The life of the Emperor, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn has been recounted a number of times. It is the story of a boy born in a fishing village in the southern Thai province of Surat Thani. Poverty drove the youngest of seven siblings to the competitive world of Muay Thai. Talent and grit brought him fame and glory. But the tales that followed did not always have a happy ending.
Namsaknoi is known for an impressive list of achievements that includes his award-winning and spellbinding rendition of the Wai Khru Ram Muay. Let’s also not forget his amazing fight record and his six year reign as the Lumpinee Champion at 135lbs.
Namsaknoi was also a senior of Muay Thai superstar, Buakaw, at Por. Pramuk. The camp was of course, the source of the Emperor’s rise but also his eventual fall. The manager reportedly stole the fighters’ earnings and by the time the two-time fighter of the year retired, he returned penniless to his hometown with nothing to give.
After a lifetime of dedication to Muay Thai, what’s a fighter to do if he couldn’t fight? Namsaknoi found a humble job making fish nets in his village, barely getting by with 200 Baht a day. Things looked a little brighter when he received a friendly call from Koh Pha-Ngan and he soon found himself back in a familiar environment albeit in a different role. As he recalled,
“The transition from being a pro-fighter to a trainer was actually really hard for me. I couldn’t speak English but I had to teach foreigners! It was the worst thing as I didn’t know how to express myself.”
Trainers working at Koh Pha-Ngan were making 10,000 Baht per month on average, with food and accomodation provided. It wasn’t the most lucrative job but it was decent enough for a man who once had nothing to his name. Two years on, word got around and Namsaknoi got another friendly phone call. This time round, it came from Singapore wherein lies the silver lining. He was offered a job as a Muay Thai instructor at the renowned Evolve MMA.
“Evolve gave me everything I could ever imagine.”
After six years as a highly-remunerated Evolve instructor, Namsaknoi was able to save up a sizeable nest egg that allowed him to realise an enduring dream.
So in 2016, he left Evolve with the blessings of Chatri, his co-workers and students to start the Namsaknoi Muay Thai Club on Koh Pha-Ngan where it all began. Namsaknoi’s elder brother, Ges Chaiyamart who was a former trainer on Phuket’s well-known Sinbi Muay Thai gym for nine years, joined him in the endeavour. Namsaknoi’s then-partner completed the trio, taking charge of the gym’s marketing.
“I have always envisioned this dream life of running my own gym,” he said. “Koh Pha-Ngan was the ideal place to realise it because I love the serenity and beauty of the island.”
Namsaknoi was beginning to receive more recognition via the aid of social media. The camp also received a good amount of exposure when USA Muay Thai blogger, Paul Banasiak became their sponsored fighter.
Just when a new generation of Muay Thai fans in the West was getting acquainted with Namsaknoi, the bomb dropped: Namsaknoi was leaving his own camp for good after a year of its operation. As it stands now, Namsaknoi Muay Thai Club no longer exists, at least not in name. Namsaknoi’s brother, Ges continues to keep it running, along with the trainers who stayed behind.
“My brother does update me from time to time when we talk on the phone. As to why I left, I don’t really want to talk about it as it is something too personal, and something very close to my heart,” he says.
There were a few rumours that went round as to why he left but none of it was verified. As Namsaknoi remained tight-lipped amidst the speculations, Chatri Sityodtong shed some light on the whole episode. The Evolve MMA chairman announced Namsaknoi’s return to the gym via a Facebook post alluding to financial problems.
There is no knowing what exactly happened, but perhaps some things are better left unsaid.
Namsaknoi resumed his post as a trainer at Evolve in January and has quickly settled down in what he calls his second home. Even after the trials and tribulations, Namsaknoi moves on and stays positive in the resurrection of his dream.
“I’m the kind of person who can’t multitask, otherwise I can’t excel in my work. I still dream of having my own gym but right now, I just have to cast the thoughts aside and focus on my role as an instructor here at Evolve.”