The stakes could not be any higher for Thailand’s Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai. On Saturday, 9 December, the Thai martial arts pioneer will return to the cage in front of a roaring hometown crowd at Bangkok’s Impact Arena, where he will meet Russia’s Rasul Yakhyaev in the co-main event of ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD.
The bout is a title eliminator for the ONE Lightweight World Championship, which is currently held by two-division World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
A convincing victory by Wiratchai could very well line him up against Nguyen sometime in 2018, so competing for this golden opportunity in front of his countrymen is a golden opportunity.
For now, the Thai is just trying to concentrate on the task at hand, which is to deliver an entertaining highlight reel performance for his compatriots.
“Competing in front of my hometown fans is always a great pleasure, and huge pressure at the same time,” the 29-year-old says. “The only thing in my head is to make sure that I work hard and do my best, because when my hometown fans buy a ticket to see me, they are doing me an honor, and I will not disappoint them.”
Over the past couple of years, Wiratchai has looked absolutely phenomenal inside of the cage. He is currently riding a six-bout win streak, with victories over elite martial artists the likes of Singapore lightweight contender Amir Khan, Malaysian star Peter Davis, and Myanmar lethwei champion Kyal Linn Aung.
Most recently, the Thai had an impressive showings when he faced Rajinder Singh Meena at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS in August. He was originally scheduled to meet “Ruthless” Rob Lisita, but after the Australian slugger withdrew, he was replaced by the Indian champion on two weeks’ notice.
That was not an issue for “OneShin,” however. He accepted the bout, but set out to challenge himself.
“It was a bit disappointing, because I prepared for one tough martial artist, but had no chance to use what I had been training for. But what I knew about Rajinder is that he never gets knocked out, so that is what I tried to do to challenge myself,” Wiratchai explains.
The Thai knocked Meena out with a thunderous clinch knee to the head only 29 seconds into the contest, which saw him succeed in his personal challenge, and provided him with the fastest victory of his six-year career. Late opponent change or not, Wiratchai made a statement in that victory.
“It says a lot about how to deal with life,” he continues. “Life is all about changing. In every change there is always an opportunity. I hate the change, but when it happens, I will take the opportunity inside and make the best out of that opportunity.”
That victory turned into a massive opportunity, as he is now co-headlining ONE’s year-end show in his hometown, and competing opposite Yakhyaev in a title eliminator for the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Yakhyaev, who trains out of Fight Club Berkut in Russia’s Chechen Republic, is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu and combat sambo Champion. The 26-year-old Grozny native is a bonafide grappler, but is also a threat on his feet, with seven of his ten victories having come via stoppage.
Wiratchai knows the clear and present danger Yakhyaev possesses, and is fully aware that the Russian martial art’s strengths may have a huge impact on the match.
Nonetheless, one of Thailand’s finest martial artists believes he can compete with Yakhyaev in every aspect of the game.
“Rasul is dangerous everywhere,” the Thai acknowledges. “But I think I can handle him on the feet. Chechen wrestlers are always some of the best in the world, but I have wrestled with many high-level wrestlers. I might not invite him into wrestling, but I can go for that if necessary.”
In preparation for the upcoming clash, Wiratchai and his girlfriend Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige, who will be competing on the main card, are splitting their time between their traditional gym home at Bangkok Fight Lab and Phuket’s Tiger Muay Thai & MMA. At both locations, the pair are able to capture two completely different energies, as each camp provides different benefits. In Phuket, Wiratchai tends to get into competition shape and focuses entirely on drilling, whereas in Bangkok he stays fresh with his techniques and deals with the more strategic parts of cage combat.
“Bangkok training is great. Many great guys are around, I can go around the city and train with many high-level guys in many different aspects of the game. Also, my head coach, Lee Livingstone, is there, so I can get good advice from him all the time. Bangkok is a good place for technical development,” Wiratchai details. “But, Phuket life is more friendly for my intensive camp.
“I always spend at least one month before the bout at Tiger Muay Thai. I can train full-time with no traffic problems, and high-level athletes from around the world are here. I just stop my work in Bangkok, and stay focused in Phuket before the bout.”
Now, with the match drawing near, “OneShin” is completely focused on the mission before him, which is to entertain his countrymen, deliver a spectacular finish over Yakhyaev, and enter 2018 with a world title opportunity.
“2017 is a year that I have been working very hard. I hope I win this match, and 2018 will be another year that I keep working hard. Not just for myself, but for Thai martial arts.”