Panpayak “The Angel Warrior” Jitmuangnon will soon make his long-awaited journey across international waters to compete on the global stage for martial arts.
The multi-time Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Stadium Muay Thai World Champion has built one of the most impressive resumes in his sport, but it has taken years of struggle and hard work to reach the top.
Ahead of his ONE Super Series debut this Friday, 7 December at ONE: DESTINY OF CHAMPIONS. discover how this 22-year-old overcame extreme poverty to excel as a world-class martial artist.
A Family Business
The third child of four boys, Panpayak was born into a life with little to no opportunity for advancement.
His family rented a tiny, one-room apartment – not much bigger than an average bedroom – just south of Bangkok in Samut Prakan. They slept on the floor and would roll up their bedding when they woke up.
Panpayak’s mother left before daybreak to work at a plastics factory where she made a meager 300 Baht (about US$9) a day. His father stayed back to raise the children and get them fed and ready for school.
Despite their limited resources, Panpayak’s father had always hoped his kids would grow up to be athletes.
He was an avid fan of the art of eight limbs, and knew enough about Thailand’s national sport to get the boys the start they needed.
“My dad wanted to keep us active and to play sports, but most sports cost money,” Panpayak says.
“Golf clubs are expensive, and for soccer, you need uniforms, club dues, and shoes. For Muay Thai, all you need your body. He bought a homemade punching bag and asked someone for some old pads.”
The boys would walk down to the outdoor community center with their parents – carrying their punching bag along with them for training sessions – though Panpayak’s father’s involvement was limited because of his size.
“My dad was really tall and would get back aches from holding for us children,” he says.
“So instead, my mom held pads for all of us after she finished her shift at the factory.”
The training was enough to prepare Panpayak for his first match-up at a local temple fair when he was 8 years old. He won his first bout and took home 300 Baht in prize money.
“I was so happy to make money, I gave it all to my mom,” he says.
“She then divided it with me, and I spent it all on sweets!”
High Stakes On The Road
Panpayak’s natural aptitude for competition meant he soon started getting calls to compete all over the country, especially in the northeastern region of Isaan.
However, the way the family traveled to the match-ups was not ideal for someone preparing to get in the ring.
“We couldn’t afford to take the bus, so we had to use the free train service provided by the government,” he says.
“It was always so slow and overcrowded. Sometimes there weren’t enough seats.”
Once they arrived, the family would usually go to the house of the local gambler who would be putting up the night’s side bet. After a short rest, it was time to head over to the venue.
Panpayak only made a few thousand Baht for his efforts, which was barely enough to cover his expenses. There was a lot of pressure for him to win.
“We were confident in my abilities, but didn’t have our own money to bet, so we had to rely on tips from the gamblers,” he says.
“If I lost, we’d lose money because of what it cost to compete.”
Motivated to provide a better life for his family, Panpayak endured the long trips filled with turmoil and uncertainty. A victory did not mean time for celebration. Instead, he just went home and moved on to his next assignment.
“After the fights, we’d have to sleep at either the bus or train station,” he says.
“It was always so cold, and there were lots of mosquitoes.”
Hard Work Pays Off
Eventually, the family’s efforts paid off. When Panpayak was about 12, the entire family moved into Jitmuangnon Gym in Nonthaburi, north of Bangkok.
His parents were offered jobs at the gym as caretakers, while his oldest brother started working there as a trainer. “The Angel Warrior,” along with his two other siblings, continued to compete.
Finally, life was a little easier for the family.
“The gym took such good care of us. There was always lots of food, and they gave us money to go to school.”
It has been nearly 10 years since Panpaypak first set foot in the fully-equipped facility, and neither he nor his family has looked back.
The most accomplished of the brothers, Panpayak is now a two-division Lumpinee Stadium Muay Thai World Champion and a two-division Rajadamnern Stadium Muay Thai World Champion with a record of 243-40-3.
Additionally, he won Muay Thai’s highest accolade, The Sports Writers Award, an unprecedented three years running from 2013-2015.
A Future On The Global Stage
Panpayak is still just 22 years old, and the best may be yet to come in ONE.
The Muay Thai perfectionist will look to continue his streak of dominance inside the world’s largest martial arts organization.
This Friday, 7 December at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he will make his highly-anticipated international debut. He will take on WKA European Champion Rui Botelho from Portugal, in a flyweight bout at ONE: DESTINY OF CHAMPIONS.
“I’m really excited to compete abroad,” he says.
“I’m even more excited to get to travel to different countries to compete. ONE Championship has given me the opportunity to see the world.”