Some people have hobbies. Others have niches.
For Buakaw Banchamek, perhaps there isn’t a word that perfectly describes what muay Thai is to him. All expressions short of “life” likely are underselling it.
For those unfamiliar, his record speaks for itself. It stretches more than two decades and is so comprehensive, no database accounts for it in its entirety. The most extensive record out there has him listed at 240-24-12 in professional muay Thai/kickboxing – an insane amount of combat.
Buakaw is a two-time Omnoi Stadium champion, two-time K1 World MAX champion, one-time Lumpinee Stadium Toyota Marathon champion, two-time Thai Fight tournament champion, Kunlun fight world champion and Shoot Boxing S-Cup world champion. He’s amassed 4.6 million likes on Facebook and 1 million followers on Instagram.
Although he had opportunities to compete in other ventures, including an MMA offer about a decade ago, he always ultimately passed. That’s why it’s rare Buakaw will soon test the waters in another combat sport: bareknuckle boxing. He recently signed with BKFC and is set to fight Erkan Varol at the promotion’s Thailand 3 event Sept. 3.
“This is the perfect timing for me to extend my boxing and fighting skills after being experienced for over 30 years in muay Thai,” Buakaw recently told MMA Junkie through a translator. “Also, BKFC is a global standard, which is good for fighters to take the opportunity. I think if you win in this platform, it will be a proof of your own world-class skill.”
There are a handful of reasons Buakaw chose bareknuckle over MMA or another combat sport. The main, however, is that Buakaw sees greater similarities in strategy and technique. The potential growth of the promotion in a new market also had influence.
“When I achieved the world-class level of muay Thai, I started to think about other kinds of competition related to the sport,” Buakaw said. “Bareknuckle fighting is quite similar to muay Thai, and it’s a new trend and a very fast-growing sport. When BKFC approached me for their competition, I thought this was my best opportunity to compete on an international platform. My partners at Singha Corporation were instrumental in helping this deal come together, and I’m grateful for them facilitating this opportunity. BKFC is still new to Thai audiences, but I believe Thai fans and fighters will love it as an exciting new sport with a unique identity and lots of room to grow.
“… I am already familiar with close-quarter hand-to-hand combat as muay Thai incorporates clinching, grappling, hand fighting and striking using punches, simultaneously. However, the BKFC competition will be more challenging as it takes place in a unique circular roped stage. Fighters can’t get stuck in a corner, making fights dynamic and constantly revolving – a really dynamic and exciting treat for the audience to watch and for me as a fighter.”
Buakaw recently turned 40, but isn’t slowing down. Despite all the damage-inducing battles, Buakaw is still fresh enough to compete at the highest of level. Physical injuries are inevitable, but Buakaw says staying mentally healthy is key.
“Being a fighter, you have to keep your body ready with a calm mind,” Buakaw said. “Certainly, hard work plays an important part. But most of all you have to believe in the sport and yourself. On the stage, it’s only you and your courage. I have a strong heart and a strong mind. For me, it comes naturally, I think. I just love what I do. Injuries and lacerated wounds are what I have to face anyway, but that cannot effect my strong heart and mind. It’s all part of what I do.”
For the skeptical minds out there, Buakaw reassures his BKFC signing isn’t a publicity stunt or a cash grab. It’s a dedication with goals. He wants to add bareknuckle boxing champion to an already stellar combat sports resume.
“I want to be the BKFC world champion, make my people proud of me, and help promote Thai fighting sports to the world audiences,” Buakaw said.
BKFC Thailand 3 takes place Sept. 3 at Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok and streams on FITE.