The Tiger King
The Tiger King
The Chiang Mai annals tell the fifteenth century story of two Muay Thai champions.
In 1411 King Sen Muang Ma died leaving two sons and two claims to the throne – one too many. The sons Yi Kumkan and Fang Ken started a gruelling war for the throne. Neither could get the upper hand and the war dragged on inconclusively. Fang Ken suggested that they follow the traditions of the past and that the succession issue be settled by a single Muay Thai combat. Yi Kumkan agreed. Both princes stated that the fight would be to first blood. According to the annals, the bout lasted several hours. The fight looked about even – just like the war – but then Fang Ken’s fighter got a small cut on the foot. First blood, Yi Kumkan became the king.
Some of the legendary champions of Muay Thai have been kings. The most famous of these was the ‘Tiger King’, Phra Chao Sri Sanpetch VIII, the 29th King of Krung Sri Ayutthaya. Khun Luang Serasak, as he was known before he was crowned, was the son of Phra Petraja the founder of the Ban Plu Luan Dynasty. His son became known as Phra Buddha Chao Sua or the ‘Tiger King’ because of his ferocity as a Muay Thai fighter. During the reign of the Tiger King, Muay Thai saw one of its golden ages, not least because of the King’s interest and patronage. Every soldier trained in the art. Being a good Muay Thai fighter was a way to military advancement.
The King himself was an ardent exponent of the art. But the fighters did not want to defeat him and instead took a dive as soon as possible. Not necessarily an ill advised action, as to even touch the king resulted in execution. So the Tiger King had a problem – did he win his Muay Thai bouts because he was King or because he was a great fighter? His test came when one of his court mentioned that there was a temple fair at Ban Pajanta in the Viset Chaichan district. Whenever there was a celebration, there would be boxing matches. The next morning, the King took his entourage and travelling by river, went to the fair. From Tambon Kruad, he went on foot in disguise to the village. The King was a visiting boxer from the city accompanied by his aides, manager and trainer. The ‘Tiger King’ soon spotted the boxing ground and sent an aide there to arrange a fight. The promoter wanted the visiting boxer to weigh in so that he could create a good, even match. But the King refused saying that he would fight any boxer regardless of weight and size. He wanted, he said, to fight the local champion. Records say that the fight that ensued was an exciting and skilful contest between two talented fighters. The ‘Tiger King’ though, soon struck the blow that led to the local champion’s defeat. The ‘Tiger King’ continued to fight and beat the Kingdom’s best, an unknown fighter from the city who pitted his skills against all comers.
Foreigners also feature in Muay Thai history. In 1778, during the reign of King Rama 1, two French brothers arrived in the Kingdom of Siam. They were boxers who had made a reputation for themselves by defeating local boxers across Indo-China. They came to challenge the Thais, who accepted. The purse was high at 50 chang, about 4000 Baht. The Thai Crown Prince undertook to find a defender of Thai honor and the sport. He chose a member of the palace Royal Guard – Muen Plan. The contest was staged in the grounds of the Grand Palace; Muen Plan wore full battle regalia and Kruang Rang to protect him. When the fight began, the foreigner, larger than the Thai, went for the neck and collarbone. Muen Plan defended with that wall of arms, elbows, knees and legs that still blocks attacks today. The other foreigner, frustrated at his brother’s inability to break through the defence, interfered in the fight. The breach in etiquette, an insult to the sport, brought a palace guard, Muay Thai trained, to his feet and after a brief skirmish, the foreigners were carried to their boat. There are modern legendary figures of Muay Thai as well as those from the past. Like Pol Prapradang – the ‘Wild Boar’. His boxing record speaks for itself; 350 bouts, both international and Muay Thai styles. He was never knocked down nor given the count during his extraordinary fighting career. This record is even more spectacular since it was built by often fighting in weight classes much heavier than his own. He was a bantamweight but to find a fight, he often fought in the welterweight division. The ‘Wild Boar’ was also a fabled figure for his ceremonial dance before each fight. ‘Hanuman Tob Yoong’ – which means ‘The Monkey God slapping the mosquito’ – boxing dance had no equal. To add to this record, Pol Prapradang was also the first ever Thai Boxer to be internationally ranked in the bantamweight division of international boxing.
Other modern figures become legends because of a particular skill in the Muay Thai art. Like Apidej Sit-Hirun, known as ‘The Champion of Seven Titles’, the most fearful kicker that Muay Thai may ever have seen, he once broke his opponent’s arm with his kick strike. His kick arsenal made him famous as he set a record by holding, at one time, seven welterweight titles of both Muay Thai and International boxing, a historic record that still stands. Another celebrated modern fighter was ‘The Sky Piercing Knee Kicker’, the fighter that in the end, no-one dared fight – Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn. He was the knee expert, producing knockout after knockout with his stunning knee attacks. He became what is called a ‘spinster’ fighter – one who nobody dared challenge and gave up one of his championships simply because no-one could be found who was willing to fight him for it.
Muay Thai continues to be a sport of legends, of legendary fighters, legendary acts. The greatest legend, the one that the world finds hard to believe, is the simple truth of the sport; it can’t be beaten.