Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke had been the most dominant strawweight in ONE Championship. The Muay Thai legend crushed his opponents en route to becoming the inaugural ONE Strawweight World Champion, and the first Thai-born MMA World Champion. But he made a critical mistake in his last fight that cost him the belt and shattered his pride.
Last May, in front of his compatriots in Bangkok, Thailand, the Evolve MMA product defended his title against unbeaten Japanese wrecking ball Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS. Although he had a promising start, Naito eventually wore him down with flawless grappling, and spoiled his homecoming in the fourth round via rear-naked choke.
Not only did Amnuaysirichoke drop the title and receive his first career loss, but he felt he had let his countrymen down.
“I was disappointed that I lost in front of my home crowd. I had prepared for all aspects for that fight with Naito — both stand-up and on the ground. But I made a mistake on the ground, and he was able to capitalize,” the 38-year-old admits.
“I learned that there were aspects of my game that I had to work even harder on and improve. It made me determined to continue to become the best martial artist I can be.“
Nearly ten months later, Amnuaysirichoke will return to the scene of the crime and begin his road to redemption. On Saturday Night, 11 March, the Muay Thai legend will fight ex-title challenger Joshua Pacio at the Impact Arena in Bangkok during ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM.
Like Amnuaysirichoke, Pacio is a devastating striker. The quick 21-year-old Filipino has crisp wushu and Muay Thai, and has been polishing his grappling skills under the careful eye of Team Lakay’s head coach Mark Sangiao.
The former champ knows Pacio is a formidable opponent, but he feels positive about snagging the win and starting his comeback on solid footing.
“I have a lot of respect for my opponent and I know it will be a tough fight. There will be some problem-solving that I will be doing during the fight, and I am confident that I will come away victorious,” Amnuaysirichoke states.
“For me, there isn’t any added pressure. I am always determined to perform at my very best in every fight. Each fight now is an important step towards challenging for the title, so this one isn’t any different.“
Amnuaysirichoke’s first important step on his martial arts journey happened when he was nine-years-old, when he watched Muay Thai with his father at the neighbor’s house. He instantly fell in love with the sport, so much so that he kicked a rice sack filled with sand at home and trained with his friends at a local sala.
In the decade to follow, he went from kicking sand-filled rice sacks in his small village home in Trang to knocking out opponents in Bangkok’s prestigious Lumpinee Stadium, eventually becoming a three-time Lumpinee champion.
Though Amnuaysirichoke was a talented and decorated Muay Thai champion, it is the philosophies of martial arts that have shaped his life and career.
“Martial arts is not about fighting or competition,” he says. “It builds a person’s character and teaches focus, discipline, respect, responsibility, and sportsmanship. It has helped me immensely.“
His sharp and aggressive style led the modern-day legend known as “Fierce Eyes” to major international fights in Malaysia and Japan. Eventually, it also led to his next career stop in Singapore, where he was practicing and teaching Muay Thai at Evolve MMA.
Soon after arriving at the Singaporean mega gym, he became enthralled with this developing sensation called mixed martial arts. “
“When I first came to Evolve MMA, I did not think about trying MMA. But after seeing the world champions here and learning about other martial arts such as BJJ, I became interested, and wanted to take up this new challenge,” he admits.
“It was difficult at first because there were lots of complex moves and techniques to learn on the ground. It was a challenge, but it was fun, and I got the hang of it after a while. Muay Thai clinches helped me learn the ground skills a bit.”
Thus far, Amnuaysirichoke has been very successful in this new challenge. He debuted in 2014 and won four straight bouts, two via knockout and the other two by submission. In his fifth fight, at ONE: WARRIOR’S QUEST in May 2015, he defeated former PBF Super Flyweight Champ Roy Doliguez to claim the inaugural ONE Strawweight World Championship. He also became the sport’s first Thai-born MMA World Champion.
“Of course I was very proud and happy to have conquered such a great challenge and reached a goal of mine,” he says. “I was extremely proud to be the first Thai MMA World Champion.“
The reign was short-lived, however. Following a successful title defense over Yago Bryan, he ran into Naito at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS and lost the belt.
Now, nearly ten months removed from that fateful night, Amnuaysirichoke is determined to redeem himself. But he is not the only person who wants a title rematch with the strawweight king called Nobita.
Like his Thai counterpart, Pacio’s only career loss comes at the hands of Naito. The Japanese strawweight kingpin successfully defended the prestigious championship against Pacio at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS last October, and despite frustrating the champ in the first two stanzas, he succumbed to the same rear-naked choke submission that put out Amnuaysirichoke.
Both competitors are looking for a rematch with Naito, so this upcoming fight carries title implications and will move the victor one step closer to their primary objective. For Amnuaysirichoke, he believes a win over Pacio is the next logical step of his martial arts journey.
“In the short term, I am focused on my fight in Bangkok. I am looking forward to returning, and cannot wait to win for Thailand,” the national hero states. “In the long term, I want to win back the ONE title, and defend it multiple times.”