Skip to main content

How fighting helped ONE champ Nong-O Gaiyanghadao escape poverty: 'If not for muay Thai, I wouldn't be here today'

Bantamweight muay Thai champ faces Liam Harrison at ONE on Prime Video 1 in Singapore.

Nong-O Gaiyanghadao is one of muay Thai's living legends, not only for his peerless skill set, but also for his humility and integrity. In fact, he is a fitting example for the younger generation, who, at times, need a real-life superhero.

The Thai icon will be looking to write the latest chapter of his inspiring tale when he defends the ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai World Title for the sixth time against Liam "Hitman" Harrison at ONE on Prime Video 1, which broadcasts live in U.S primetime on August 26.

Nong-O's journey to the top of the muay Thai industry was no Bruce Wayne or Batman story, though.

Actually, it was almost the exact opposite. 

Born into extreme poverty in a small countryside village in Thailand's Sakon Nakhon province, Nong-O started competing in muay Thai to help bring his family out of poverty.

His parents, originally orchard farmers, were forced to move to Bangkok and work in construction. Since their income from farming couldn't cover the monthly expenditures of Nong-O and his two older sisters, they had to try something else to make ends meet.

However, even with money coming back to them every month from their parents, the three children struggled to survive.

"When I was young, we were poor. We planted vegetables and ate eggs almost every day. My parents were working in Bangkok. They sent money home monthly, but some months it wasn't enough," Nong-O said.

That wasn't the only downside of the move. Due to the 650 kilometers distance between Bangkok and their village, Nong-O only got to see his parents once a year. While they were away, he and his siblings lived with their grandmother.

Although a sad situation, it allowed the youngster to learn independence from an early age and spurred him to dream about earning enough money to provide for his entire family.

That led him to pick up muay Thai when he was 10 years old. 

Nong-O stumbled into the sport thanks to a neighbor who practiced it at a local gym.  Initially, he didn't take to it. But a month later, his skills began to improve, and with that came his first amateur fight.

"At first, I didn't like boxing," Nong-O admitted. "However, I made money from it that helped to improve my financial status, and I kept doing it."

Nong-O earned a mere 100 baht (about $2.83 USD) for his debut win, and he returned to the ring the next night to win again and pocket another cash prize. He gave all the money to his grandmother and had no intention of telling his mother and father. In his mind, it would be hard for them to accept his decision.

"I already had 10 matches before they found out," he continued. "They were scared to watch me box, but I still kept (going) and gave them money. After 20 matches, they decided to fully support me."

By the time he was 14, Nong-O had already amassed an impressive run of wins, so he decided to widen his horizons by moving to Bangkok.

From there, he crafted a legendary career by winning more than 250 bouts, including Lumpinee Stadium muay Thai world titles in four divisions and a Rajadamnern Stadium muay Thai world championship.

Despite all his achievements, there is nothing he is prouder of than having taken his family out of poverty through his fighting career.

"Muay Thai has taught me about life. When you fail, do not think that you will always fail. Whenever you fail, think that your day will come. You must try and keep fighting," he said. "It gives you strength, makes you a fighter. Win or lose, you must keep fighting. If not for muay Thai, I wouldn't be here today."

After retiring for nearly three years, Nong-O decided to return to action when ONE Championship launched its striking-only division in April 2018. 

The Muay Thai icon hasn't looked back since. He is on an 8-0 run and claimed the inaugural ONE bantamweight muay Thai world title along the way. His continued success has also further secured his family's future and gained him millions of fans around the world. 

At ONE on Prime Video 1, Nong-O is looking to thrill a whole new set of fans and further expand his brand.

"I am very excited to show my skills to the American (fans) and hundreds of millions of viewers. I will do my best to live up to my fans' expectations," he said.