Analyzing Muay Thai Fighter of the Year – Muangthai PK Saenchai
The Sport Authority of Thailand recently selected Muangthai PK Saenchai Muay Thai Gym (เมืองไทย พี.เค.แสนชัยมวยไทยยิม) as the 2014 muay thai fighter of the year. He had a 10-2 record in 2014, with 5 wins by knockout. He went on avenge both loses and won the Channel 7 Stadium Super Featherweight belt (130lbs). This is a very impressive record, fighting other top ranked fighters in the most competitive muay thai circuits.
Muangthai doesn’t appear particularly athletic, powerful, fast, or technical compared to his opponents. He is taller than most fighters in his weight class but not by much. The key factor in his success is his ability to force his opponents to fight at distance between boxing and clinch range and land sneaky well-placed strikes in transition.
Raiding from No Man’s Land
Muangthai prefers to raid from no man’s land rather than fight from behind his lines. He creeps towards the enemy’s position, cutting through barb wire (hand trapping) and quietly dispatches his foes with bayonets (knees and elbows). If he is detected, he lobs grenades (dumps and sweeps), lays suppressing fire (clinch), takes cover (long guard), and launches artillery to cover his escape (kicks).
I will evaluate his tactics, techniques and tendencies from his five most recent fights and also explore ways they can be neutralized or countered.
Double Hand Trapping Entry – Cutting through the Barbed Wire
Muangthai tries to control his opponent’s hand position when he moves forward. Many fighters will raise their hands to frame when the opponents move in. Muangthai exploits this tendency by either cupping both of his opponent’s gloves from the side or pushing them down from above. This allows him to get close and create openings while neutralizing his opponent’s boxing. It is, however, a loose and temporary position and does not provide the body control of the clinch. It’s interesting to see some faint resemblances between Muangthai’s techniques and wing chun moves but this makes some sense given the range he likes to fight at.
Double Hand Trapping from the Side
Penake (blue) raises his hands as Muangthai approaches. Muangthai (red) grasps Penake’s gloves from the side and lands a quick round kick.
Double Hand Trapping from the Above
Muangthai (blue) pushes downward on Pokkaew’s (red) right arm and left glove. His height advantage gives him more leverage to exert more downward pressure, keeping Pokkaew at bay.
Avoiding the Hand Trap
Muangthai’s signature entry can be a risky way to engage and defies the conventional wisdom of always keeping your hands close to your chin. Some fighters will also try to hand trap and arm drag but do so with one hand, keeping the other one back. With both hands forward, you are open to punches if your opponent can free their hands. Muangthai (blue) fails control his opponent’s gloves and Pokkaew (red) lands a crisp cross-hook-cross combination.
Yokwittaya (blue) foils Muangthai’s (red) hand trapping entry by keeping his hands in. Muangthai paws at Yokwittaya gloves but Yokwittaya keeps his hands close and lands a nice one two.
Neutralizing Hand Trapping with the Long Knee Guard
Fighters can also nullify hand trapping by controlling the opponent’s arms and maintaining distance. As Muangthai (red) walks forward both arms extended, Penake (blue) pushes on his face, wraps up his right hand, and puts his right shin across Muangthai’s thighs. Muangthai arms are entangled, making it difficult for him land punches or elbows. Penake’s long knee guard prevents Muangthai from throwing knees or kicks to the body. Penake’s hops away to maintain balance and prevent his support leg from being swept.
Yokvittaya (blue) employs a similar defense, pushing on Muangthai’s (red) shoulders and putting a knee into his stomach.
Short Range Attacks – Fix your bayonets
After creeping through no man’s land, Muangthai is free to deploy his arsenal of sharp pointy objects.
Muangthai (blue) cups Pokkaew’s (red) gloves from the side and lands two beautiful left knees to the body.
Muangthai (red) penetrates deeper and controls Yokvittaya’s (blue) forearms. He uses this grip to pull down Yokvittaya into him and generate more power for the knee strike.
Elbows from Close Range
The type of elbow strike Muangthai chooses to deliver will depend largely on his hand position. With an outside grip on the glove or forearm, he usually pulls the arm down and throws a horizontal elbow. With an inside grip on the bicep, he will use an uppercut elbow. When his opponent’s defenses are down, he will also grip behind their head and pull it into an elbow strike.
Muangthai (blue) and Pokkaew (red) are battling for arm position and Muangthai has outside grip on Pokkaew’s left arm. He puts pressure on Pokkaew’s left arm, causing it to bend at the elbow, then torques his hips counterclockwise and lands a crisp right horizontal elbow to the chin. Pulling on Pokkaew’s arm creates an opening and allows him good penetration with the short elbow. Instead of keeping his left hand on Muangthai’s shoulder, Pokkaew should have rested his left hand on the upper arm so he could stuff the elbow before it landed.
Muangthai has earned many knockouts and inflicted many cuts with the upper cut elbow from the arm clinch. Muangthai (blue) switches from an outside grip to the inside grip on Pokkaew’s (red) left arm. Muangthai pulls him close and lands a sharp right uppercut elbow. Notice they are standing very close to one another making it difficult for Pokkaew to see the elbow coming. Muangthai generates power for this short strike by pushing his weight forward, torquing his hips counter-clockwise and rotating his shoulder upwards in one coordinated explosive movement. You will need good shoulder mobility to land the tip of your elbow on your opponent’s chin.
Here is another instance where Muangthai (blue) tries to land a right uppercut elbow from close range. However, he and Pokkaew (red) are standing farther apart and the grips are very loose. Pokkaew sweeps Muangthai’s left leg with his right foot and pushes his upper body to the right. Muangthai’s forward momentum from the failed elbow helps send him crashing to the mat.
Pulling Opponents into Elbows
After hurting Tuanpae (blue) earlier in the round, Muangthai (red) lands a beautiful series of elbows and punches. He grips Tuanpae’s neck from behind as if he’s about the initiate the clinch and throws a hard right elbow instead. He follows up with a few more elbows for good measure. Pulling your opponent’s head into the elbow prevents him from rolling away from it and magnifies the power and damage.
Elbows from Fast Entries
While he usually plods forward in a slow deliberate manner, Muangthai will switch it up and dart in once in a while. Muangthai (red) skips forward, quickly cups Tuanpae’s (blue) gloves from the outside and lands a quick left horizontal elbow, and follows up with a right uppercut and left hook. The force of the strike is magnified by his forward momentum.
Muangthai (red) skips in, swiftly parries Tuanpae’s (blue) right hand downward, and lands a solid left elbow to the chin, sending Tuanpae to the mat. You can also see Tuanpae tried to throw a lead right hook. Pushing down on Tuanpae’s right hand moved the right hook off course and also created an opening for Muangthai to land the left elbow cleanly. With Muangthai closing the distance quickly, the elbow beats the fist. Like a sword, the hook has more range, but if you opponent parries your swing and moves in quick, his dagger may strike first.
Long Range Attacks – Calling in the Artillery
After scouting the battlefield from no man’s land, he retreats to fire the big guns. Muangthai will occasionally disengage to create distance and openings for punches and kicks.
Disengage, Punch, Body Kick
He traps Pokkeaw’s hands with an outside grip, throws a left cross and lands a right round kick.
He also throws the same combination from an orthodox stance here. Muangthai (red) gets an outside grip on Penake’s (blue) left forearm, throws right cross over the arm, followed by a left body kick.
After punishing Tuanpae (blue) with a left elbow, Muangthai (red) moves back, puts his right hand over Tuanpae’s shoulder and guides his right shin into Tuanpae’s face for a head kick knock out.
Disengage, Push Kick
Muangthai will also employ push kicks to protect himself from parting shots after disengaging from the clinch. Muangthai (blue) throws some rabbit knees to Pokkaew’s (red) thigh, causing him to move back. Muangthai throws a right teep to the thigh to create space and prevent Pokkaew from landing a left jab.
Throws and Sweeps – Lobbing Grenades
While Muangthai deftly transitions from his signature double hand trap to short and long range strikes, he will also dump his opponents if he is able to get good control over their s arms.
Muangthai (blue) gets a good grip on both of Pokkaew’s (red) forearms. He then slides in closer to control Pokkaew’s upper arms. He then sweeps Pokkaew’s right leg with his left foot, pushes up with his right hand, pulls down with his left hand, while twisting to his left side for a beautiful throw. Good control over the upper arms is key. If Muangthai only had forearm control, Pokkaew could simply bend his arms to avoid it.
Penake backs up with his feet too close together and center of gravity high. Muangthai recognizing this, strolls forward with loose grips on Penake’s forearms, and casually sweeps Penake’s right leg with his left foot while turning counter clockwise. He makes it look incredibly casual and relaxed and disguises the sweep into his footwork. To uneducated observer, Penake almost looks like his falls down on his own or took a dive. If Penake had proper foot position and posture, Muangthai would need better hand position and more power to successfully execute this dump.
Muangthai (red) strolls forward and traps Penake’s left hand with his right glove, takes a outward step to his right, and slips his left hand behind Penake’s head. He pulls Penake’s head forward by shifting his weight back and pivoting in a counterclockwise direction while simultaneously holding out his left foot for Penake to trip over, resulting in a beautifully executed throw. Good footwork is key to getting the right angles and leverage for this technique.
Knee Catch Sweep
Muangthai also uses uses sweeps and throws to disengage from the clinch. Tuanpae (blue) throws a knee and grips behind Muangthai’s (red) neck to initiate the clinch. Muangthai catches the knee, sweeps Tuanpae’s left support leg with his left foot while twisting Tuanpae’s upperbody to his left. Tuanpae is unable to resist the sweep even though he had a grip of Muangthai’s neck.
Head Palm Clinch – Suppressive Fire
I’ve found Muangthai doesn’t do particularly well exchanging knees in more common clinch positions where fighters are chest to chest and fighting for inside hand control. Pokkaew (red) lands a number of unanswered clinch knees and even blocks Muangthai’s (blue) knee attempt.
Single Hand Head Palm Clinch
Muangthai has developed a unique and crafty solution for dominating the clinch. Below, Penake (blue) fights for an underhook and secures a grip behind Muangthai’s neck. Muangthai traps Penake’s arm by wrapping his left arm on top of it and pushes against Penake’s face. He pushes on Penake’s bicep with his right hand to deny him the underhook.
This dominant position gives Muangthai some distinct advantages. Pushing on his opponent’s face obscures their vision, disturbs their balance and possibly their breathing. Moving their spine out of alignment also decreases the opponent’s force production. Moreover, this position integrates well with Muangthai’s double hand trapping tactics. If an opponent initiates the clinch, Muangthai can just palm the chin with his already extended arms to prevent his opponent from getting closer for a necktie clinch. If the opponent pulls out of the clinch, Muangthai can take his hands off the chin and trap his opponent’s hands as they back away.
Double Hand Head Palm Clinch
Here is another moment from Muangthai and Penake’s fight. They start in a similar position with Muangthai (red) trapping Penake’s (blue) right arm and pushing against Penake’s face with his left hand. Muangthai gets the underhook on his right side, lifts and traps Penake’s left arm and and pushes against Penake’s chin with both hands. With both arms in the air and Muangthai’s hands on his chin, Penake is pretty helpless.
Muangthai is free to land some devastating knees from this dominant position. With both hands against Tuanpae’s (blue) face, Muangthai (red) pulls him into a hard straight right knee.
When Muangthai is able to fully extend his arms, he gets a lot of leverage from this position. Here, both of Muangthai’s (red) arms are straight and pushing on Tuanpae’s (blue) chin. He is able to throw Tuanpae to the canvas with a gentle twist of his body.
Good pressure on your opponent’s chin is vital to maintaining control in this clinch position. Muangthai (red) is pushing against Penake’s (blue) face but his left arm is bent at a 90 degree angle and Penake still has good posture. Penake circles to his right, off balancing Muangthai, and easily sweeps out Muangthai’s legs from behind with his right shin.
Long Guard and Long Knee Guard – Ducking Enemy Fire
Muangthai’s favored guards provide cover from strikes but also keep his opponents at an ideal distance for him.
The long guard is a defensive position where you extend your lead hand and keep your rear hand in front of your face. The extended hand maintains distance between you and your opponent and can help obscure his vision. It is important to keep the shoulder of your lead arm raised to protect your chin from hooks and head kicks. Muangthai (blue) extends his right arm and pulls his left forearm in front of his face and is able to deflect most of the Pokkaew’s (red) punches.
Long Guard Mistakes
Muangthai (blue) fails to trap Pokkaew’s (red) hands and extends both his arms to maintain distance. Pokkaew pushes forward and land some clean lead uppercuts that snap Muangthai’s head back. It is important to keep one hand back to protect the chin.
Counterstriking from the Long Guard
The long guard also provides good opportunities to counterstrike. Pokkaew (red) lands couple good lead uppercuts in Muangthai’s (blue) long guard. Pokkaew rests for a moment and raises his guard. Muangthai switches to an orthodox stance throws a beautiful left uppercut through Pokkaew’s guard and leaves Pokkaew looking up bewildered. The long guard enabled Muangthai to stay in range, obscure Pokkaew’s vision and set up the elbow KO.
Long Knee Guard for Punches
The long knee guard is a good defense for a taller fighter against a shorter puncher. After landing a knee strike, Muangthai (blue) keeps his knee forward and is able to prevent Pokkaew from coming in close enough to land straight punches.
Long Knee Guard for Knees
The long knee guard can be used to defend against many types of strikes. After landing a left knee to Tuanpae’s (blue) body, Muangthai (red) puts his left shin across Tuanpae’s thighs. Tuanpae tries to throw a left knee of his own but this is deflected by Muangthai’s shin before it can reach his body.
Long Knee Guard for Clinch
The long knee can also be used to ward off the clincher. Yokwittaya (red) presses forward, Muangthai (blue) traps Yokwittaya’s right hand and throws a crisp left elbow. Yokwittaya keeps moving forward and Muangthai places his right shin across Yokwittaya’s thighs and hops away on his left foot. Muangthai’s opponents also use the long knee guard to neutralize his hand trapping tactics.
Long Knee Guard Mistakes
Keeping good balance and pressure on your opponent’s thighs is key to the long knee guard. After landing a knee strike, Muangthai (blue) places his left shin on Pokkaew’s (red) thighs. His shin slips down and Pokkaew is able to penetrate and land a right elbow.
You are also open to sweeps if you are unable to maintain good pressure on your opponent’s thighs. Pokkaew (red) raises his left leg but his shin is barely touches Muangthai’s (blue) thighs. Muangthai gets a good outside grip on Pokkaews arms, twists his upperbody to the right while sweeping Pokkaew’s raised left leg with his right shin.
Blocking punches and kicks with your face is not smart or conducive to a long career but a strong jaw is a valuable asset nonetheless. Muangthai’s hand trapping tactics often leaves his face exposed and his iron chin has gotten his out of trouble on many occasions. Tuanpae (blue) lands a left hook, followed by a right elbow, and another left hook. Muangthai (red) eats it like candy and continues paw at Tuanpae’s arms.
Yokwittaya (blue) catches Muangthai’s (red) kick and throws a nice head kick, snapping Muangthai’s head back. Muangthai shrugs it off with contempt.
Muangthai is a very skillful, crafty and durable fighter with a distinct and well thought-out style. All his tactics – double hand trapping, head palm clinch, long guard, and long knee guard – are designed to keep his opponent between boxing and clinch range. In this no man’s land, he is clearly the superior fighter. At this distance, he lands deadly elbows, devastating head kicks, sharp knees, and effortless throws.
His techniques flow well from one to the other and he has a good answer to every problem posed by his opponents. Muangthai fends off punchers with the long guard and traps their arms when they finish punching. He keeps the clincher at bay by palming their face, kneeing their stomach and throwing them to the canvas. He forces kickers to fight at close range by skipping in and unleashing elbows and knees. When he is able to control the range, Muangthai inevitably wins the battle.
In Thailand, sparring training is usually divided between striking (with gloves and shins) and clinching (bare hands). Most fighters do not spend a lot of time training the transitionary phases where Muangthai shines. It would be interesting to see if Muangthai became so dominant at this range by integrating striking and clinching during his sparring sessions or pad work. Perhaps upcoming fighters could gain an advantage with such training.
I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
2014 Fight Videos
Here is a list of Muangthai’s 2014 fights along with some fight videos. For reference, he is formerly known as Muangthai Sor Boonyium (เมืองไทย ส.บุญเยี่ยม) and changed his name after moving to Saenchai’s gym in December 2014.
Muangthai vs Gradprixnoi (เมืองไทย vs. กรังด์ปรีย์น้อย) – May 2, 2014
Wins by KO
Muangthai vs Chalaamtaawng (เมืองไทย vs. ฉลามทอง) – June 1, 2014
Wins Channel 7 Stadium Superfeatherweight belt by decision
Muangthai vs. Yokwittaya (เมืองไทย vs. หยกวิทยา) – June 28, 2014
Loses decision (wins rematch later)
Muangthai vs. Pokkaew (เมืองไทย vs. โพธิ์แก้ว) – August 5, 2014
Loses decision (wins rematch later)
Muangthai vs. Pokkaew (เมืองไทย vs. โพธิ์แก้ว) – August 29, 2014
Wins by uppercut elbow KO, avenging decision loss.
Muangthai vs. Yokwittaya (เมืองไทย vs. หยกวิทยา) – September 30, 2014
Wins rematch by decision.
Muangthai vs. Tuanpae (เมืองไทย vs. ต่วนเป๋) – October 31, 2014
Wins by headkick KO.
Muangthai vs. Penake (เมืองไทย vs. เป็นเอก) – December 9, 2014
Under Thai boxing law, muay thai fighters must take a 21 day rest period between fighters. After Muangthai was chosen as the Sports Authority of Thailand’s fighter of the year, it came to light that there was only a 19 day rest period between his fights in January 2014. After much controversy online, PK Saenchai Muay Thai gym choose not to accept the reward, and Superbank was named the official winner.