Have you noticed that when people in Thailand discuss a fighter's record, they only talk about how many fights they have had? And not how many wins or losses? In almost all other combat sports (boxing, MMA, wrestling, jujitsu, etc), the ratio of wins to losses is a huge factor in the career of a fighter. But not in Muay Thai. Why is that?
That's because in Thailand, everyone involved in Muay Thai understands that in order to improve, fighters need to be constantly facing opponents much better and more experienced than themselves. In fact, all trainers, gym owners and promoters will very often agree to fights where their fighter has little chance of winning, completely on purpose, just so that they can gain more experience at a higher level.
This means that Muay Thai fighters will often lose many fights in their career. But this process of going up against higher level opponents is what produces the best fighters! Similarly, when talented fighters who have been dominating at the regional level get the opportunity to train and fight for one of the major gyms in Bangkok, it is expected that they will spend their first year in the big leagues constantly having their asses handed to them.
This is completely different to western boxing, where winning and avoiding losses is absolutely key to a fighter's prospects. In fact it is not uncommon for match-ups to be carefully managed and choreographed by their team in order to minimize the risk of any losses early in their career by choosing opponents weaker than them. This is by no means a criticism. Professional western boxers might fight a couple of times per year, which raises the stakes with every fight. Professional Muay Thai fighters, who can avoid injury or knockouts, will fight once a month on average. And because it just takes one lucky elbow to end a fight, losing is not considered to be such a disaster in Muay Thai.
What is most respected in Muay Thai is the number of fights and always showing heart. If a fighter is consistently losing or lacking courage every time they step into the ring, then they will eventually get dropped by their gym. Which means that any fighter who manages to reach 100, 200 or 300 fights, whether it be at the local, regional or national level, is always greatly respected in Thailand. Because everyone knows that only the best and most resilient fighters have what it takes to stay long enough in the game to reach that number of fights.
Photo credit: This Is Muay Thai