Singtongnoi Por Telakun has been facing battles throughout his career, both inside and outside the ring.
Regarded as one of the very best kickboxers of his generation, Singtongnoi (220-80) retired from active competition three years ago.
Now he’s back to showcase his skills to a huge global audience, as part of the ONE Championship’s newly-introduced ONE Super Series. He’ll make his debut this weekend, at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in Singapore, where he’ll face WBC Muay Thai Super Bantamweight World Champion Joseph “Hurricane” Lasiri in a flyweight bout.
Thailand’s Singtongnoi is the oldest of three sibings and was brought up in extreme poverty, with his family working tirelessly on a local farm to try to provide for their young family.
Such were the family’s struggles, Singtongnoi was handed responsibility to contribute at an early age, as he helped his family with odd jobs, worked in the fields and helped look after his two younger brothers.
“I would help out to lighten my parents’ workload,” he explained.
“Life was tough from what I saw. My mom had to wake up at 5am every day to make food for the rest of the family. After that, she would leave for work at 8am, and return at around 5 or 6pm. I would see her exhausted, coming home tired every day. I felt sorry for her.”
While he worked hard to help his family as requested, Singtongnoi had a different idea for how he could help drag his family out of their financial woes – Muay Thai.
His father Kiew was a former Muay Thai athlete, and introduced the art to his son as a youngster. Singtongnoi started training at the age of 10, and used a used bag of fertilizer as a makeshift heavy bag on which he worked his punches and kicks.
Suitably impressed by his son’s ability, Kiew sent his son to train at one of the bigger Muay Thai camps in the province.
“Going into camp for the first time, I was scared and shy,” said Singtongnoi.
“But when I saw the famous fighters training, I wanted to be like them.
“It was a mix of fear, excitement, and nervousness. Once I started getting good, I started to make a name for myself, and began to believe that I had a future in Muay Thai.”
Singtongnoi’s determination and focus led him to win a Lumpinee Stadium World Championship, a WMC Muay Thai World Championship, and a Radjamnern Stadium Fighter of the Year award.
As his earnings started to grow, Singtongnoi shared them with his family, and he soon helped pull them out of poverty as a result. His family weren’t just proud. They became his biggest fans.
“My dad is crazy about Muay Thai, so he was very happy that I was able to become a world champion,” he explained.
“My mom would also come visit me in camp often, almost every day when I first moved there. I was lucky to have the support from my parents. It meant a lot to me.”
Singtongnoi eventually hung up his gloves in 2015 and returned to life in the countryside, selling goat’s milk at local festivals to make money. But poverty returned to his life.
“In the Muay Thai world, I was considered someone who had been fighting for a long time,” he explained.
“[During] my last fight, I broke my rib, and was sidelined. Because of the long layoff, I decided it was time to retire. Now that I was not fighting, I had no income. Life was tough. I made okay money, but it was not enough to survive as I had a lot of debts.”
With things looking bleak again, Singtongnoi received a call that would change everything once again. He was invited to move to Singapore and become part of the world-class coaching team at Evolve MMA. It meant he’d have a regular income again and would be able to ensure his family had a better life.
“I suddenly had so much hope,” he explained.
“I could now see a bright future, and know that my kids’ futures would be better.”
Happily retired, but still involved in Muay Thai every day, Singtongnoi enjoyed his new chapter in his career. But in August 2016, he faced another battle, when he was diagnosed with cancer. A two-centimetre long tumour was found in his nasal cavity.
“From having a bright, perfect future with many plans, as soon as the doctor told me I had cancer, they all disappeared. I thought I was going to die, for sure,” he remembered.
“There were points during my treatment where I wanted to quit. But what made me fight was thinking about my children’s future, and the people that I loved. I could not quit, as I had to fight for them.”
Thirty-six sessions of radiation therapy and seven sessions of chemotherapy later, Singtongnoi was declared cancer-free. Now he’s on the comeback trail in Muay Thai, too.
He’s made the decision to pull on the gloves again and return to action as part of the ONE Super Series, with his first bout this weekend in Singapore at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS.
“I am excited to showcase my talent to a global audience for the first time,” he said.
“I feel like it is my first time fighting again. It is making me very excited. But I promise to do my best when I step into the cage. It is going to be the start of a new and beautiful thing for me.
“I am just excited to perform in front of the crowd again. After beating cancer and returning to good health, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to compete in ONE Championship, and return to what I love.”