Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA header logo

Get to know Series: Ajarn Wat

The epitome of what it means to be a Muay Thai trainer, Ajarn Wat’s illustrious career across three decades has given him a front row seat to the expansion of Muay Thai from a vehicle out of poverty heavily influenced by gambling to a worldwide sensation. Despite the turbulent path, his love for Muay Thai has never wavered. It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s hard to find a trainer with as much know-how, talent, and passion as Ajarn Wat.

Now, at 50 years young, Ajarn has found a home at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA. Together with his protégé, Savvas Michael, he’s ready to elevate Bangtao’s Muay Thai program to new heights.

“We only just got serious about Muay Thai six months ago and I can guarantee that in a few years our Muay Thai program will be known worldwide. Our trainers are strong, our team is good. I feel good here, it makes me happy to be a part of it. The owners are all very supportive.”

Legendary Muay Thai Trainer Ajarn wat at 16 and 51 years old
(Left) Ajarn Wat at 16 years old (Right) at the ripe age of 50 years old

Ajarn began his career at just 13 years old, but his Muay Thai journey started in an unconventional manner. As he recalls, “I ran away from home.”

With only a sixth-grade education, Ajarn didn’t have the means to continue his studies. Although he would have liked to graduate from high school, it wasn’t an option. So, he had no choice but to find a job. His parents were farmers of limited means, working harsh cash crops like sugarcane and cassava. They lived hand to mouth in a wooden stilt house, and Ajarn’s early years were spent without running water or electricity. In the eyes of that determined 13-year-old boy, Muay Thai was his only chance out of poverty.

“My family was poor, they couldn’t afford to send me to school, so I had to flounder and find my own way.”

With the help of a relative who happened to be a truck driver, Ajarn made the trek from his home in Prachin Buri to a grassroots gym in the neighboring province of Saraburi. He knew if he asked, his parents wouldn’t let him go, so at just 13 years of age, Ajarn made a decision that would forever impact the course of his life. Fortunately for Ajarn, his gamble paid off.

Despite his grit and audaciousness, he was still a little boy who missed home, and life at the gym wasn’t easy.

“The first two months were so hard. I missed my parents so much. But it was my dream to be a fighter, so I stayed focused.”

It was the camaraderie he found – a band of brothers, other kids living away from home and fighting their way out of poverty – that helped Ajarn slowly start to find his place. He stayed at the village gym for a while, learning the ropes and getting his first experiences in the ring.

“For my first fight, I got paid 30 baht to fight. I was so happy. I was able to buy a lot with that.”

It’s important to remember that during this time, there were no smartphones, and Ajarn’s family was too poor to afford a home phone. He had no contact with his family; in fact, his parents were so worried that they even filed a missing person’s report. Limited resources saw the case go cold.

Stories like these were standard during those times, so despite his parents’ ongoing concern, there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. That was what life was like back then. Even sending a letter in rural Thailand required the means to get to a post office, which wasn’t an option for Ajarn. Despite the distress, Ajarn knew he had made the right decision. His parents did eventually find out where their son had gone, but it didn’t make things any easier for the family.

Ajarn Wat at 35 years old after winning a tough Muay Thai fight.
Ajarn Wat at 35 years old after winning a tough Muay Thai fight. He recalls that he took a lot of leg kicks in the fight (that may explain the facial expression).

Following his stint at the gym that gave him his start, Ajarn moved to a better gym in a bigger town. It was there that his career really started to take off. His hard work and dedication to his newfound profession were starting to pay off. No more 30 baht paydays, Ajarn was now fighting on TV, all before he was even an adult. His tenancy fighting on Channel 9 at Assawindam Stadium marked the first time his parents got to ‘see’ him since he ran away.

Seeing their son succeed in his chosen profession, and on national TV no less, Ajarn’s parents eventually accepted his decision to run away from home. They could see that he was able to support himself financially and was making more money than he ever could as a farmer. It was only then, years later, that Ajarn finally went back home.

“I went home to pay my respects to my parents. I asked them for their forgiveness and apologized for running away. They forgave me and offered their support.”

Ajarn was later scouted by Sor.Ploenjit Gym in Bangkok. “If my memory serves me correctly, I went there when I was 18,” he recalls. However, the level of competition in the country’s capital was much higher than what Ajarn was used to in the countryside. While he did find success fighting at Rajadamnern Stadium, Ajarn started to help out at the gym as a trainer to fill the gaps between fights and earn some extra cash.

He quit fighting at just 22 years old due to issues with his contract. Despite not being able to resolve the issue, Ajarn remained as dedicated as ever to Muay Thai.

“I never regretted my choice. I came the right way and made the most of it. I never thought of working in a factory. I love fighting, I love Muay Thai, I love pushing myself.”

Ajarn continued to fight on smaller shows, often stepping in as a last-minute replacement and occasionally picking up fights against foreigners. However, by his early twenties, he primarily worked as a full-time trainer. In Thailand, gyms go through life cycles: the kids start young, work their way through the ranks, reach their prime, and once they can no longer keep up at the stadiums, they either retire completely or take fights in the countryside. With long gaps between raising new generations of fighters, Ajarn moved from gym to gym. He put in nearly a decade at Sor. Kanitsorn before applying for a job at Petchyindee Academy. It was here he met Savvas Michael.

Since their by-chance encounter, the pair have become an unstoppable team. They’ve been together for seven years, and their partnership has seen Savvas’s career skyrocket. Savvas is working his way up the ranks on Thailand’s elite stadium scene, with Ajarn Wat leading his every fight camp and in his corner for every match. Ajarn reflects fondly on the relationship he and Savvas have fostered.

Savvas Michael and Ajarn Wat Muay Thai training at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA in Phuket Thailand
Ajarn Wat training Savvas Michael at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA

“He’s like my son. We go everywhere together. He’s a good kid. He’s disciplined and knows what he needs to do. Michael is very successful. I think at this point in his career, we’re ready for anyone in the same weight class. I’m very proud of him.”

Adding, “I want to take him as far as he can go. Winning and losing is part of the sport, but I want him to reach his full potential and see where it will take him.”

Now that they’ve found a solid home at Bangtao, the sky’s the limit for these two. With a mega gym like Bangtao behind him, Ajarn Wat is finally getting to reap the fruits of his labor.

“It’s an honor to be working here. I learn so much and see things I’ve never seen before. I never knew about MMA before coming here. I’ve met a lot of MMA superstars too. I’m really enjoying it all, taking it all in.”

With over 30 years of experience as a trainer alone, Ajarn has worked at his fair share of gyms. However, what sets Bangtao apart from the rest is the supportive environment. “This place is perfect. It’s got everything you need. The bosses trust us to do our job and understand us. They listen to us. They don’t ever take advantage of us and treat us fairly.”

Ajarn Wat Muay Thai trainer at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA

Now, at 50 years old, some might be contemplating retirement or even looking to slow down, but Ajarn has other plans in mind. “I will hold pads for as long as my body lets me.”

Ajarn has found a place where he can thrive, and with the resources and support here at Bangtao, his journey is far from over. Now, as the head Muay Thai trainer, everyone is eager to see how he’ll elevate the program.

Ajarn Wat is available for private Muay Thai sessions at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA. Book Now and train with the legendary Ajarn Wat; please email to check availability and for bookings.