Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA header logo

Get to know Series: George Hickman

Sometimes passion is ignited by chance, where an unlikely turn takes one down the journey of a lifetime. Many of us fail to take chances and put ourselves out there, but this isn’t the case for George Hickman. When the opportunity to be a full-time MMA coach came up just 12 fights into his MMA career, he quickly changed course and put his heart and soul into coaching. You see, when it comes to George, no matter what he’s doing, he’s always there to give it his all.

Born in ’85, George started wrestling when he was just five years old. His dad was helping coach the local wrestling team, and George would tag along. After watching a few sessions, he started to join the team on the mats. To encourage his son, Hickman Sr. promised him a pair of wrestling shoes if he stuck with it for a year.

Frank Hickman and George Hickman
A young Frank and George Hickman with their parents.

Contrary to what people may think, George had a rocky start. As he recalls, “I sucked in the beginning, but I liked it.”

The challenge fuelled his determination. George kept at it and got hooked once the wins started rolling in. George admits though that it was his dad’s unwavering support that kept him on track. With Frank wrestling as well, the family rarely got a weekend off. Instead, days off were spent on the road and sleeping in hotel rooms. His dad’s dedication to ensuring his sons’ success left a profound impact on George.

“I remember early on my dad telling me, ‘You can be as good as you want, but you need the intestinal fortitude.'”

George wrestled all through high school, winning three state titles. He was awarded a partial scholarship to Bloomsburg University as a Division 1 wrestler. Despite finishing his final year in the top 20, George fell short of his college goals.

It was just a different time in his life. The passion was there, but more discipline was needed. As a child wrestler, George competed nearly every weekend; he also had to weigh in almost every weekend. During that time, George was up every day at 6 a.m. running in a sweatsuit. After that, it was 45 minutes on the air bike, followed by a full day at school and wrestling practice. The day didn’t end until George hit the pavement one more time.

Before starting his last year in college, George’s life took an unexpected turn. As he recalls,

“When you’re on scholarship, you’re required to train 11 months out of the year. When I finished the summer wrestling camps, I went home for a month and Frank’s high school coach had opened an MMA gym. I started training there just to keep in shape.”

As fate would have it, a local MMA promotion was hosting fights, and a few guys he knew had fights on the card. George was unaware of how much his first experience watching live MMA would change the course of his life.

“Watching those fights live, the first sanctioned fight in my state, I thought to myself, ‘I could be good at this.'”

After graduating, George returned to that same MMA gym, got himself a sponsor, and had two amateur fights. It didn’t take long for George to realize he had outgrown the local scene. He packed his bags and headed to Atlanta for bigger and better opportunities. For George, when you decide to do something, you do it big.

Unfortunately for George, his professional debut was postponed when he tore his MCL. To help him out, a family friend got him a job at Rick Hendrick Automotive Group. The company was very supportive and accommodated his training schedule as best they could.

“I’d go to the morning meeting, then leave for training. I’d come back in the afternoon, maybe sell a car or two, and then go back to training. I came and went as I needed. They were good to me.”

At the time, it worked for George, but he knew that long-term, the auto industry wasn’t for him. Even with the flexibility, George often still clocked a 60-hour work week. He worked, trained, and fought professionally in Atlanta until 2014 when he made his way to Thailand for the now-famous Tiger Muay Thai Tryouts; this would mark his first time leaving America.

Funny enough, George out-wrestled Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski in the finals, earning him a fully sponsored spot at Tiger Muay Thai. In 2016, George retired from professional fighting with a record of 9-3. It wasn’t so much of a decision as it was a series of events that led to George’s laying down of his gloves. After reinjuring his knee, George took a break from competition when he was asked to help coach MMA.

George getting his hand rasied in his last professional MMA fight vs Matt Sayles at Phoenix FC 1 in 2016
George getting his hand rasied in his last professional MMA fight vs Matt Sayles at Phoenix FC 1 in 2016

“I fell in love with my future wife and knew I wanted to stay in Thailand.”

Back then, Tiger’s MMA program was still developing, and George was willing to put in the work to make it great. For George, taking on new challenges meant doing so with total commitment and dedication. Over time, he took the MMA program at Tiger to a new level. With the help of an elite coaching staff and the support of the people in charge, along with his brother Frank, Alex Schild, and Andrew “Woody” Wood, they transformed Tiger from a strictly Muay Thai gym into a renowned MMA training center. Will Eliott, the current managing director at Bangtao, was also on board during that time.

Will kickstarted the tryouts and was actually George’s boss for a year before leaving Tiger for Evolve in Singapore. Now, six years later they are now back together.

“We’ve come full circle and it’s great.”

George Hickman coaching at Tiger in 2017
Throw back to 2017. Some familiar faces

George always jumps right in when given the opportunity. He never set out to be an MMA coach, but when the opportunity arose, he seized it wholeheartedly.

“I got into MMA thinking I wanted to be a champion and make a lot of money. But over time, I got busy coaching. I lost the fire naturally. I was getting more into coaching and didn’t want to train myself and be coaching other people too. Fighters have to be selfish, and coaches have to be selfless. It felt like more of a long-term gig compared to fighting.”

Fast-forward to 2024, and George is the co-owner and head MMA coach at one of the most successful gyms in the world—Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA. George is highly sought after due to his ability to work with fighters of any level. He can take a blank canvas and build a fighter from scratch or retrain a champion to learn a brand new discipline, as was the case with Loma Lookboonmee, Thailand’s first and so far only UFC fighter.

George Hickman MMA Class Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA
George doing what he does best!

But being a business owner, head coach, and father of two can be challenging. George has to spend a lot of time on the road and often in a different time zone too. Luckily though, his family understands.

“It’s good that my wife grew up in this industry, so she understands how it is with fighters.”

George credits Will with making the gym’s day-to-day operations manageable and taking Bangtao to the next level. Just two years old, the gym has already exceeded expectations.

“Having Will on board has been a game changer for us. Will makes it easy. He takes care of most of the business side of things. It allows us to focus on what we’re good at and what we love doing. He was the missing link. We were just four idiots who ended up opening a gym.”

George Hickman Head MMA Coach at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA and Will Elliot, Managing Director
George Hickman Head MMA Coach and Will Elliot, Managing Director at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA. Their relationship goes way back; Will was MD at Tiger when George was going through the Tiger Fight Team trials.

As a pioneer of Thai MMA, George hopes to get more Thais into the UFC. For him, Bangtao is about creating a legacy for his children and making history here in Thailand. If anything, George’s story teaches us that shortcuts in life only lead to dead ends. Being dedicated to the difficult yet ultimately fulfilling path is how George leads his life, and that is exactly how he plans to take MMA in Thailand to the next level.

George heads up the MMA Program at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA. Book Now and train with George Hickman at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA in Phuket, Thailand!