FSA Insight: Is Buakaw’s Presence in MAX Muay Thai Doing More Harm Than Good?

In the world of professional Muay Thai, there is perhaps no figurehead more polarizing than Buakaw Banchamek.

Half of the fans you meet love him. He is their introduction to Muay Thai, a K-1 superstar, forever immortalized in the halls of youtube. But to every face on a coin, there is it’s opposite. Other fans despise Buakaw- sometimes for his legal troubles, sometimes for his poor choices outside the ring, sometimes for his decision to fight less than quality competition. But one thing is certain: Love him or hate him, Buakaw is a name that has remained in everyone’s mouth for the past 9 years. And that’s exactly how he likes it.

Ever since retiring from K-1, legal troubles have followed Buakaw like the plague. Over the past few years he has been rendered near useless beneath a perpetual pile of red tape. First came his ongoing contracts disputes with Por Pramuk gym (which we won’t get into here) and then emerged into the ongoing battle with MAX Muay Thai’s’s rival promotion- Thai Fight. In a story we’ve been covering since it’s onset, Thai Fight threatened to press charges against MAX and the Banchamek camp for violating the terms of a contract signed until 2014 (They’re also pressing charges for copyrighted image use, but we may talk about that later).

Keeping Buakaw around has its upsides and its downsides. So what are the pros?


Firstly, Buakaw’s presence within MAX draws a much needed fan-base to the start-up company. While there is a significant amount of money behind MAX coming from Top King, baht can only account for so many viewers.

Muay Thai in Thailand isn’t what it once was. While the general public is aware of the bigger superstars, it’s mainly the gamblers and betting sharks that flock to the stadiums instead of ordinary citizens. Your average Thai will typically only recognize the most popular names in the sport, and Buakaw Banchamek is the highest on the list.

The Banchamek fighter is everywhere. He’s on television, in magazine advertisements. He’s in commercials for noodles, construction companies, and energy drinks. Buakaw is present at all the major fashion shows, movie premieres, and high class parties. He is a celebrity that transcends the sport in Thailand. He is, unquestionably, the most popular fighters in the country.

But how long will the public stay interested if Buakaw’s only competition for the next year and a half is obviously scripted fights that go off the rails, like we saw yesterday?

Thai’s are not stupid. Just as the fanbase for Thai Fight started to grumble after their high-billing superstars were repeatedly put up against mediocre farangs, unranked even inside the Top 50, the MAX audience will most likely voice similar objections if a farce like last night happens again.

This isn’t to say the event was bad. It wasn’t. In fact, quite the opposite. With the exception of Buakaw vs. Watson, MAX 2013 in Surin was amazing. Andrei Kulebin put the hurting of a lifetime on Petchasawin Seatranferry, Aikpracha was stymied by the young Enriko Kehl, and Kem Sitsongpeenong returned to form against the very talented Dylan Salvador.

With the core team of Kem, Aikpracha, and Sitthichai (who is set to make his MAX debut in June, potentially against the man that beat him at GLORY 7 Milan- Enriko Gogohiya) we’ll be watching the very best of Thailand’s 70 kilo division push themselves to the limit.

But all the good fights, even matchups, and brilliant tournament scraps MAX puts on could be undone if Buakaw delivers another atrocious exhibition performance.


I’d like to clarify something before going on: I have no personal ill will towards Buakaw or his team. In fact, like most people, I’d love to see him fight top level competition. However, I also understand that the law is the law, and if fighting professionally under the MAX banner is not possible, then there’s no use complaining about it.

However, there is a very clear and distinct difference between obeying the law and making poor choices. Just because Banchamek can put their names on every MAX card, doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. There’s no easier way to create a rift between your audience and your product, if they are given something they don’t want.

So what are MAX’s options? Let’s tally a list.

1. Take Buakaw off the card completely: This is perhaps the simplest solution, but also the biggest gamble. Buakaw’s position within MAX has no doubt earned a large variety of sponsors, TV deals, ad time, and other promotional pleasantries. Taking him off the shows completely could at best rile an audience who tuned in specifically to watch him perform, and at worst provoke a lawsuit. But it should remembered that MAX is only on it’s first show, with the second coming up in June. It still has time to work out the kinks in it’s format, and if the other events deliver like Surin, there may not be many complaints either way.

2. Replace him: The MAX superfights are built around 4 main pillars: Buakaw, Aikpracha, Kem, and Sitthichai. To the best of our knowledge they will be competing on every MAX event until the year end finale in Bangkok. With Buakaw potentially no longer in the running, that still leaves a hole in the programming schedule. Why not bring in another popular Thai that could pick up some of the slack Buakaw leaves behind? Sounds good, but who?

Sadly, the best choice, Yodsanklai Fairtex, just recently signed to Thai Fight in an attempt to counter MAX’s “acquisition” of Buakaw. So who remains? Saiyok is a big name, but he too is with Thai Fight, although how long his contract is for is currently unknown by us here at FSA. Sudsakorn is in a similar situation. Superbon is a good potential choice too. However, I think that for MAX to really cut their losses they need a huge name. Someone known the world over.

How about Saenchai PKmuayThaiGym?

Sure, he doesn’t fight at 70kg, but Saenchai in a 3 round fight against any farang his weight (or even moderately above) would put butts in seats. And isn’t that what this whole debacle is about anyways?


3. Keep Buakaw, keep the exhibition fights, ramp up the quality: The fact Buakaw is partaking in fake fights isn’t even the problem, as much as it seems like it is. What’s going to cause friction within MAX is how poorly those fights are done. The blame in this lies entirely with the man himself.

Buakaw is infamous for his “rough” exhibition fights. These are matches where the ending is pre-scripted, and Buakaw decides midway through that just faking the punches isn’t good enough, and starts throwing big power against someone who isn’t fighting back. While I’m not a personal fan of those types of tactics, anyone who works with Buakaw knows what they’re getting themselves into. The issue comes when a situation like last night arises: Buakaw starts landing heavy shots against Malik Watson, who is bent over the ropes in pain. The refs are instructed not to stop the fight, so we get this awkward situation where Buakaw’s standing around and Watson really, really doesn’t want to continue. The result is one of the strangest, most deflating endings to a great card in Muay Thai’s recent history.

So now we’re back to our original question and the title of this articles: Is Buakaw’s presence in MAX doing more harm than good? Honestly, I think it leans towards the former. There are pros and cons on both sides, but I believe that if Buakaw puts on a performance like last time it could put a stain on the organization that might not be so easily forgotten. Let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best.


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2 Comments on “FSA Insight: Is Buakaw’s Presence in MAX Muay Thai Doing More Harm Than Good?”

  1. Alex
    July 13, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    So, I’m a bit confused here, why can’t Buakaw compete in glory?

    • July 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      He signed a contract with Thai Fight earlier last year, that stated he couldn’t fight for any other organization. MAX tried to get around this by giving him a kickboxing fight against Malik Watson, but Thai Fight said it was still grounds for a lawsuit.

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