Sunny Pattaya is not a touristy beach town but the touristy beach town, mired in contradictions, polluted by skyscrapers. The beach isn’t as big or as appealing as it appears in the brochures but nonetheless, it’s the ocean and can still sooth the soul.
A small breeze blows up from the gulf making the fires of a charcoal grill cooking oysters and shrimp burn red. A Thai man with Sak Yants takes one and douses it in chillies before taking a bite. The man is Yodsanklai Fairex and he is at the top of Muay Thai and has been for over a decade now.
Arguably the best 70-72kg fighter in the world, Yodsanklai has an impressive resume. He is a three time Champion at Lumpinee Stadium holding titles at both 112lbs and 147lbs. He held and defended the WBC Super Welterweight belt, won the WPMF Superwelterweight belt and is a veteran of over 250 bouts with nearly 200 wins to his name.
His analytic style of fighting had him nicknamed “The Boxing Computer.” Yodsanklai is a southpaw with a tremendously powerful left kick and pin point accurate hands.
Those abroad were first connected with Yodsonklai through a TV Series aired that in 2008 in the UK and United states known as The Contender Asia. An early fighting reality show based off the original boxing based Contender series, it pitted Muay Thai Nak Muay from around the world against each other while highlighting their characters.
Yodsanklai plowed through his opponents, including his stablemate at Fairtex, Nareupol. It was an unlucky draw for both of the fighters and Nareupol ceded the fight to the rising star.
In the final, he met the Australian Gunslinger, John Wayne Parr, beating him on points. The Thai fighter took home US$150,000 in prize money, which producers claim to be the the highest prize money ever to be paid out in the sport of Muay Thai. During the awards ceremony he publicly declared he would build his mother a house.
This gesture humanised the Boxing Computer greatly. It highlighted the importance of family to Thai fighters. Rather than another unpronounceable name, Yodsanklai became a person fight fans could look up to. After his dominant performance at The Contender Asia he went on to win multiple titles and accolades including a Lion Fight belt, the King’s Cup, and the WMC World title.
Born in Nong Bua Lamphu in Northeastern Thailand, Yodsanklai like many Muay Thai fighters was introduced to the art of eight limbs by his older brother. At the young age of eight-years-old he had his first fight and was paid a mere 20 Baht (75 cents US).
Some 24 years later Yodsanklai is a King on a Muay Thai throne but remains excessively humble of his accomplishments.
“I never thought that I was the best fighter ever or in the world,” Yodsanklai told ROUGH. “I won’t compare myself to others. I’ll just do my best.”
After injuries plagued him, Yodsanklai announced his retirement in June of 2017, but by February 2018 he was back in the ring to face Enriko Kehl in China.
“Normally I fight at 70 kilos this time I had to put on a little weight,” he said.
“Enriko was a bit bigger than me. I had to go up to 71 kilos. Because he was bigger he had stronger attacks. He had more force so I had to depend on my more than 20 years of fighting experience.”
His prestigious past paid off and Yodsanklai took a decision win over the German fighter and there are talks of a contract with ONE Championship, for its new Super Series promotion.
“They contacted me,” he said. “I have to go back to Kun Min China to sign the contract. If I get to sign with them it won’t be a big deal. They use smaller gloves. I used to fight with smaller gloves on MSA, also I’ve done Kard Cheuk. It’s no difference. It doesn’t make me nervous. It should be fun.”
The use of smaller gloves and or fists bound in hemp rope as done in Kard Cheuk, is an attempt to attract more eyeballs by upping the danger and violence but it can be hazardous for fighters. The smaller gloves can cause injuries to both those giving and recieving attacks.
“It feels like you are fighting with bare hands and a knock out can happen at any time,” he said.
The bareknuckle feel can cause raw damage, fighting like this cuts and lacerations to the face are much more common. But those on the attack also must be careful.
“When I first fought Kaad Cheuk I didn’t have any experience with hand wrapping. I wrapped it normal and it wasn’t enough. My hand swelled up afterwards. Now I know how to properly wrap my hands. You have to make it thick especially on the back of the hand,” Yodsanklai said.
Now there are only a few willing to step into the ring with Yodsanklai even in regular Muay Thai rules. He is often asked if he will fight Muay Thai superstar Buakaw Banchamek who while more famous is not as skilled as the formidable Fairtex fighter.
“No comment. It all depends on the promoter,” Yodsanklai said. “Anyone can win or lose. It depends on each person’s abilities.”
Based at Fairtex in Pattaya since 2005, Yodsanklai also works regularly in China. This time back was for a vacation.
“Whenever I come back to Thailand,” he said. “I try to relax but keep training. It’s light training to stay fit. In China I work out more.”
Yodsanklai was not shy to highlight the difference between training abroad and training in his home country.
“In China it’s not super serious. I already know how to train. I know how to work my body. In Thailand the nak muays train hard and it makes your body tired and you get skinny. In Thailand its super serious and I feel more pressure. The head trainer or the gym owner keeps an eye on fighters while they train. Even though you are tired you still have to train. This way makes you super skinny and makes your career shorter.”
The boxers must be kept under a watchful eye because they are part family and part commodity. If the boxers do not perform they do not gain much needed capital to keep the gym and their careers going. Each win is an addition to their purse size, each loss a subtraction. It is not an easy world especially when faced with literally thousands of other boxers each trying to sustain themselves. An individuals performance can make or break a gym.
Yodsanklai has formidably established himself has one of the best fighters in the word. Apart from Buakaw there are only a few other boxers that could potentially give him a competitive fight, such as Sittichai Sitsongpeenong, Superbon Banchamek, and Giorgio Petrosyan.
With his competitive career almost at its end, more from lack of opponents than lack of desire, his post-fight career is still based on economic imperatives.
“I will open gym or teach Muay Thai abroad. It depends on which will make me more money,” he told us.
Yodsanklai has a family to take care of, and a mortgage to pay. There are mouths to feed and people to nourish. He’s come along way since his first fight in the rural landscape of Isaan, but there is and always will be family obligations. It’s his close ties to home that keep him humble and keep him motivated. What’s next for the Boxing Computer, only time will tell.