The return to action of Muay Thai legend Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex is undoubtedly one of the most exciting aspects of an event packed with gripping storylines and must-see matchups.
On Friday, 18 May, Yodsanklai will take on Chris “The African Warrior” Ngimbi at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in Singapore looking to add another win to his 198-71-4 record.
The 32-year-old is renowned for his slick Muay Thai technique and glittering career between the ropes.
And now he’ll return to action to showcase his skills once again as part of ONE Championship’s ONE Super Series.
For a man who commands such respect from his peers, it’s somewhat amusing to note he was only introduced to Muay Thai as a result of ill-discipline at home.
“It was by chance,” he says of his first experience with the sport.
“I always caused trouble with my older brother, and so a senior member of my family took me into a Muay Thai camp for training.”
It didn’t take long for him to find his feet. He was soon stepping through the ropes to compete for money. His first bout was as an eight-year-old, earning just 20 Baht – about 63 US cents.
He would go on to rise the ranks and earn far greater purses as one of the all-time greats of the discipline, but his path to the top was far from straightforward.
Some crucial guidance from a host of influential figures has helped him develop the technique and knowledge that has carried him to a host of world championships during his career.
“I have had a plenty of mentors that inspired me, and they are all great fighters,” he says.
Those figures – as well as a punishing five hours a day of training, which he maintains to this day – propelled him to three Lumpinee Stadium World Titles, two Lion Fight World Titles and a WBC Muay Thai World Title, to name just a few.
Along with his world-class talent inside the ring, Yodsanklai’s heart has always remained in the right place.
When he won “The Contender Asia”, the first thing he did was announce his plans to build his mother a house with the prize money.
“My mother was always my biggest fan and support,” he explains.
His generosity didn’t end with his family. He also uses his position as one of the best Muay Thai exponents in the world to help pass on his knowledge to the next generation of stars, both at home and abroad.
“I have achieved the highest ranking in Muay Thai, and I am proud to have the chance to pass it on to the world,” he says.
“It gives me the opportunity to teach and pass on the culture to younger generations. I am providing a lot of new teaching and training techniques, and it gives people in different age groups, and genders, a better view on this sport.”
Yodsanklai‘s ONE debut is an occasion for celebration in the martial arts world because, until recently, it seemed like he may not compete again.
When he announced his retirement last June, he told the world that the pain of competition had taken its toll.
“On the outside, I may look strong, but no one knows how much I’m hurting inside,” he said at the time.
“My body isn’t the same and I’m constantly in pain even in training, I can’t stand it anymore.”
But now, after some time away to recover, he’s back and raring to go again in ONE Super Series.
“The reason why I retired last year was due to the injury to my right knee, and the main reason why I changed my mind was [because of] IWE,” he explains.
“IWE gave me the opportunity to be back in the ring again.
“[I am excited to compete] because ONE Championship is a well-known event, and I know it will bring me a lot of more fans.”
His return pits him against two-time WKA Muay Thai Super Welterweight World Champion Chris Ngimbi, who is viewing the matchup as an opportunity to claim the biggest scalp of his growing career.
It’s a matchup that has Yodsanklai excited.
“Chris Ngimbi is a great fighter, and this is what makes this fight so exciting,” he says.
A cerebral approach to analysing his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses should make this a thrilling encounter.
“I usually find out in the first round, and no matter if it benefits me or obstructs me, I will have to overcome them,” he says.
It promises to be a spectacular match-up and a memorable return for one of the sport’s true greats.