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How ONE's Rodtang Jitmuangnon turned his life around through muay Thai

Relive the Thai fighter's journey before his return at Friday's ONE 157.
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Rodtang "The Iron Man" Jitmuangnon's show-stealing performances inside the ONE circle have earned him a reputation as the most savage fighter on the planet.

There are plenty of muay Thai competitors who are known for their tenacity, but few can match the sheer excitement, power, and explosiveness of the 24-year-old megastar.

The Bangkok resident mesmerizes fans with his aggressive style and charismatic persona, and he never seems to flinch, even in the face of danger. He can take a barrage of strikes square on his jaw or ribs and reply with even more damaging shots.

These are just some traits that make the muay Thai powerhouse an absolute fan favorite. And it is one that he hopes will take him past his next challenge, British hard-hitter Jacob Smith, at ONE 157 on Friday.

Success in the sport means the world to him, especially since muay Thai was the very sport that turned his life around from a very young age.

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Like most of his peers, the Phatthalung-born fighter started training at a tender age. Barely two weeks into training, Rodtang was already scheduled to fight at a local temple in one of Southern Thailand’s villages.

At only 8 years old, he earned a victory in his debut and then added eight consecutive wins. From then on, his love for the sport grew.

"I was hooked," he said. "I knew right away I wanted to pursue muay Thai full-time."

While Rodtang would start building his name, he would also help his father and mother financially. His parents were rubber tappers who worked around the clock to make ends meet.

Their income solely depended on how much they could harvest from the trees, which meant that on days when they have little crop, Rodtang and his nine siblings had to make do with whatever their parents could put on the table.

"The Iron Man" immediately recognized his mom and dad’s struggle, and given his encouraging performances inside the ring, he felt like he help contribute some of his winnings from his burgeoning muay Thai career.

After six years of competing across various tournaments in Southern Thailand, the youngster decided to embark on a new journey over 600 miles away.

With the little savings he had, Rodtang searched for better opportunities in Bangkok. There, he was scouted by the famed Jitmuangnon Gym, a place he has called home ever since.

It wasn’t an easy fit, though.

"When I moved to Bangkok from the Phatthalung Province, I cried. I was really homesick. I had never seen such a crowd or traffic," he said. "Everything was all new to me."

Things in his career only became more challenging as well. The training became more intense, and Rodtang had to face stiffer opponents in a city that’s considered the Mecca of muay Thai.

Ultimately, he fell short some matches, went on a skid, and was broke.

"I had lost quite a few fights in a row," he confessed. "I had no money and no motivation."

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However, the owner of Jitmuangnon Gym, the late Mr. Huan, convinced his star pupil that he was indeed a very special talent.

As soon as Rodtang started sharpening his tools again, the fighter electrified his nation with memorable encounters. He even tasted success in multiple venues and earned several accolades.

"The Iron Man" picked up a MAX Muay Thai Championship Title in 2016, and he became the Omnoi Stadium World Champion in 2017. He even took home Rajadamnern Stadium’s ‘Best Fight Of The Year’ award in 2018 and 2019.

During that period, his talent was also spotted by ONE Championship. The Thai megastar signed with the organization and demolished former ONE World Title challenge Sergio Wielzen in his promotional debut back in September 2018.

Rodtang continued to illuminate the ONE circle with highlight-reel performance after highlight-reel performance, even defeating Jonathan Haggerty to claim the ONE flyweight muay Thai world championship.

Now, less than two months removed from his special rules super-fight with Demetrious Johnson, "The Iron Man" is looking to add the ONE flyweight muay Thai world grand prix silver belt to his trophy case.

The Thai kick-starts his road to the silver belt against Smith at ONE 157, and should he go all the way, then his next move is clear.

"My plan is to finish this world grand prix and then fully join MMA," Rodtang said.

If that's the case, then perhaps other MMA flyweights should watch Rodtang more closely now so they can figure out a way to defend from his savagery later.