Samart Payakaroon was born in Chacherngsao, Thailand in 1962, and like most kids in Thailand at the time, started training Muay Thai at the tender age of 7. His older brother, Kongtoranee was Samart’s first teacher and a mildly successful Nak Muay himself. The two later trained under Yodtong Senanan, where he started his professional career in 1978 at 16 under the name Samart Lookklongket. At age 17, in one of his first fight at Lumpinee stadium, Samart conquered the coveted 105 pound (Pin weight) Lumpinee championship and became the youngest champion in stadium history.
From 1980 -1981 Samart Payakaroon won four Lumpinee stadium championships from 105lb to 126lb and also won Thailand’s fighter of the year in 1981 and 1983. With wins over Muay Thai legends like Nongkhai Sor Prapasorn, Nampon Nongkeephahuyut, and closely contested bouts with Wanjanoi Sor Palangchai, and Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn, Samart solidified himself as one of the most feared Nak Muay of all time.
With his small frame and overall lack of athleticism, Samart had to perfect his timing and technique along with stellar footwork and impeccable countering instincts. In an era where Thai fighters took pride in their power and ability to “eat punches”, Samart had to fight a complete different fight and overwhelm his opponents with technique, speed, and his uncanny ability to see strikes coming, all while putting on a footwork masterclass. Samart was also an expert in deception and baiting, often nicknamed “The Great Baiter” for his ability to get his opponent to come forward with overextended strikes and counter over them.
In his prime, Samart was known as a bit of a party boy and would often go out for a night of wild drinking with friends just days before fights. This resulted in Samart not having the best cardio and would gas in many of his fights. Even with the partying, Samart went on to defeat some of the greatest Nak Muay’s and western boxers of his era, and on the edge of exhaustion still gave his opponents the fight of their lives.
Just like how Lawrence Taylor is often regarded as the greatest American Football player of all time for his dominance on the field while battling a severe drug addiction, Samart partying the week of a fight and still winning makes him all the more impressive in this writer’s opinion.
In 1982, after cleaning out the Muay Thai scene and having nobody of note left to fight, Samart moved to boxing and relearned the game as a southpaw. As most western boxers stood orthodox, and Samart favored the Southpaw vs. Orthodox matchup. After rattling off 11 victories in a little over a year, with 6 of his 11 victories coming by way of Knockout, he earned himself a shot at the WBC super-bantamweight title against Mexican superstar, Lupe Pintor.
In this fight Samart looked to circle to his left, throw out the occasional jab, and get his lead foot outside of Pintor’s, opening up his vaunted left hand. After five rounds of doing just that, it was a stepping jab outside of Pintor’s lead foot and a left straight that sent Pintor to the canvas and down for the 10 count. Samart became just the 10th Thai to ever win a WBC championship and showed that a Nak Muay could have what it takes to make it in boxing.
After his win over Pintor, Samart had a warm up fight against 8-13 fighter Rafael Gandarilla where he won an easy decision. Six months later he met another Mexican boxing superstar in Juan Meza for his first title defense. In this fight Samart put on a defense and countering clinic, picking Meza apart with jabs and counter lefts to the body and head, while evading nearly every strike Meza threw. After eleven Brutal rounds, Meza was severely gassed and decide to put the pressure on Samart in the 12th.
In what was one of the most beautiful sequences in all of combat sports, Samart Payakaroon slipped a barrage of strikes against the ropes and dropped Meza with a left straight, winning the fight by knockout. It was by far Samart’s best performance in a boxing ring, but showed he had some clear openings in his game.
Samart’s next title defense was against the pressuring inside boxer, Jeff Fenech. The Australian was on an absolute tear leading up to his first title fight and took notes from Samart’s last fight with Meza and perfectly exploited the holes in his game. In his Muay Thai days Samart relied on his lightning quick teep to measure distance and keep pressure fighters at bay. Now his most beloved weapon was off limits, thus giving him problems with pressure fighters under boxing rules.
Despite the biased Australian commentary, Samart controlled the first round using his usual evasive footwork, waiting for Fenech to overextend and open himself up for the counter. In the final seconds of the first, Samart dropped Fenech to the canvas for the first time in his career with a beautifully timed lead hook. Fenech took control in the second round, intelligently cutting Samart off and backing him to the ropes. From there Fenech brutalized him with body shots and uppercuts from the inside while not allowing him to circle out. The third and fourth rounds were much the same with Samart having no answers to Fenech’s inside boxing. Midway through the fourth Samart was knocked out with an uppercut set up by a series of body punches, ending his short run as champion.
After the loss to Fenech, Samart fought a few lower level fighters before retiring in 1988, apparently going into hiding after rumors of his partying lifestyle emerged. in 1993 Samart made a brief return to the ring, again fighting mostly lower level opponents before earning another title shot. this time for the Featherweight championship against Venezuelan Eloy Rojas. By this time Samart was 31 and past his athletic prime and his performance showed. His usual fancy footwork was gone and his once magnificent speed had dwindled. Rojas kept him against the ropes and just like Fenech, brutalized him on the inside. After eight exhausting rounds Samart was again knocked out with a series of speedy uppercuts. Samart retired for good after the loss and his storied career was a thing of the past.
Today Samart Payakaroon is training the next generation of elite Nak Muay’s at his gym, Poptheeratham, in Bangkok, Thailand. He states he makes no profit off his fighters and puts every penny back into the gym to further progress his athletes and the sport of Muay Thai, which in his opinion is dying. Samart Payakaroon is a true martial artist through and through and will forever be the gold standard for elite Nak Muay.