Updated: Oct 6
Recently One Championship has seen a few high profile Thais losing to Westerners. Superbon lost to Chingiz Allazov and Nong-O lost to Jonathan Haggerty. The strange cult of martial arts fans on the internet cheered the idea that Muay Thai was slipping and in fact, not so great after all, ignoring that Allazov and Haggerty are both themselves, Muay Thai fighters, who just happen to be European. The real question is are Thai fighters declining? Is the rest of the world finally catching up to Thailand? The answer is quite simple, no.
What we are actually seeing is fighters in their 30s, who have been competing since they were literal pre-pubescent boys losing to young 20-somethings with nowhere near the amount of mileage on them. So lets take a closer look at these fights.
Chingiz Allazov has become something of a specialist when it comes to defeating top level Thai opponents. Taking the Tekken approach to combat, Allazov makes his money by throwing rapid fire punching combinations and then bizarrely finishing them with head kicks. This is something I can only really say I’ve seen Allazov do with such frequency. He’s able to get away with this by virtue of being so damn fast with high kicks.
At the time of writing he has three consecutive victories against Thai opponents, a KO win over Jo Nattawut, a decision victory against the great Sittichai Sitsongpeenong, who scarcely loses a fight to someone not named Superbon, and then finally Superbon himself, who he again beat via KO. So what happened in these fights? Quite simply, he caught them out. Allazov has fast hands and he caught his Thai opponents the same way he catches all of his opponents, with blinding hand speed and great set ups. There really is no magic being done here, Allazov just did what he always does, and it paid off.
We’re very quick to point at Thai boxers losing and suggest that it means we’re catching up in some way, yet younger fighters like Rodtang, Tawanchai and Petchmorrakot still have yet to lose in One to a non-Thai opponent. In the case of Rodtang the only loss to a non-Thai at all, came against Tenshin Nasukawa in a decision that the entire kickboxing community rightfully cried as a blatant robbery. Indeed Superbon had not long defeated the top ranked Marat Grigorian, who has done just about everything you could have hoped for in kickboxing, before losing to Allazov. For any one loss these Thai boxers may pick up, there are several victories against top ranked opponents.
There’s also an issue of fight fans simply conflating the rules of the sports they’re watching. One Championship has this love affair with trying to showcase every striking sport they can, showing kickboxing, Muay Thai in four ounce gloves and MMA, each in both a ring or a cage depending on what they currently have to hand at any given time. As a result, we see fans talking about two different sports as though they are essentially the same thing.
The real question is, will the rest of the world ever catch up to Thailand? The answer to that is again, probably not. There simply isn’t the economy to back development in kickboxing and Muay Thai. Both sports are in part parasitic in MMA and have grown in popularity as a result of MMA’s growth over the last 30 years. In Thailand however the sport is a way of life, it is the single most popular sport in the country and fighters train and compete as children, well into adulthood. This is why the talent pool is so strong.
There’s a reason that it’s Thailand vs The Rest of the World, as opposed to Thailand vs The UK or France. The talent pool in nearly every other country is simply too small with no financial incentive to grow in order to ever compete with any country where Muay Thai is an institution. We’d be better served appreciating the accomplishments of great farang fighters like Allazov and Haggerty, as opposed to trying to link them to some greater picture.