Striking ace “Smokin” Jo Nattawut is preparing to play a starring role in the co-main event of ONE: HEROES OF HONOR on Friday, 20 April in Manila. But things could have worked out very differently.
Nattawut first took up Muay Thai as a 10-year-old, eventually competing professionally a a youngster. But the small purses demoralised him, as he realised that only the sport’s real stars earned any kind of serious money.
“In 2007, I stopped training. I stopped competing because of work and school,” the 28-year-old told ONE Championship.
“At the time, I just wanted to do some new things. I was not that good, and I could not make [much money] at the time. I could not make a living off it. So I stopped, and I had a job, and I made better money than doing Muay Thai back then.”
Nattawut eventually moved to the United States, where he lived and worked in Colorado. He continued his Muay Thai training on a recreational basis. At that time, returning to competition couldn’t have been further from his mind.
That all changed when he met Muay Thai coach and legend of the art, Master Khunpon, who convinced him to move to Atlanta and work extensively on his Muay Thai once again.
“I knew Master Khunpon from a friend in Thailand, so I talked to him on Facebook,” he said.
“He said, ‘If you want to train again, you can come here to Atlanta,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s try.’ I came here, and he helped me move, and he taught me more English and stuff.”
Then came the moment that kick-started everything for Nattawut, as he accepted a bout at short notice.
“After three years off, and several years of serious training, I had a short notice bout,” he recalled.
“I won on 10 days’ notice. Two months later, I had a 24-hour notice bout, and I won again. I kept winning, and I was like, ‘I think I am good.’”
“Good” is an understatement. Nattawut starred between the ropes, winning Lion Fight World Championships at super welterweight and middleweight. And now, he’s all set for a striking super-bout with fellow kickboxing ace Giorgio Petrosyan at the Mall of Asia Arena on 20 April.
His journey to success – and ONE Championship – can all be traced back to his decision to move from Colorado to Georgia. And for that, he’s eternally grateful to Khunpon for challenging him to make the move.
“He has been one of my biggest inspirations,” he explained.
“I know when I am supposed to train, and when I am supposed to rest. Khunpon helped teach me what to eat, and what I should do during a training camp.
“I fell in love with Muay Thai again. I really love it. Muay Thai is life for me.”