Yohann Fairtex Drai has taken a long and winding road to reach the biggest stage in martial arts.
The 26-year-old has gone from diving in Marseille, France, to training in Muay Thai with some of the best martial artists in the world in Pattaya, Thailand.
Before he steps into the Axiata Arena for his Muay Thai featherweight thriller, find out what has brought Drai to ONE Super Series.
From The Ocean To The Gym
Drai enjoyed an active childhood in Marseille on France’s south coast.
“I was living on the sea or under the sea,” he says. “I was doing a lot of windsurfing, and when there was no wind, I was diving.”
His parents are pharmacists, and wanted their son to study hard in school and pursue a ‘normal’ path in life. They expected him to get a degree and a secure job.
Although he got his baccalauréat (the main diploma required to pursue university studies in France) in economics, and moved on to university, his passion lay elsewhere.
After less than a year in higher education, he left to pursue martial arts – against his parents’ wishes.
“When I first joined a martial arts gym, my father didn’t want to pay, so I paid with money I received from a birthday gift,” he explains.
“I didn’t have support form my parents for what I did. They didn’t see things the same way I do. It was pretty difficult.”
Though they understand his path in life now, at that time, Drai had to do it alone.
The Way Of The Warrior
Drai’s experience with martial arts is extensive and varied.
He began his education at the age of 15 with sambo, receiving tough training in the Russian combat sport with Chechen teammates.
He also tried mixed martial arts, but the sport faced a lot of political opposition in his homeland at the time, so he sought other competitive pursuits.
At the age of 19, he turned his attention to the pure striking arts – full-contact French boxing, boxing, and K-1 style kickboxing – which changed his life.
“A friend told me to come and try boxing. He wanted to see how I could fight,” he remembers.
“It was crazy. The first time I went there, I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’ Within a year, I was better than all my friends at university.”
He had found his true calling, but he found it difficult to maintain his competitive career while working as a commercial diver for an oil and gas company to support his training.
“I would work for three or four months, and then only train for three or four months, but if you’re a real professional, you cannot do this. It’s not possible in our job,” he explains.
With no help from his family or sponsors in France, Drai looked abroad to forge a career. He spent two months training in kickboxing in Amsterdam, but he did not settle in the Netherlands. His first trip to Thailand to the birthplace of Muay Thai was different.
“A month later, my friend said, ‘Come on, let’s go to Thailand. You will see that it’s great.’ I went with him, and fell in love with this country and this sport. Since then, I’ve been here for more than four years,” he says.
He began life in “The Land of Smiles” at Pattaya’s Petchsaman Gym, but after two years, he went to the world-famous Fairtex gym to step up his training. However, to keep his place on the team, he had to pass a tough test.
“I went there, and for two months I trained very hard with them. My manager told me there was a fight in China, and it would be the test to see if they keep me,” he says.
“Yodsanklai [IWE Fairtex] was in my corner, so I could not lose that fight. I fought a Lumpinee Stadium World Champion, and it was a very tough fight.
“His technique was better than mine, but I had a better physique. I won the fight, they kept me there at Fairtex gym, and it’s where my professional career really started.”
A New Beginning
Drai had competed for many years already, but now he was a member of an elite team, and his career could take off.
“It’s so difficult to find someone to invest in you, and have trainers to take care of you and train you every day with the same motivation to make you better. But, I found this in Fairtex,” he explains.
He was surrounded by some of the best Muay Thai World Champions to ever grace a ring – like ONE Super Series’ Yodsanklai and Saemapetch Fairtex – which provided the perfect environment to improve.
The 26-year-old concedes he is not a technically perfect striker, but his work ethic means he can compete with anyone.
“When I arrived here, I only had my motivation. Okay, I had good power in my hands, but I didn’t know to punch, I didn’t know how to kick, I didn’t know how to clinch,” he admits.
“I trained harder than the other people, so I learned faster. This is one of my qualities. I will watch people, and I can do what I see quite quickly. I learned a lot here, and I’m still learning.”
His results, including his capture of a Super Muay Thai Title, have proven how much he has come along.
Now, he gets to show the world what he can do in ONE Super Series amongst the world’s best strikers. He competes in the co-main event of ONE: PURSUIT OF POWER against two-division Lion Fight World Champion Nattawut, and the winner could very well be on the cusp of a ONE World Title shot.