In Muay Thai, everyone who has kicked a pad in the last decade knows the names Saenchai, Buakaw, and Dieselnoi. They are Muay Thai champions that almost every fan can admit to having binge-watched on YouTube late at night when they can’t get to sleep. No one can deny that they have earned this recognition but there are many other champions, equally qualified that are forgotten.
In this article, we aim to shine a well-deserved spotlight on some fighters you may not have heard of. We’ve looked from as far back as the golden era right up to the present day, scoured across hemispheres and countries to find 3 underrated champions that we feel should be on every fan’s watchlist.
1) Eugene “Boom Boom” Ekkelboom
With three current WBC world champions and the likes of Toby “The Weapon” Smith and Danial “Mini-T” Williams making waves globally, you cannot deny that Perth, Western Australia is a breeding ground for high-class Muay Thai talent. Long before social media gave the isolated city’s stable of fighters global exposure it birthed Eugene “Boom Boom” Ekkelboom, a super middleweight who made global waves with his fast-paced clinch and knee style of fighting.
Eugene started his journey into the art of eight limbs at the age of 21 at a small gym in Perth’s northern suburbs, Mungkorn Mai, as a way to build fitness for his motor-cross career but after only three months of training he had his first fight and was hooked. It wasn’t long before he traded his bike helmet for gloves and a mongkhon.
Early in his career, Eugene moved to the famous Riddler’s Gym to train under Darren Reece and alongside an elite stable of fighters including 6x World Champion and pioneer for female Muay Thai, Caley Reece. Over the next twelve years cemented a name for himself as one of the toughest fighters in both Australia and the world. Known for starting at a fast pace he’d walk forward and smother his opponents with a strong clinch and heavy knees in a war of attrition that very few of his opponents could maintain for the full five rounds. When asked about his style Boom said the following:
“I wasn’t the most skilled or beautiful fighter to watch. I was a relentless fighter, always going forward. I could read my opponents very well and knew when I would break them.”
It was a method that worked well for him. Eugene won the coveted WMC Super Middleweight world title early in his career and successfully defended it a whopping 7 times before he finally hung up his gloves. Throughout his 68-fight career, he fought some of the best of his era, securing wins against the likes of Cosmo Alexandre and Tum Mardsua as well as securing a controversial draw against Aussie icon John Wayne Parr in the Gunslinger’s hometown of Brisbane.
When asked if he felt that his achievements have been overlooked in a recent interview, Boom wasn’t fazed by his anonymity; “I never thought of myself as underrated, that that I’d done anything special at the time. I was just fighting and doing my thing. It wasn’t until I retired and looked back that I thought “how awesome” which probably didn’t help me. I wasn’t very good at marketing myself; I was just happy doing what I was doing and very lucky to be able to do some traveling, and meet some awesome people along the way.”
Eugene now runs his own gym, “Boom’s Gym” in Perth’s northern suburbs where he enjoys training some of the current generation’s rising stars.
2) Langsuan Panyuthaphum
It’s a wonder why Langsuan isn’t a household name amongst Muay Thai enthusiasts. The muay khao specialist rose from humble beginnings in the Phayao province of northern Thailand to win four Lumpinee titles across three different weight divisions during the sport’s golden era. That’s more major stadium titles than the likes of modern-day legends Pongsiri PK Saenchai, Muangthai, or Kulabdam.
Langsuan started his fighting career at the age of 14, going undefeated in his first ten bouts before moving to the renowned Sasiprapa gym in Bangkok. From there he became a regular in the major stadiums, attracting large crowds with his ability to utilize powerful knee strikes, even from long range. This exciting fighting style earned him the monikers “Mr Mean” and “The Merciless Knee Striker” among the fans who flocked to the stadiums for a chance to watch him in action.
Langsuan had many highs in his career, beating several golden-era contemporaries such as Lanmamoon Sor. Sumalee, Veerhaphol Sahaprom, and Hippy Singmanee, all of whom held numerous Lumpinee or Rajadamnern stadium titles during the golden era. In 1987 he won the coveted Sports Writers Association of Thailand Fighter of the Year award after winning 9 out of his 10 fights.
With a career of high accolades and star-studded opponents, it is difficult to imagine why Langsuan’s name isn’t revered in the same way as other fighters of his era. It could be because he only won 75 of his 111 recorded fights, an impressive number that diminishes when compared to the likes of Dieselnoi, Samart, and Sagat, all of whom won over 80% of their matches. Or it could be because he only fought internationally once, in the United States, limiting his exposure to Western audiences. Regardless of the reason, anyone who dives into the extensive collection of his fights available on YouTube is sure to become a fan of this underrated Muay Thai legend.
3) Dean “The Black Diamond” James
Surprisingly, the whole world doesn’t know the name Dean “The Black Diamond” James because the British school teacher and 4x Muay Thai World champion has a story worthy of a big-budget Hollywood biopic.
Dean battled against life-threatening colon cancer early in his career, an adversary that he defeated whilst simultaneously training under coach Tony Myers at Pra Choa Suu Gym in Wolverhampton. Following his victory over the disease, The Black Diamond continued to fight some of the world’s toughest opponents, facing a total of 25 world champions throughout his career so far.
A lot of The Black Diamond’s success can be attributed to his adaptable style; “I can change to meet what’s in front of me. I have good timing on elbows and knees and love clinch work.” It is this dynamic style that has helped him secure world titles in three different weight divisions ranging from Bantamweight to Lightweight whilst securing wins over some of the toughest opponents in the sport, including a TKO win against Rungravee Sasiprapa and two victories against Bad Company alumni Andy Howson.
When asked if he felt he was underrated, Dean shrugs off the question, unconcerned. “All I ever wanted to do was make my gym proud. People rate whatever they like which is understandable. I just can’t go through my career wondering about what people think of me. I show up and disappear and like it that way. I have two children when training camp is over, and once the fight is done, I’m dad again. I’d be much more concerned if someone said I was a crap dad rather than a bad fighter.”
Dean is still an active champion but with his most recent match falling through due to visa issues, he is using the time to make the transition from schoolteacher to full-time coach out of his gym, ‘Kilo Diamonds,’ in Wolverhampton. “I coach a few fighters in the top 10 of the UK ranks and I’ve been able to do that on only two sessions per week. Imagine when I have more sessions available.” So, there is no doubt that we’ll continue to see “The Black Diamond” on the world stage, whether it’s in the center ring or the corner, guiding his stable of champion fighters.
Many Muay Thai champions could have easily been a part of this list, but the rich history and global nature of the sport make it impossible to include them all. There are thousands of fights available to watch online ranging from way back in the golden era of the 1980s right up to the present day and if you take the time to dive in and do your research there is no doubt that you will find some underrated champions of your own.
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