“Smokin’” Jo Nattawut is proud of everything he has accomplished in his Muay Thai career, but he believes the best is yet to come.
The 26-year-old has competed all over the world, but now his attention is focused strictly on ONE Super Series, and he is prepared to make his promotional debut on the global stage for martial arts.
Before they step into the cage together to do battle, learn more about Nattawut from his humble beginnings in Thailand, to his status as one of the sport’s best practitioners.
Learning From The School Of Hard Knocks
Nattawut may have grown up in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, but as a young child, he did not picture himself competing the country’s national sport of Muay Thai. As a matter of fact, he did not even know what the martial art was, exactly.
Initially, “Smokin” Jo was a soccer player, and was more focused on kicking a ball than a heavy bag. All of that changed when he was 10 years of age.
“I was playing soccer with my friends, and there was a new teacher in school that I saw who was kicking a bag one day, and doing shadow boxing,” Nattawut recalls.
“I said, ‘What is this?’ And he said, ‘Muay Thai,’ and he knew everything about Muay Thai. So that day after school, we all went to train Muay Thai, just for exercise. I was not serious about it at all, but I kept doing Muay Thai all the way through high school.”
While Nattawut has come to be known as one of the best Muay Thai practitioners on the planet, he did not get involved in the sport to become a world champion, but rather as a way to stay in shape while working on his education.
Despite having competed in the famed Lumpinee Stadium, Nattawut took an extended break from the sport when he was in school. He was not earning the kind of money he needed to survive, and that forced him to seek out alternative career paths.
“In 2007, I stopped training. I stopped competing because of work and school,” Nattawut says.
“At the time, I just wanted to do some new things. I was not that good, and I could not make [much money] at the time. I could not make a living off it. So I stopped, and I had a job, and I made better money than doing Muay Thai back then.”
Six years later, he moved to Colorado. He lived in the mountainous region of the Rockies, saw snow for the first time, and developed a passion for snowboarding. But later in the summer of 2013, when all the snow had melted, he decided to give Muay Thai another try.
“In the summer, I would just get bored. There was nothing to do, so I would do Muay Thai,” Nattawut says. “I knew Master Khunpon from a friend in Thailand, so I talked to him on Facebook. He said, ‘If you want to train again, you can come here to Atlanta,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s try.’
“I came here, and he helped me move, and he taught me more English and stuff. After three years off, and several years of serious training, I had a short notice bout. I won on 10 days’ notice. Two months later, I had a 24-hour notice bout, and I won again. I kept winning, and I was like, ‘I think I am good.’”
Influenced By A Master
Considering Nattawut grew up in the hotbed of Muay Thai in his home country of Thailand, it turns out it was actually meeting his head coach and instructor, Master Khunpon, in Atlanta, Georgia, that led him back to the sport.
According to the “Smokin” one, back home when athletes are training to become Muay Thai competitors, they have to eat, sleep, and breathe the sport while actually living in the gym. That lifestyle may have played a small factor in driving him away.
However, in the United States, Nattawut was able to build a life for himself outside the gym walls, and that reignited his passion for the sport again.
“In Thailand, everybody lives in the gym. We eat there, we pray there, and we train there,” Nattawut explains.
“Here, we work hard, and we train seriously. But after training, I have my own life, and my own schedule. I know when I am supposed to train, and when I am supposed to rest. Khunpon helped teach me what to eat, and what I should do during a training camp.”
The Best Is Yet To Come
Now that Nattawut has been living in the United States for five years, he has amassed an incredible record of 66-6-2 while competing in events around the world. He has also captured numerous titles, including the WMC World Championship, and both the Lion Fight Super Welterweight and Middleweight World Titles.
Most importantly, Nattawut has fallen in love with the sport again, and that is why he is so excited to kick off the next phase of his career by being part of the ONE Super Series.
In fact, the Thai believes this could be the biggest opportunity of his entire career, and he hopes ONE Championship will not only elevate his career, but also bring Muay Thai to the masses in a way the sport has never seen before.
“The reason why I have anything today is because of Muay Thai. No matter where I went, I always had Muay Thai in my heart. I was never that far away from Muay Thai,” Nattawut says.
“ONE Championship is a really, really big promotion, and this is a really big deal for me. This is a big next step for me in my career. It is so good for this sport because they have so many fans, and now people will [learn] about this sport more.”
Manila | 20 April | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onehonor18