Unfortunately, last Sunday, 16th May 2020, we lost a legend in the Muay Thai world. Sangtiennoi Sor. Rungroj sadly took his own life age 54.
A legend from Muay Thai’s ‘Golden Age’, Sangtiennoi fought a who’s who of Muay Thai greats. From Muay Thai legends such as Samkor Kiatmontip, Sakmongkol, Nokweed Devy and Namkabuan, who also sadly passed away due to cancer earlier this year. He also fought the best of the small international competition at the time, defeating Ramon Dekkers and Dany Bill.
Sangtiennoi didn’t plan on becoming a fighter, but with a squad of older brothers all competing in Muay Thai he found himself pushed towards the sport. While it might not have been his original goal in life, he certainly made the most of it. Sangtiennoi was a ferocious southpaw knee fighter. Being a knee fighter requires you to by far, be the fittest guy in the gym. Knee fighting requires relentless forward pressure, volume and to be tireless in the clinch, all the being able to defend yourself, but also take punishment coming in.
Sangtiennoi was no exception:
Being a southpaw, Sangtiennoi had easy access to the coveted left kick to the liver. While orthodox fighters can make use of a switch kick, they don’t have the consistent power of a southpaw’s left. Although while a fine technician, Sangtiennoi’s kick didn’t have the same grace and power of someone like Yodsanklai.
Instead it was something of a slam. Sangtiennoi’s goal was to land knees, which puts him in the awkward position of often being a little too close to comfortably wind up a kick. Instead he would use a very straight forward, yet bizarrely under-used tactic… he’d just shove his opponent.
By pushing his opponent back with his hands, like a school bully, he would create the space to slam a kick choppy body kick into the opponents liver, before marching forward with more knees and chopping elbows.
Posting, pushing and generally hand fighting were a huge part of Sangtiennoi’s game. If you can control your opponents guard and posture, you can more effectively control them in a fight. Pushing, pulling and generally knocking around his opponents guard set him up for any elbow, kick or knee he could possibly want to land, all the while keeping his opponent from mounting a successful offence against him.
People in the West will probably be most likely know Sangtiennoi from his fights with Ramon Dekkers. Dekkers has an interesting career, in that while he was certainly a great athlete and entertaining fighter, he wasn’t anywhere near as dominant a fighter as he’s mythologised as being. Usually in Thailand, he would simply lose. Despite losing however, he was always able to put on a show. His handsy brawling style however played perfectly into Sangtiennoi’s hands each time they fought, comfortably beating Dekkers each time (despite a very poor judges decision in their final fight).
In their second bout, we see Sangtiennoi over 5 rounds comfortably out box Dekkers, repeatedly breaking down the dutchman’s guard and working body punches and kicks, whenever Dekkers would try to punch he would find his arm trapped and Sangtiennoi would simply punch him in the face. Occasionally we would see Dekkers respond with a flurry of blows that made him famous, but they all bounced off Sangtiennoi’s guard. Truly it was a testament to Sangtiennoi’s relentless pressure and defensive ability that we see Dekkers on the back foot the entire fight. Younger fans may not realise how unusual that is to see.
In the final round Dekkers came out more aggressive and gave the sort of showing fans had come to expect, he fought aggressively and was finally able to actually do some damage to Sangtiennoi, unfortunately the aggression made it easier for Sangtiennoi to overwhelm him in the clinch.
The YouTube comments for this fight are… dire. As are the comments section for most Dekkers fights, as seemingly very of his fans actually understand that momentary flurries of aggression with techniques that don’t score under Thai rules, are not winning criteria vs a consistent, relentless attack with scoring techniques.
Make no mistake about it, these fights were wins for Sangtiennoi, and as always come fight end he would plant a kiss on his opponent. Something of a trademark for Sangtiennoi, who before defeating a fighter would kiss them on the forehead as something of a playful jab. No one can say the man was without humour.
After retiring from fighting, Sangtiennoi began coaching at a gym of his own name and making, ushering the next generation of fighters. Sadly though, his battle with depression was something no one around him seemed to know about, leading to his suicide.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are quite common among ex fighters, and plenty of Thai greats have struggled with them. Dieselnoi, the legend who our gym is named for, is a suicide survivor. Everyone has their own battle to fight, we can only hope that if you are feeling the weight of the world, that you know you are not alone and reach out to someone.
Some words of encouragement from many Muay Thai Legends, including Sangtiennoi himself.