survive” Saenchai. I was confident in my skills and I went into this fight as I go into every fight—to win. My skill level doesn’t allow me to just survive in a fight, I am well prepared for any situation—win or lose.”
And naming it that was a slight to the abilities possessed by Ognjen Topic and the rest of the fighters. It was a happy change in direction as well.
He continued by saying going into that camp, he and his team know what they were doing up against. The Topić team prepared to be the best version they could be, ready for anything.
“Now to answer the question, we prepared so that I can be in the best condition possible, I was working on a lot of fakes/feints, using the teep.”
Being in the ring with someone of the status of Saenchai can I intimidate many. But Topić wasn’t new to Muay Thai. While he respected Saenchai’s skills, he didn’t crumble under the pressure of who he was fighting. He just fought.
“It was like any other fight, I don’t get starstruck, if I do or did I would have given Saenchai too much respect and wouldn’t perform to my best ability.”
The fight with someone the skill of Saenchai can provide a valuable lesson. You never want to be the best in the room, otherwise you’re in the wrong room. Ognjen Topić took what he learned from his time in the ring with Saenchai and parlayed it into a World Title conquest.
“It brought my skill level up tremendously. I learned even more that speed and timing are some of the most import aspects of a fighter to understand and learn. I took these skills into my upcoming title fight which I won.”
Sean Clancy: On Short Notice
Sean Clancy is possibly the best Thai boxer in Ireland right now. He also fought Saenchai in 2016, like Topić. His was on short notice however, a very tall task. You may recognize Clancy from his run in ONE Championship.
“Clubber” has a list of accomplishments as well. Clancy has held the WBC Muay Thai International Super Lightweight championship, WBC World Super Lightweight championship, the Caged Muay Thai World Super Lightweight championship, Cage Kings Super Lightweight championship, and the three time ISKA Irish Welterweight Muay Thai Champion. All that is a mouth full.
Sean Clancy was looking for anything to give him an edge going up against the legend. With the short notice nature of the fight, Sean Clancy didn’t have the time to fully prepare for Saenchai.
“Honestly, I requested we fight without gloves as I only took the fight at 10 days notice. If I was going to do anything it was to try and land some heavy hands, no specific training on short notice. [The plan] was simply get mind sharp and ready.”
But Saenchai was too much. When he stepped in the ring, Clancy noticed something about Saenchai. Being in a fist fight, no matter the form, has a certain edge to it. But Clancy specifically remembers the calm Saenchai had in there.
“His presence in the ring and his comfort is what I noticed, he was totally relaxed and calm.”
In the end, the loss to Saenchai was an experience. He grew from it. But he recognizes what many have come to learn: Saenchai is just a mile ahead of his competition when it comes to Thai boxing.
“Every loss made me a better fighter as it was a case of going back to the drawing board and see what I did wrong. In the Saenchai situation, you could be at the drawing board working out some game plans for a long time because he’s got years and fights of experience to which you can’t teach, only gain.”
Morgan Adrar: Lessons Learned
Our next nak muay is Morgan Adrar of France. He is the former WBC World Champion at 67 kilograms and a former European champion as well. He and Saenchai faced off in 2014 in Khon Kaen, Thailand. The fight went to a decision and Saenchai took the nod. But Adrar’s experience with Saenchai was all that he could ask for in his career.
In a sport where respect for your opponent is valued above all else, Adrar says that fighting Saenchai was truly an honor and a privilege for him.
“What was different is that I knew Saenchai was going to be more technical than all the other boxers I have boxed, and so happy and honored to have boxed him because he is Saenchai, a true source of inspiration for all.”
It’s that culture of respect that puts opponents at ease going into the fight. There’s no “I’m going to die” or “I’m in here to destroy Saenchai for my name.” Instead, Adrar says he treated the fight with Saenchai like any other fight.
“Other than that it was a challenge like any other. I didn’t feel any pressure or fear just an honor to face Saenchai.”
With the seemingly perfect game that Saenchai has developed from years of boxing, it’s of a big interest to me on how you prepare for it. For Morgan Adrar, it is a fight all the same as his others.
“My preparation for Saenchai was like all the other preparations we made with my coach, that is to say a 100% healthy preparation, disciplined and with a healthy lifestyle.”
Adrar continues, “What was difficult for me was that I had my right hand broken due to my previous fight. We had to put in place techniques and strategies so that I could box without my hand.”
Even his coaches had respect for Saenchai going into their bout. Even to this day, Saenchai left an impression on his coaches.
“My coach, who has lived for years in Thailand, was able to meet Saenchai at the Sor Kingstar camp in Khon Kaen and he followed his career with admiration.”
Again, the lessons learned from a bout with Saenchai are always positive and inward-looking. “I learned that no training should be neglected. I learned a lot from my defeat by points,” says Adrar.
“I was impressed by the quality of his boxing feet-fists, his fluidity, his efficiency. There is no waste in his boxing, no imbalance. In these sequences when we box him we immediately feel that he is very good at all levels; mentally physically, and technically.” He continues, “I simply learned that it was necessary to work at a level of determination so that later on to hope to approach perfection even if it remains very, very hard goals to achieve. Challenges, that’s what me really motivates because I love it.”
Valerii Abramenko: Best Memories
Hailing from Ukraine, Valerii Abramenko faced Saenchai in 2019. He took on the Thai legend in Dubai and fought to a decision. Growing up, Abramenko looked up to Saenchai, as many Thai boxers did. He said getting to fight the legend was an entire different experience.
“First of all it’s his name. If you are doing Muay Thai you know how is it. It’s crazy to fight a guy who was an idol for you from your childhood. And of course skills, you never know what he throws next, crazy timing.”
Saenchai’s the most relaxed in the ring fighting. Abramenko says that is how it is for most fighters. But he points to the experience of Saenchai that magnifies that to a new level.
“That’s what makes him do what he wants. It’s like for everyone, but this guy has much more experience than others.”
As with every other fighter I’ve talked with about what they learned from fighting Saenchai, it’s always something positive. Valerii Abramenko says that he learned the value of experience and nerve when he stepped in to fight the Thai legend.
“I’ve learned that I am too young, need more fights to beat opponents like him and if I could cut nervousness, I could fight better.”
He continues to say, “It was the best memories of my fight career.”
Victor Conesa: He Is Muay Thai
As a proud citizen of Spain, Victor Conesa faced Saenchai in 2016. The fight went to a decision which Saenchai took. Conesa spoke with us about the mythical hero and shed even more light on what facing a living, active legend is like.
When I asked what made Saenchai such a special fighter, Conesa had great things to say that provided a little insight on the complexity of the Thai boxer. “Wow that’s a difficult question!” Conesa said.
“I think it is really appropriate that you asked this question to many different fighters as anything anyone could say about him will be incomplete. He is so big and complex that most of the people can only understand a small part of his whole greatness. So maybe between all of us we can make an approximation definition of why he is so good!”
Victor Conesa goes on to talk about the uniqueness of Saenchai. There is no boxer like him in the world. As we’ve seen in the previous sections, that sentiment has been echoed repeatedly.
“Well first, I’ll say he is obviously unique! He found and created his own style taking advantage of his own qualities.” He continues, “But from my point of view, the most relevant aspect that makes him so iconic is that he has been able to find his motivation in something above himself.”
Another oft repeated sentiment brings us back to the selflessness of Saenchai. Conesa says the sport is better with him and and has grown because of what Saenchai brings to the sport of Muay Thai.
“He does fight for the love of his sport over his personal and egoistic goals which has allowed him to be in the business for more than three generations of fighters. All that this means in terms of experience, recognition and energy accumulated in the develop of his own game.”
“He is obviously a God between heroes,” says Conesa.
When talking on what inspiration Saenchai instilled in him after their time in the ring, Victor Conesa says their bout made him realize what a fighter really is and made him want to strive to be that fighter.
“I would say that after our fight, he not only made me be a better fighter but he also made me really want to be a fighter.”
Continuing, “It was such a special and magical experience for me that it made me fully dedicate myself to this art and lifestyle.”
And facing that fighter was something all the different for his craft. In fighting someone like Saenchai, it made Conesa reevaluate himself. But it isn’t in a way that made him second guess his career. Instead, Victor Conesa saw the change that could be made to make himself better.
“He inspired me so much that after our fight. I started looking for my own style. I changed my way of fighting and understood the fight itself which was a turning point in my carreer.”
“He is the most iconic fighter of the sport that’s active,” Conesa said. “He materializes almost every aspect of the essence of the Muay Thai.”
Victor Conesa goes on to say that it’s a healthy mixture that makes Saenchai “Saenchai.”
“It’s the adaptability, the elegance, the balance between a versatile body and a sharp mind, the joyfulness, the huge range and kind of techniques, the sportsmanship, the overall way of understanding the war and conflict itself.”
In an era where trash talk sells fights, nobody has accused Saenchai of disrespecting an opponent. We see here that that his respect is given no matter the opponent. Saenchai perfectly embodies what it means to be a Thai boxer. His lasting impact on the sport will last long after he’s done fighting and long after he’s left the earth. Many across all facets of life look to leave a lasting impression. Saenchai sees that impression in real time.
Victor Conesa leaves us with the perfect sentence to end this look into Saenchai. It isn’t one of endearment and meant to boost his ego. It is a testament on what he represents in the sport of Muay Thai. With fighters from Serbia, Ireland, France, Ukraine, and Spain, they all have been impacted directly by Saenchai. It’s crazy to think sport from a small country with a population of only 69 million people has produced so much influence across the globe. Thailand has also produced an icon that transcends the sport and embodies what an athlete should strive to be.
“I would say, ‘He is the sport.’”
I want to send a special thanks to Ognjen Topic, Sean Clancy, Morgan Adrar, Valerii Abramenko, and Victor Conesa. It’s hard for some athletes to talk about their losses and many decided against talking about their losses to Saenchai. Thanks to them, we all got a little insight on what it’s like to face someone that represents a sport with such honor. Thank you all for reading as well! It has been my pleasure.Become a Patron!