Who was the Greatest of All Time in Muay Thai?

Who was the greatest of all time in Muay Thai?

Of all of the people I’ve ever studied or broken down, no one fascinated me as much as Samart Payakaroon. A deep repertoire is nothing new in the greats, but the ability to create completely unique moments in every single fight… I’ve never seen anyone that could do that so consistently, and Samart did it against the legends.

Footage of Samart isn’t abundant at the moment. There are some of the most legendary fights in the history of Muay Thai being withheld by the combat sports tape trading society, including his actual fight with Dieselnoi. However, even though we often don’t get to see footage of Samart at his best, mostly footage when he was out of his prime, it’s easy to see why he was, and is still so revered.

The Four Kings I’ve Highlighted

I’ve featured a good amount of all-time greats in Muay Thai, such as Sagat, Saenchai, Dieselnoi, and of course Samart. Here’s some breakdowns & highlights of the other three.

Sagat Petchyindee

Sagat Petchyindee is whom the street fighter Sagat is based on–like Samart, he is a boxing champion as well as a Muay Thai and Kickboxing world champion. In fact, he taught Firas Zahabi (renown MMA coach of Georges St. Pierre) at a time when Petchyindee did not accept foreigners. Sagat is nothing short of influential and being an ultra winner.

Saenchai PKSaenchaimuaythaigym (Formerly Saenchai Sor Kingstar)

Then there’s Saenchai, whose almost unanimously regarded as the pound for pound best in Muay Thai today. Often moving up weight classes and dominating elite opponents with clean technique, it’s easy to see why he’s so great.

Dieselnoi “Sky Piercing Knee Kicker” Chor Thanasukarn

Then there’s Dieselnoi, who is the most feared knee fighter of all time. Dieselnoi is the counterpart to Samart, beating him in a legendary match. In fact, Dieselnoi was so great that he had to retire because he beat all of his opposition, and had no one else to face.

A Great History Nugget and Overview

So naturally, after featuring these legends, a YouTuber asked me, “Who was the greatest of all time in Muay Thai? Samart, Saenchai, Sagat, Dieselnoi, or another one?” 

When I was about to reply, an avid martial artist and fan going by “ThyChrysanthemum” replied before me, and I thought that his answer should be shared with everyone.

ThyChrysathemum: “I apologize in advance for so much text; but you can read bits and pieces of what I wrote, here and there in your spare time, if you’re interested. Sakad/Sagat I’m not as familiar with, since Lawrence posted up content about him. But Sakad was one of the very few to beat the legendary Dieselnoi. Sakad beat Dieselnoi, and the only other fighter who beat Dieselnoi to my knowledge was a legend named Nongkhai (who was also undefeated in the early 1980’s and was the most feared opponent in that period, along with Dieselnoi, according to Samart). And judging by Sakad’s tapes and records and decorations the guy was a huge talent, he had supremely good hands for a Thai fighter (who usually had terrible hand-boxing skills in comparison to western boxers and Dutch/American kickboxers).

He just fought completely differently from his peers, then just being a typical pressure/stalking fighter, he was versatile and could land great punch combinations as well as great kick technique. You watch him and you realize he could do so much more than just kick and clinch. And his prime years were in the early 80’s and yet he went around and beat some other nations’ top fighters well past his prime towards the late 80’s, as well.

Dieselnoi was the most feared opponent because of his sheer size and work ethic for his weight class. He was a knee-fighter, as you probably know already, but the Thai’s don’t give him as much credit because without his size it’s questionable to whether he would be as dominant. But for sure, he was the most dominant fighter in Muay Thai. When he was champion he went undefeated, and even went on to defeat Samart in a catchweight fight, that was also the most expensive fight in Thailand at that time. Dieselnoi is probably the most dominant fighter, but most Thai fans prize pure talent and beautiful technique and Dieselnoi wasn’t a famitsu (technician), he was strictly feared for being a knee-fighter. But honestly, almost nothing could stop Dieselnoi once he laid on that pressure. He was about 6 foot, and fought at 140. Imagine that? Most fighters at that weight were far less tall than that. He was a physical anomaly with a killer’s mindset.

Watch any of his training videos or fights and you’ll see he just goes into a beast-mindset once he practices his clinch. His heart/motivation was unparalleled. if you watch him training with Chamuekpet (another decorated champion/legend), in their Hapalang camp, you’ll notice a camp full of champions stops practicing to watch him practice his knees. Fighters/high-profile champions train together everyday and hardly notice each other when they practice on the pads/bags. But when Dieselnoi practiced his knees, everyone stopped to watch. His knees are just that brutal and legendary.

I could see why some people would make the argument that Saenchai could be the most talented fighter we have footage of. He’s just done things that I don’t think we see. He could almost be like a Messi of Muay Thai. He even fights in much larger weightclasses and has fought all the big names in Thailand and has a long career in Muay Thai and is still going strong. But he just doesn’t have the legacy that cements him down. But out of shear footage, he’s just so goddamn clean in his technique. I honestly haven’t seen classical technique as pure as his and his speed is just incredible. It’s just his era that he fights in, isn’t as prized as the era that Sakad, Dieselnoi, and Samart fought in. This era seems to be more like Muay Thai, by-the-numbers. Fighters who fight more calculative by points to win and maybe it’s the fault of bad promotions or a relatively lacking pool of talent but the foes that saenchai has fought just don’t carry the credibility of the guys that Samart and the others had to fight against. Not sure if saenchai’s opposition isn’t as talented as the other guys but it’s hard to say for sure. I think to be fair, Saenchai doesn’t get as much credit as he might deserve because honestly I’ve never seen anyone as clean and crisp and unreal in classical technique as him….

BUT, this brings me to the last guy. Samart. I’ve put in the time to study him up. You have to understand the context around this guy to really give him the credit that he deserves. There’s some good footage on Samart on YouTube that I truly believe doesn’t look visually as impressive as say, Saenchai. But when you watch it carefully you’ll notice, with a slightly more trained eye, that Samart can fight cleanly both southpaw and orthodox and comes up with some of the most unique and beautiful counters and shear moments of brilliance that none of the others have pulled off. If you pay attention, you’ll notice NO ONE fights like Samart. No one.

There’s no footage of anyone fighting in the style of Samart. You could argue that Saenchai fights relatively more classically to pure Muay thai stance/technique when carefully comparing to Samart. And that despite being more talented than his peers around him now, Saenchai still fights in a style more recongnizably similar in stance, tempo, and style like his peers. It’s just Saenchai’s so much better at classical Muay Thai than everyone else.

But the way Samart stands, walks around the ring, and fights very differently than any other fighter I’ve seen. Samart has the fastest reflexes too, within a few inches he could dodge the fastest kicks to the head within milliseconds. He’s second to none. Samart, according to his trainer, was also a fighter that relied heavily on his talent to win because honestly Samart had no heart in his fights (lol). And he had terrible cardio due to “small lungs.” But Kru Sidyodtong said Samart was easily the most talented fighter he’s ever seen, and he believes Thailand still hasn’t seen anyone as talented as Samart grace the ring, and he says that during an era where Saenchai reigns supreme. And Kru Yodtong is a pretty forward and honest guy if you see him talk, he says Samart was a true gift to Thailand. The trainer also said Samart was absolutely fearless and confident when he walked in the ring, and would come up with the most imaginative, creative, and jaw-dropping counters when met with opposition that was clearly bigger than he was.

You’ll notice in a lot of his fights, Samart could keep up with some of late 80’s (the Golden Age of Muay thai, btw) best professionals, while being completely tired, and come up with some of the best, most technically inclined counters out of nowhere. And the best part is, he just seems to pull it out of nowhere because he doesn’t seem to repeat a lot of his techniques in all his fights. You could argue Saenchai, despite how beautiful he fights, does rely on a similar bag of tricks in every fight, but you can see Samart do different things in each of his matches against very, very top competition.

And if you want to see Samart’s legendary reflexes, watch his western-boxing matches where he was still in his prime.He could dodge some of the closest punches, like a Pernell whitaker (maybe not as talented in boxing as Pernell, but coming from a guy who grew up in Muay Thai and not pure-handboxing, that’s just amazing).

Oh btw, all the footage we have of Samart on YouTube was way past his prime. Here’s the deal, Samart’s legend started and was already cemented hist legendary status and legacy from 1979-1982. He even defeated the legendary Nongkhai, who I brought up earlier who defeated Dieselnoi and was generally the best fighter alongside Dieselnoi in the early 80’s. Samart was the first to beat this legend, and he was I believe 20 or younger. People followed and praised his talent since he was a young teen at 17 in the ring.

But the sad thing is, we have NO footage of his fights in those days that made him the legend he is today. To me, that’s the main reason why it’s hard to understand why he is the greatest to the Thai people. After 1982 or 1983, Samart actually took on a completely different sport in the form of western boxing. He did so well, in fact, he became the world champion! Back when there weren’t as many weight-classes or belts as there are today. Samart became the bonified champion in two completely different combat sports. So that should have a huge impact on how the Thai’s remember Samart. After he lost the boxing championship he went BACK to Muay thai, past his prime, to take on the renowned “golden age” of Muay thai stars.

During this time he was known to be a person who worried a bit more about his music/acting career and was known as a more lazy fighter in this period. And yet, he still beat some of the biggest names of Muay Thai in this generation. And THIS is where we finally have video footage of Samart fighting, and sadly, it’s not the best stuff we could see of Samart. But even so, he still displays brilliance and true talent. To me, you have to take these things into consideration, he was physically flawed and also had a small heart in the ring, and was kinda considered lazy, yet he did some of the most incredible stuff in Muay thai and fought like no one else.

Only he could get away with fighting going backwards; remember, generally the Thai’s grade you less for not putting on the pressure and choosing to walk backwards since that’s a sign of being less dominant. In fact, classical Muay Thai disallows you from turning your back or running away from your opponent (you can be technically disqualified – but I’ve never seen it happen, to be fair). But Samart was the exception, he could dance around the ring but because his technique was so relaxed, elegant, and powerful when he chose to strike so the judges could look past his fighting on the pivot and going backwards and give him the win.

Classical Muay Thai through the 80’s was graded on technique and to be honest, out of Sakad, Dieselnoi, and another’s, save for maybe Saenchai, I would say Samart’s was the most beautiful and to me that’s a huge reason why the Thai’s considered him the greatest. That and just he moved, stood, and handled himself in the ring far differently from anyone else. That’s why he’s considered the greatest by the Thai’s. Even Saenchai has stated he thinks Samart was the best.”

Final Reflections: 

Samart was not the most athletically gifted nor physically dominant like many of the top talents. But his fight IQ and his flow state was just off the charts. Generations of superstars to come would talk about how beautiful it was to watch Samart, how much they admired him.

The geniuses make the most complex sequences look simple, and in doing so Samart inspired generations to come. I could spent all my time breaking down the dozen fights of Samart available, and I would never be able to cover it all. Samart is the protege and prodigy of the legendary Kru Yodtong Senanan, Samart is the pride of Muay Thai.

Buakaw Banchamek:

…And just in case someone asks (they always do), Buakaw is not in this discussion. He is hands down the greatest Muay Thai ambassador that found legendary status through kickboxing, but he entered and spent his prime in the kickboxing world, not Muay Thai.

Here’s a interesting nugget add-on from Aaron Boggs, a Muay Thai coach in the US:

Aaron Boggs: “I recently saw your article about the greatest Muay Thai fighter of all time and it reminded me of a couple stories on the subject. A friend of mine was training at Por Pramuk when Buakaw was there. He asked Buakaw who he thought was the best ever. Buakaw said Samart no question , best ever. We recently hosted JWP at our gym. I asked him the same question, for him it will always be Ramon Dekkers.

I was at a seminar some years ago that included Saekson Janjira, Samart, Matee Jedeepitek, Kongnapa Kansaek Sor Ploenjit, Lookchang, Nokweed. Same question. Many didn’t answer but Kongnapa said for him, he wanted to be Samart. Of course Samart was sitting there but didn’t understand what was being said because the discussion was in English.

A couple years later I had another opportunity to attend a seminar with Saekson and Samart. Having heard other champions name Samart as their pick as best ever I took the opportunity to ask Samart who he looked up to when he was starting out, prefacing by telling him that others named him as their inspiration. I was curious who inspired him. His answer was no one. There was no one he ever looked up to or watched when he was coming, “I was always just me.”

This is consistent with interviews that are done with Muay Thai legends. If you go to Siam Fight Magazine, you’ll find that most say Samart!

Sagat Sparring Samart

I’ll leave you with this, rare footage of Samart boxing with Sagat.

To Click here to read more about Samart’s coach and the prestigious camp of Sityodtong