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Samart Payakaroon, the Muay Thai artist.

By Marco De Cesaris

I met Samart Payakaroon several times, both in Thailand and in Europe. He is considered by many as the best thai boxer of modern era. Much has been said and written about this great Nak Muay: I can only add my personal experience to further analyse his skill that I would not hesitate to describe as “artistry”. Although I never trained with him I had the chance to meet and share some quality time with him.

Marco- De- Cesaris -& -Samart -Payakaroon

1.First meeting in Bangkok.

I met Samart in Thailand for the first time in a moment of his professional life when he was concentrated on his career as a singer. His manager was a friend of my teacher of Muay, Chokechaichana Krutsuwan. He kindly invited us for lunch. I remember how friendly and easy going the Champ was. Not proud or distant, he was a kind, humble person whose interests were multilateral: music, cinema, Muay Thai, Western Boxing. And he excelled in all of those fields. He gave me a tape of his latest hits as a singer and we promised to meet again, possibly on the occasion of one of his future fights.

4Times- Lumpini- Stadium- Champion

2.Fight night in Paris.

The place: Palais de Sports de Levallois Perret.
The date: October 2nd 1993.

The Samart Payakaroon – Murat Comert fight was one of the highlights of that Fight Gala. At the time Paris was the place to be for European Muay Thai fans: sumptuous Fight Galas were organized in the French capital several times a year and the best thai boxers were eager to be invited and fight there. In those years, almost every time a big Gala was staged in Paris, I received an invitation to participate as a judge or referee. I was extremely honoured to be invited and I always joined gladly those fabulous events.
That October of ’93 I had been invited once more to operate as a judge; this gave me the chance to have a very close look at the way the great Samart approached a professional Muay Thai fight. The Champ’s opponent was a young German kickboxer (of Turkish origins) on the rise who had been on a winning streak. His style combined agility and power in a dangerous mix. In fact, many experienced opponents had been beaten by that terrible young man. In the other corner was an hyper-concentrated Thai champion who was older but much more experienced than the kickboxer from Germany. What was astonishing for me was Samart’s extreme coolness. Just before stepping in the ring he was smiling at his fans, apparently not worried about the upcoming fight. As soon as entered the ring and started the Wai Khru ritual, his facial expression changed drastically and a “death mask” appeared on his face. The young opponent, although not a newcomer, was visibly impressed by the Thai Champion’s look and started the fight much more cautiously than usual. In fact, Samart was able to put a stopper to Comert’s aggressive style only with his fierce look and apparently unbeatable fighting posture. That was the sign of a real Champion. The outcome of that fight was a TKO stoppage of the German kickboxer in round 3: Samart increased his pressure in round 2 and started to unleash super powerful low kicks that forced his opponent to give up at the start of the third round.

Samart was undoubtedly an all-rounder (Fi Meu in Thai language), a Champion of great versatility. But what are the qualities of a Fi Meu like him? The “official definition” of a Muay Thai all-rounder talks about the ability to skilfully use all the natural weapons, i.e. punches, straight kicks, roundhouse kicks, elbows, knees. A Nak Muay Fi Meu can dodge and counter all kinds of arm or leg attacks. He can prevent the opponents from getting hold of his neck or body to grapple by employing smart counter tactics. His footwork is quick and agile. That’s all correct, no doubt about that. Samart was all that but not only that. In fact, what struck me more in Samart’s case was his mind, as strong as steel. His capacity to concentrate under stress and his ability to adjust his strategy to the ever changing situations of a professional fight. That was in my opinion his greatest strenght.
Let’s analyse some of the ways a great Fi Meu’s skills adapt to specific strategic problems.

-Case study number 1. Against the Swarmer (Michael Liewfat)

-Case study number 2. Against the Grappler (Namphon Nongkeepahuyuth)

1.Michael Liewfat was a durable and brave fighter from the renowned Maeng Ho Gym in Breda. That gym was a powerhouse of formidable fighters, first of all the great Ramon Dekkers. When Samart met Liewfat he was near the end of his fabulous career in Muay Thai (250 fights-200 wins). He faced the strong Dutch boxer in his home country, in Holland. In the ring Liewfat was a “swarmer”, a fighter who, thanks to his great stamina, applied nonstop pressure, throwing strikes from all angles. His bravery led him to face some of the best Thai fighters of his time and he never backed away from a challenge. However, fighting the Greatest was a terrible task, even for the brave Dutch fighter. In fact, Samart’s posturing forced Liewfat to fight on the outside, moving around the ring while the Thai champion was solidly keeping the centre. Against such a mobile opponent, Samart changed his usually long range style to an unusual (for him) clinch work. In fact, Samart soon started to cut the ring, pressing the swarmer in order to get hold of his neck and throw him or hit him with powerful knee strikes to the midsection. The strategy payed off because Liewfat couldn’t display his usual relentless attacks and the fight became a one-sided affair, with the Thai champion constantly closing the gap, clinching and kneeing (or throwing). Samart Payakaroon’s skill in adapting to the characteristics of a given opponent brought him to victory once more.

-The core strategy employed by Samart to defeat Liewfat: ChapKo Ti Kao.

Step 1: Close the gap and grab the neck of the opponent with two arms.

Step 2: Squeeze the opponent’s neck and force him to bend his head.

Step 3: Break the opponent’s balance by jerking his upper body diagonally downwards, left and right.

Step 4: Strike the opponent with a series of knee blows aimed at the ribcage, liver, solar plexus.

Step 5(optional): Throw the opponent.

Liewfat- fight

2.Namphon Nongkeepahuyuth was a strongest thai boxer who excelled in all technical aspects of Muay. He could kick hard, he could punch, he could use his elbows and he possessed powerful grappling holds that perfectly complemented his knee strikes. When Namphon faced Samart for the first time he hadn’t reach his peak yet. In fact, in the years to come he would grow and eventually became a legend himself. Namphon’s fighting strategy was to close the gap and establish the clinch in order to use his great strenght at close range against the more experienced opponent. Samart was forced to accept Namphon’s in-fighting tactics for a round. However, the Champ soon adapted to the powerful opponent’s strategy and started to skilfully use the body weapons a grappler fears more: the elbows. In fact, with a few stop hits applied with his lead elbow, Samart cut Namphon around the eyes, in the so called T-zone. The cuts were so bad that the referee couldn’t but stop the fight in round 3. This fight was another example of Samart’s great skill in adapting to the changing conditions of a fight in order to come out on top.

-The core strategy employed by Samart to defeat Namphon: Sok Soei Kheun.

Step 1: Wait for the opponent to close the gap

Step 2: As the opponent lunges forward with one or both outstretched arms, push your lead arm forward aiming the tip of the elbow at the opponent’s T-zone.

Step 3: Step back with your guard up and observe.

Step 4 (optional): Instead of stepping back, follow up with a rear elbow strike or a knee to the abdomen.

Namphon -fight