Martial arts usually has a profound effect on many of its practitioners, changing people’s lives for the better. For Yodsanan “Little Tyson” Sityodong, it completely altered the course of his reality.
The Thai went from helping his mother pick rice for a lowly wage to becoming one of the best featherweight boxers on the planet, and is now a striking coach for one of Asia’s leading fight gyms. But in addition to improving his lifestyle and providing him with a stellar professional career, martial arts also gave him a sense of humility.
“It has taught me to be resilient, disciplined, and have respect for my opponents. I learned not to take advantage of people or bully anyone. It truly has made me a better person,” the 42-year-old states. “In my role as an instructor at Evolve MMA, my boxing and Muay Thai knowledge has enabled me to help people and teach them the art, as well pass on these values.“
Now, the Evolve MMA instructor will get the opportunity once again to demonstrate his skills, and showcase those values, to fans all around the world as he graces the ONE Championship cage once again.
On Saturday Night, 11 March, Sityodong returns to his home country to fight Filipino Kyokushin Karate Champion Ramon “The Bicolano” Gonzales at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM, which broadcasts live from the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.
Gonzales, a 29-year-old who has an even 1-1 record, last appeared inside the cage two years ago when he lost to Kun Khmer specialist Chan Rothana. Even in defeat, he demonstrated an improved ground game, a ferocious stand-up attack, and devastating spinning kicks.
“He is a karate-style guy with some interesting karate techniques,” the Singapore-based Thai says of his rival. “I have seen him fight in ONE, and I believe he is a strong fighter and a dangerous opponent. I am not taking him lightly. That said, I feel that I have the advantage in all areas — on the ground and standing.”
In particular, Sityodong has been developing his striking craft ever since he was a child, and the hardships he encountered along the way only strengthened him spiritually and emotionally.
The youngest of six children, Sityodong grew up in the northeast Thai province of Sisaket. His father passed away mere weeks before he was born, and though he was raised in poverty, his mother and other siblings worked in the rice fields to provide what little they could for the family.
Although it seemed very likely he would follow the same fate, he dreamed about being a Muay Thai fighter. He even made a homemade heavy bag so he could practice his kicks.
Despite not having any formal training, he had his first match when he was 13. Sityodong convinced fight organizers in a nearby village to let him compete. He won that match, and he kept compiling victories over the next four years until a policemen approached him, and arranged for him to train at the legendary Sityodong camp in Pattaya.
“Enduring poverty as a kid was extremely hard, but the hardest thing I was able to overcome was making it to a Muay Thai camp,” he explains. “I did not have anyone to take me to fights when I was younger, so I often went on my own to small temple festivals and fights in the countryside to compete. Through perseverance, I was able to meet the right person, who helped me get into the Sityodtong camp.“
At 18, just one year into his training at the legendary camp, he filled in as a late replacement for an injured teammate and represented the team for a Muay Thai fight. He won via first-round knockout.
That is when his reality was altered once again. The camp’s famous trainer, Kru Yodtong, recognized his colossal punching power and convinced him to become a boxer instead.
“Little Tyson”, as Sityodtong would later be nicknamed, became one of the most dominant boxers of his generation. In his storied boxing career, he accumulated a marvelous 58-3-1 record with 47 victories by way of knockout, and claimed the prized WBA World Super Featherweight Championship, a belt he held from 2002 through 2005. At one point, there were even rumblings of a superfight with Manny Pacquiao.
However, after winning the IBF Australasian Light Welterweight Title in 2009, he hung up the boxing gloves and relocated to Singapore to teach the sweet science, and the art of eight limbs, at Evolve MMA.
Sityodong enjoyed instructing at the Singapore-based mega gym, but admittedly, he was getting more and more attracted to this growing craze called mixed martial arts. It intrigued him so much, he decided to try it out himself.
“I wanted to keep fighting, since my body still allowed me to,” he says. “Despite a long boxing career, I still had the hunger for competition.“
After spending two years training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling, and further cultivating his top-notch striking skills, “Little Tyson” made his debut at ONE’s inaugural show CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION in 2011. He knocked out Daniel Mashamaite 14 seconds into the second round with a flying knee.
Sityodong would fall to Longyun Jiang in his follow-up match six months later via rear-naked choke, and unexpectedly disappeared from competition for four years. However, it was not because he was disheartened over the loss or that he lost interest in the sport, but rather, he was focused on teaching.
“I was dedicated to my work as a boxing and Muay Thai instructor at Evolve MMA. I did not have much time to commit to competition, and I just could not give my all.”
In 2016, he got the hunger back. Sityodong, as he puts it, “wanted so badly to fight again, and in Thailand,” that he returned to ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS for the company’s first-ever Bangkok show last May. He smashed through Chrech Kosal in the first round without breaking much of a sweat.
Ten months removed from his last bout, his fledgeling mixed martial arts career will continue when he faces Gonzales, a 29-year-old Filipino Karate Champion with some of the most devastating spinning kicks in the game.
While all signs point to a thrilling, yet calculated stand-up catchweight battle, the Manila native has proven to possess improved grappling and could very well take the match to the ground. But that is more than fine with the Thai warrior, who has been training with multiple BJJ World Champions, and is constantly building upon his submission techniques.
A victory will undoubtedly add another exclamation point to the storied career of the boxing great, and though he has dreams of winning a championship belt one more time, he is more than satisfied on being a positive role model to a new generation of martial artists.
“I will take it fight by fight. If I do well, I would love to fight for a title, but I am really taking it one fight at a time,” he says. “I want to show that even though I might be older, I can still compete at the top and be a good example for younger fighters.“