Samart Payakaroon: The Muhammed Ali of Muay Thai
The name Samart Payakaroon is heard spoken with reverence whenever the subject of who is “the greatest” comes up.
While the King of Thailand awarded Apidej Sit-Hirun the title of “Fighter of the Century”, he competed in the 1960s, a couple of decades before the Golden Era. Samart Payakaroon was top of the heap during the most competitive time in Muay Thai history, which is why he is widely considered to be the GOAT.
Sometimes referred to as the Muhammed Ali of Muay Thai, Samart Tiptarmai was born in the eastern province of Chachoengsao in 1962. Following his older brother Kongtoranee Payakaroon (an eventual 5-time Lumpinee Champion) into the sport, Samart began training aged 10. At 12, he moved to train at Sityodthong in Pattaya, where he stayed for 14 years. His ring name Payakaroon means “Tiger of the Dawn”.
Samart won his first Lumpinee title in February 1980. Aged 17, he beat Kongsamut Sor Thanikul to take the 102 lb Pinweight title. In October the same year, he took the 108 lb Junior Flyweight title from Poollap Saknirun. 1981 saw him beat Singthong Prasopchai in March for the 115 lb Junior Bantamweight title and then Samingnoom Sitthiboontham in October for the 126 lb Featherweight title. The achievement of winning 4 belts with a 21 lb weight difference between them in a two year period, won him the Fighter of the Year award in 1981 and the nickname Jade-faced Tiger (Payak Yanok). He won twice more in 1983 and 1988, making him the first fighter to win it three times. Samart’s Muay Thai record was 130 wins from 150 fights with 30 KOs.
Samart fought the best of his era: Nampol Nongkeepahuyud, Nongkhai Sor Prapassorn, Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn, Paruehuslek Sitchunthong, Panomtuanlek Hapalang, Wangchannoi Sor Sirada, Chamuekpet Hapalang, Rachabut Sor Thanikul, Samart Prasanmit, Bangkhlanoi Sor Thanikul and Samransak Muangsurin.
Samart also fought as a pro boxer. Beginning his boxing career in 1982, he won 11 straight fights to get a shot at the 122 lb WBC super bantamweight title in 1986 against the holder Lupe Pintor. He knocked Pintor out in the 5th and took the belt. After defending the belt once, he lost it to the aggressive Australian boxer Jeff Fenech in 1987. Samart Payakaroon finished his boxing career with 21 wins from 23 with 12 KOs.
Famously hard to hit, Samart wanted to preserve his good looks. This is the reason he had a technical Muay Femur style. These good looks gave him an acting and music career in Thailand. He recorded 3 albums in the late 80s and early 90s. The 2000s saw him featuring in several movies and in 2015, his own story was told in the biopic Mard Payak (Tiger Style).
Samart has his own gym in Bangkok, where he trains Thais and foreigners alike.