Sagetdao Petpayathai is one of the most decorated Muay Thai champions in recent memory. The 30-year-old known as “Deadly Star” has won the prestigious Lumpinee Stadium championship belt an incredible four times, as well as the Rajadamnern and WBC titles, amongst others.
Now, he is following a path similar to his Evolve MMA teammate, former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, and making a full-fledged transition from Muay Thai to mixed martial arts.
Sagetdao has been inspired by “the challenge,” as he puts it, and professed that he wanted to test his Muay Thai skills in a different arena.
The Thai legend’s first test happens on Saturday Night, 11 March. He will make his highly-anticipated MMA debut against unbeaten newcomer Kelvin “Ice Man” Ong at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM, which takes live at the Impact Arena in his old stomping grounds of Bangkok, Thailand.
The Malaysian Ong, who trains out of Borneo Tribunal Squad with the likes of A.J. “Pyro” Lias Mansor and Ann Osman, had his first and only career fight last July, prevailing by TKO.
“From what I have seen, he is a strong fighter. I look forward to meeting him in the cage, and I will be expecting a good challenge. I feel I have the edge because of my Muay Thai experience,” Sagetdao states. “I do not envision it ending in a certain way, because I know anything can happen in a fight. That said, I am confident of getting the victory.”
That confidence and burning desire to achieve victory has motivated him ever since he first laced up a pair of gloves. In fact, he used his love for Muay Thai as a way to escape poverty and provide his family with a better future.
Raised primarily by his grandmother in Maha Sarakham in Northeast Thailand, a young Sagetdao and his two siblings lived a simple country lifestyle. They went to school, played football, and survived on very little. Their parents worked in Bangkok at a textile factory, and would send money back home whenever they could.
By the time he was 7 years old, he had discovered Muay Thai on television, and fell in love with it. He often watched it with his uncle and soon enough, he wanted to give it a try.
“Muay Thai is a challenging sport that I enjoy. I like the fact that because it is an individual sport, the fighter controls and is responsible for his success and failure,” Sagetdao recalls.
“Training was hard. Getting to the gym was even more difficult. I remember riding on the back of a motorcycle for about eight kilometers, just so I could train. Still, it was fun. I liked that destiny was in my own hands — to do whatever it takes to achieve what you want.”
At first, Sagetdao had trouble maintaining his aggressive style beyond two rounds, and often felt depleted of his energy. But as he matured and fine-tuned his game, the man known as “Deadly Star” transformed into an unstoppable Muay Thai sensation and lived up to his billing.
Throughout the course of his Muay Thai career, he had over 200 fights, winning an impressive majority of them, and defeated luminaries such as Saenchai Sor Kingstar. He also claimed every major accolade in the Muay Thai world, some of them multiple times in different weight classes. More importantly, on top of it all, he was able to financially support his family.
“During my whole career, I only ever kept a small bit of my winnings for living costs — most of my winnings went to my family,” he reveals. “Being able to put my sister through university and have a brighter future is something I really am proud of.”
Sagetdao secured his future even more when he relocated to Singapore in 2014 to teach Muay Thai at the famed Evolve MMA. But while he was sharpening the skills of young competitors and educating a new generation on “the art of eight limbs,” he noticed the emergence of MMA, and he wanted to get in on the action.
“It has been a fun challenge, trying to get better every day,” he says. “It is also exciting learning a new skill set. Some Muay Thai clinch concepts translate a little to the ground game. I am lucky and thankful to train with so many great world champions at Evolve MMA.”
Sagetdao will have the opportunity to showcase that new skill set when he returns to Bangkok to face Ong on 11 March. Although this is a new path and a natural progression in his ever-evolving martial arts journey, he has cherished the ride, and is motivated to triumph in his new career.
“Martial arts has given me everything I have in life. I owe everything I have — all my success — to Muay Thai. It has helped me become more disciplined, and it has taught me the value of hard work,” he says.
“The need to escape poverty was the driving force, and to give my family a better future. Now, knowing that my future is all up to me, if I work hard, I can control my destiny.”
In the past year, 26-year-old Jenny Huang of Chinese Taipei has impressively disposed of three quality opponents in ONE Championship with slick submissions, pushed her flawless record to 5-0, and excited the fans every time she stepped inside the cage. Now, she is being rewarded for her efforts.
Huang is set to challenge inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee for her coveted title in the main event of ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM. The card broadcasts live on Saturday Night, 11 March, from the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.“I am really shocked. It means nothing is impossible,” she says. “The champion Angela Lee is a well-rounded fighter, so it is an honor to have an opportunity to fight against her.”
With the title bout set, Huang decided to make some important life changes. The atomweight left her longtime gym, Martial Armour in her native Chinese Taipei, and relocated to China to be part of Tianjin Top Team, which features fellow ONE competitors Li Kai Wen, Xie Bin, and Ma Jia Wen.
The Taiwan native made the jump for two reasons: “First, Tianjin Top Team has good training systems. I came to learn many martial arts, and train with the many great pro MMA fighters. Second, it is sad about the environment in my hometown. A few people have made the MMA business like Game of Thrones. It is not easy to be a pro MMA fighter there.”
Though it was not an easy decision to pack her bags and move to Northeastern China, Huang believes the sacrifices she is making will prove to be worthwhile because she wants to return to Chinese Taipei as a World Champion, and most importantly, make her family proud. More specifically, her parents.
Truth be told, she has always had a difficult time obtaining her mother and father’s approval when it came to her martial arts pursuits.
As a child, Huang was hooked on martial arts cinema and often mimicked Jackie Chan’s fight choreography. For young Jenny, she yearned to learn something — anything — and desperately tried to make that happen. She initially attempted to practice taekwondo and attended a pair of classes with her younger brother. Her father, however, pulled the plug on that immediately.
“My father thought I should be an elegant girl, and just study and be smart,” she recalls.
Ironically, it was in school where Huang would excel in the martial arts. When she was 12, a friend invited her to train in judo. She honed her craft in junior high and made the high school judo team, earning her black belt along the way.
That only further fueled her love for martial arts, and eventually led her to MMA, where she could master all of the disciplines she wanted.
Using judo as a base, she made her professional debut in May 2015, and has since rattled off five consecutive victories. That includes her most recent win, where she submitted Team Lakay’s April Osenio via gogoaplata in the second round at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION last December. It was a performance that won her ONE’s Submission of the Year 2016 honors.
Nevertheless, even though the number one contender has become a modern-day action star in Asia’s premier MMA organization, not having her mother and father’s approval still stings.
“My parents do not understand my MMA career,” she says. “They just want me be a normal girl. This is one of reasons why I am training so hard. I want to prove myself to my parents and have them be proud of me. I want to be myself. I do not want someone to tell me who to be.”
Huang can accomplish that, and much more, by defeating Lee for the belt at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM. But that will be much easier said than done. After all, the champ is nicknamed “Unstoppable” for a reason.
Also undefeated, Lee has become the top draw in ONE Championship. Since her debut back in 2015, the 20-year-old heroine has won all six of her matches. The first five came by submission, with the sixth seeing her edge out Japanese champion Mei Yamaguchi in a Fight Of The Year thriller for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship.
That does not deter Huang. In fact, it motivates her. The Taiwanese judoka is confident in her abilities, and plans to formally introduce the world to the martial artist she truly is at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM.
“I am very confident. I believe in myself. That is what I learned from my last fight. I know I will fight amazing this time also,” she says with conviction. “I am very grateful ONE Championship believes in me and gave me this opportunity.
“It is time to show people who Jenny Huang is. You never know the result because I am unpredictable.”
The 21-year-old Benguet, Philippines, native witnessed first-hand how Team Lakay’s elder statesman Folayang rose above poverty, and endured a tumultuous period of uncertainty in his mixed martial arts career before becoming one of the brightest superstars and most beloved titleholders in ONE Championship.
“Before he got the belt, he went through a lot of ups and downs in his career. He was beaten and was knocked out twice, but I saw the fight still burning in him,” Pacio says. “Now, he still goes to the gym and tries to get better and better every day. He taught me a lot about life and its spiritual side, and he taught me positive attitudes that will bring me up in my career.”
Now, nearly five months removed from his first career loss, Pacio will carry all of his hero’s guidance and wisdom with him as he restarts his campaign to title contention.
At ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM on Saturday Night, 11 March, he will square off against former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke at the Impact Arena. The bout takes place in his opponent’s former stomping grounds of Bangkok, Thailand, where Amnuaysirichoke made a name for himself on the national Muay Thai scene. The veteran Amnuaysirichoke has had over 300 professional Muay Thai fights, and ultimately became a three-time Lumpinee Champion.
Pacio is fully aware of his opponent’s striking prowess, but he can throw down, too. The Team Lakay product has an extensive background in wushu and Muay Thai, as well as a formidable ground game that he has put on display numerous times inside the cage. With that in mind, the young prodigy feels particularly confident.
“Of course I have the advantage in wrestling and grappling. I can strike with him, but I have a lot of respect for his striking game. He is a three-time Lumpinee champion, so I respect him a lot,” the Filipino states. “I will push myself, I will do well, and I will do everything to win this fight, because it is a very important fight. It does not matter if it is a decision, a submission, or a knockout.”
Pacio, who learned Thai Boxing from his uncle in 2007 and transitioned into wushu two years later, has experienced a meteoric rise in MMA. The athletic young man fans see today is a far cry from the overweight child he once was.
While beginning his education at the University of Cordilleras in 2013 as a Hospitality Management major, he also started competing on the school’s now-famed wushu team, and was training with Filipino fight legend Mark Sangiao at Team Lakay in anticipation of his MMA debut.
He made the plunge in December 2013, rattled off six consecutive wins in the next two and a half years, and finished all of his opponents with relative ease. Then, he was pleasantly surprised when he got the call to sign for ONE Championship. By that time, he was barely 20.
“I did not expect to be here at this level last year,” he admits. “When I started fighting in MMA, I thought I would fight on the big stage when I turned 25, or something like that. But through my hard work and hitting the gym every day, Coach Mark saw that I was pushing myself at a young age. So I also started to see myself as ready for fighting on the big stage in ONE Championship.”
Pacio’s string of success only continued. He scored a TKO win over Filipino wushu champion Rabin Catalan at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS in April 2016, and followed that up by submitting Thai wrestling champion Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first round rear-naked choke at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD later that August.
That combination of his hot streak and impeccable skills earned the university student a shot at Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito’s strawweight belt. It was something he almost couldn’t believe was happening.
The bout took place at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS in October. Pacio initially held control, stuffing nearly all of the unbeaten champ’s takedowns and battering him on the feet. But a minute into the third round, he made a rookie mistake when defending a takedown. That cost him the bout, and brought the first and only blemish to his record.
“My game plan was to sprawl and not to go with him to the cage because that is his strength. I was stopping all the takedowns in the center of the cage. He took me down once and did nothing. But when he got me against the cage, he got me in the choke and that was it,” he says with an embarrassed chuckle. “I was thinking so much about my striking game that I forgot I also had grappling skills.”
Everyone in this sport makes mistakes, even Folayang. Now, he hopes to bounce back like his hero and defeat Amnuaysirichoke.
There is a lot at stake for both mixed martial artists. Like Pacio, Amnuaysirichoke’s only career loss came at the hands of Naito, whom he lost the belt to last May in front of his countrymen at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS in Bangkok. He certainly does not want to repeat the same mistake, especially in his home country.
Most importantly, the winner of this bout could easily become the number one contender and secure a much-desired rematch with the Japanese World Champion before the year concludes.
“Fans have been waiting for this fight to happen. They expect the winner of this fight to get a title rematch against Naito,” the Filipino says. “Everyone wants to be a champion, but I want it badly.”