Reigning ONE featherweight muay Thai world champion Petchmorakot Petchyindee is fighting for more than just himself.
When the power-punching Thai superstar defends his belt against compatriot Tawanchai PK.Saenchai in the main event of ONE 161 this Thursday, he'll also be battling his elite gym.
Hailing from the famed Petchyindee Academy in Bangkok, the 28-year-old is surrounded by other athletes who held world title gold in ONE.
However, those fellow stars have all been dethroned in recent years, leaving Petchmorakot as the last man standing. With that in mind, retaining the strap would carry some extra meaning.
"It's very important to me," he said. "First of all, it made my family happy. Also, it is the great honor that I can make a reputation for my gym. Moreover, it is a good opportunity to prove to myself that I am a good fighter and impress my supporters.
"Most importantly, now I'm the only world champion at Petchyindee. If I lose this belt, there won't be any more ONE World Championship belts left at our gym. So, I'm the last hope for Petchyindee, and I have to do my best to keep the belt."
Petchmorakot planning 'heavy and powerful attacks' at ONE 161
Of course, the defending world champion will face a stiff test on Thursday.
Like Petchmorakot, the 23-year-old Tawanchai is an elite power puncher and is coming off back-to-back spectacular knockouts.
But with only four fights in the ONE circle – compared to 11 for Petchmorakot – the young phenom has far less experience at this level. And the Petchyindee superstar thinks that difference will be a major factor.
"For Tawanchai, I think I have a high chance to even knock him out because he still lacks experience in ONE," Petchmorakot explained. "Certainly, he is a veteran in Thailand, but I don't think he is going to be a tough task when we meet in the ONE circle."
Unbeaten in five straight contests, Petchmorakot is brimming with confidence ahead of yet another world title defense.
But make no mistake – he's anything but dismissive of his opponent's skills and even admits the challenger holds a specific advantage.
"I will utilize my punches and elbows," the featherweight muay Thai king said. "I will focus on heavy and powerful attacks because I know that I have no match for (Tawanchai) in terms of speed."
For his part, Tawanchai has announced his plans to use heavy punches and elbows to dethrone Petchmorakot.
Such a tactic would no doubt produce fireworks, as he would be attempting to beat the world champion at his own powerful game.
Petchmorakot already owns a number of stoppage wins thanks to his hands and elbows, including an iconic elbow KO of Liam Harrison in December 2018 at "ONE: Destiny of Champions."
Notably, he intends to use those same upper-body weapons in this world title defense.
"Well, this should be fun," he added. "We coincidentally prepared the same trick. Punch versus punch and elbow versus elbow, this is going to be explosive.
"I will stand in his way. His dream will never come true. I would do anything to keep my title with me as long as possible."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.