Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon’s prosperous career in martial arts would not have been possible without the sacrifice of, and the lessons he learned from his industrious parents.
The 21-year-old – who will face Jonathan “The General” Haggerty for the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Title at ONE: DAWN OF HEROES – was born into extreme poverty and grew up in a small village in the southern Thai province of Phatthalung.
Each day he would watch his parents embark on a strenuous journey to find work so they could make enough money to feed their family of 12 and make it to the next day.
“My parents did whatever they could to provide for us children. They would leave in the early hours of the morning, and come home late at night,” he says.
“Because they didn’t have stable employment, they would pick up work wherever they could. My dad often worked construction, or tapping rubber trees. My mom would wash dishes at funerals, or go out fishing.
“They would work all day, just too feed us for that night.”
With little time available to nurture their large brood, the children were often left to fend for themselves.
Rodtang, the eighth of ten children, recalls how his older siblings would help care for the younger ones so that his parents could focus on work.
“All us siblings had to work together and take care of each other – my parents weren’t around a lot,” he says.
“They really didn’t have a lot of time to spend time with us, so they raised us to be self-sufficient. If there was no food, we were expected to go fishing and feed ourselves.
“We were all taught to take care of ourselves, and not to burden others.”
When he was just 8 years old, Rodtang discovered Muay Thai. He fell in love with the sport straight away, but crucially for him and his family, he could help the household with the money he earned through his bouts.
The training was hard, and he did not earn much at first, but as he rose through the ranks in his region, and then in Bangkok, his purses increased, and he eventually bought a house for his mother – though she has never been able to watch him compete.
“They both support my career, but they aren’t Muay Thai people. They aren’t involved. My mom doesn’t even like to watch me fight,” he says.
“My parents raised me to fend for myself. I realized through Muay Thai, I could not only provide for myself, but for my family also.”
Life in Thailand’s national sport forces young athletes to push themselves to the limits with active competition schedules and grueling training regimes, but the reward outweighs the sacrifice for those willing to put in the work.
It was through years of hard work that Rodtang made his way to the highly reputable Jitmuangnon gym in Northern Bangkok, and then, after overcoming adversity once again, he became a World Champion with an unbelievable record of 256-41-10.
Through it all, Rodtang never wanted to complain or give less than 100 percent because of how hard his parents had to work survive.
“My parents worked way harder than I have ever had to. I am indebted to them and want to repay what they did for us growing up,” he adds.
“My mom taught me to fight for my life and to have a strong heart. Fighting can be hard sometimes – you’re often tired and sore. Still, my life was easier than theirs, so I can’t give up!”
That led him to sign with ONE, and now “Iron Man” is an international sensation with a perfect 4-0 record on the global stage that has taken him to his World Title shot on 2 August.
The 22-year-old has gone above and beyond in his mission to provide for his parents, who he is still very close to, and calls before every match to ask for their blessings.
Though they separated when he was 13, Rodtang can take care of them both. He recently bought a house for his mother and is now building one for his father.
That, to him, is more important than any World Title belt.
“I’m proud of myself for being able to take care of my family at such a young age. Whatever my mom wants to eat, I make sure she has it,” he adds.
“Even though our life used to be hard, I’m grateful every day for my parents. I will never forget what they went through for us.”