When it comes to Muay Thai, Lamnamoon Sor Sumalee is a household name. He is a four time Lumpinee Champion from the Golden Era, with notable wins over Matee Jedeepitak and Langsuan Panyuthapum.

Born in Amnat Charoen Province in Northeastern Thailand, Lamnamoon got a relatively late start in the sport that made him famous. He began his career during his adolescence at a small local gym that he had followed his brother to. After finding some initial success he moved to the more established gym of Sor Sumalee where he stayed for the remainder of his career.

When he retired from fighting, Lamnamoon went on to work at the famed Evolve MMA gym in Singapore. For three years, he kept his head down, made sacrifices, and saved his money. Coming home only to return to the sport that had given him so much.

He bought a modest plot of land in the outskirts of the bustling city of Ubon Ratchathani and build his own gym, Lamnamoon Muay Thai. But despite a decorated career as a fighter, and the experience of working as a trainer abroad, starting his own gym has been a continued uphill battle.

“Raising fighters is like playing the lottery,” Lamnamoon tells ROUGH.

“You can buy 100 numbers and none of them win, or you can buy just one ticket and it’s a winner. That’s Muay Thai. That is what it is like.”

Lamnamoon Sor Sumalee, Muay Thai, Golden Era

In Thailand, raising a fighter is not just pad work and instruction. As fighters move into the camps, it is up to the gym owner to care for them on a full time basis. That includes keeping them in school, taking them to the doctors, watching out for their personal well being, along with training them to be professional athletes.

While gyms are entitled to up to fifty percent of their fighters remuneration, it takes years of making the rounds in the countryside before fighters even get the opportunity to fight in a stadium, and when they do the travel expenses usually leave the gym at a deficit. Starting out in Bangkok, fighters are only looking at a few hundred dollars per fight.

Fighters that show promise can burn out, become disengaged, or get wrapped up in family problems that derails their careers before reaching their prime earning potential.

In the case of Lamnamoon, his unique business acumen has allowed this relatively new start-up to thrive. In just a few short years he has built up a stable of Thai fighters that regularly make the pilgrimage to the elite stadiums of Bangkok where they fight on coveted televised spots. He has built an Isaan Champion, and taken foreigners to the top as well.

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Fighters on their way to school. Photo by Julius Foo

Lamnamoon’s local connections, professionalism and dedication to the sport has allowed him to procure a prominent benefactor. As he explains,

“Our sponsor, Thanaborworn Sirikunakornkul, pays for flights to Bangkok otherwise we couldn’t do it.”

That’s why you don’t often hear the gym name ‘Lamnamoon Muay Thai’ at the stadiums. His protege Robert Sor Thanaborworn uses the name of the sponsor when he fights, as do the other his fighters when fighting in the nation’s capital. That’s the thing about sponsors though, they only pay when the fighters fight.

When injuries, exhaustion, loss or focus, or even politics come into play fighters get sidelined. The gym however must continue to care for them, and to do so costs money.

To solve this financial hurtle that plagues many Thai gyms, Lamnamoon opened his doors up to foreigners. The regular influx of international students keeps the gyms finances stable. Trainers always get paid, and fighters are always well fed.

Opening the gym up to foreigners benefits the local community as well. It’s a boost to the economy, and a treat for the locals who get to watch the fighters compete in the countryside. Despite the massive influx of foreigners coming to Thailand to train and fight, Isaan barely sees any of it.

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Lamnamoon’s son, Fuji is a pad holder at the gym. He comes by after school to help out. Photo by Julius Foo

With the mass majority of champions coming from Thailand’s impoverished Northeast, it might seem like a no brainer for fighters to come to the countryside to train. Unfortunately, it’s still largely inaccessible. Lamnamoon has been able to bridge that gap, offering the foreigners enough Western comforts to thrive while training in Isaan.

He’s also social media savvy, and an incredible trainer. Skills in the ring, don’t necessarily transfer to the gym, but Lamnamoon is very hands on with his brood. He regularly holds pads for them while at the same time closely monitors their clinch work and sparring. In the corner he’s able to provide the necessary instruction to lead them to victory. He posses all the qualities needed to be a top trainer, while at the same time having the credentials and business sense to needed to run a gym successfully.

In just two short years, Lamnamoon has achieved what many gyms only dream of. Despite his success, his dedication to his young team of Thai fighters continues, day in and day out as he searches for that lucky ticket.

About The Author

Frances Watthanaya

After receiving a Muay Thai scholarship to train at a prominent gym in Northern Thailand, Watthanaya packed her bags at 19 and left home with a one way ticket. She ended up at a Bangkok street gym affiliated with Sor. Thanikul and married one of the fighters. They took off up country and Watthanaya fought her way through Issan. Now, with a degree in tote, and a seven year old daughter, she is running a non-profit Muay Thai gym with her husband in his village.

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