Anatpong “Mak” Bunrad may be one of the leading men in Thailand’s mixed martial arts movement, but he went through his fair share of hardship to reach this point in his life. The 30-year-old dealt with many difficulties as a young boy, such as suffering from culture shock, surrounding himself with negative influences, and growing up without a father.
Born in the Northeast Thai province of Udon Thani, he spent the first six years of his life with his grandfather in the neighboring Nong Bua Lam Phu province, while his mother sought better financial opportunities as a cook in Bangkok.
Then, when his mom married a Belgian, he and his sister moved with them to Brussels to start anew. Leaving the comfort of rural Asia for modern Europe was quite the culture shock.
“Arriving in Belgium, initially it was very difficult,” Bunrad begins. “Adapting to the culture, the language, and the climate was not very easy. Also, my family situation was not so good.”
Despite the tough adjustment, there were a few positives for the youngster. He attended excellent schools, and became friends with people from various different ethnic backgrounds. But that does not necessarily mean “Mak” was a standout pupil. In fact, by his own admission, he was “not a good student,” and he was influenced by the darker side of life.
“I was such a bad kid,” he reminisces. “I was drinking, smoking, and even getting into fights. I was constantly pushing the boundaries. I did not have any respect for myself and for what my mother did for me, and I preferred walking around in the streets with friends.”
Amidst his delinquency, however, Bunrad discovered something that would change his life forever. Nine years ago, he developed an interest in martial arts watching famed Muay Thai practitioner and multi-time K-1 MAX World Champion Buakaw Banchamek. The legend’s skills and talent influenced the man called “Mak” to embark on his own martial arts journey.
“This sport and the martial arts lifestyle brings balance to my life, and helps me to follow a straight line,” Bunrad says. “That is the main inspiration, and reason why I am so passionate.”
Bunrad was a natural at martial arts. He had a successful amateur kickboxing career, going 16-2, and earned a black belt in Shihaishinkai karate and a purple belt in BJJ along the way. In 2010, he made his professional debut in mixed martial arts, and submitted his opponent via heel hook in the first round.
Even today, the Phuket Top Team standout says the sport has made him a better man. Burned is preparing to battle Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, in a rematch from their previous encounter two years ago, which “Mak” won.
“Mixed martial arts has taught me a lot about discipline, rigor, and self-respect, as well as respect for others. It still does,” he explains. “It truly is a school of life. It is like a second father who teaches you.”
Although Bunrad has built a successful life for himself, he always had the desire to meet the man who gave him life. Recently, he finally got the chance. Over a year ago, at the age of 29, he had a brief conversation and an intensely emotional moment with his birth father back at his home village in Thailand.
Though his dad passed away a few months after their short interaction, the martial artist calls it “a feeling of happiness,” and feels grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the man he never got to know.