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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

For Those That Don't See Samart's Greatness

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This as a lengthy answer I posed on Reddit in answer to someone who was attempting to get ahold of the greatness of Samart. He had read some articles and seemed to keep coming up against repeated appeals to his "IQ" and lots on his side teep. As easy as it is to admit or even claim that Samart is the greatest, because so much of his career is unrecorded on video, his celebration does sometimes feel a bit vague. This was my take:

 

The greatness of Samart has a kind of mythological quality to it, as there is almost no footage of his fights in his prime. This means that we kind of fill in the hole in the historical record with his projected greatness. In boxing history this happens as well, you can hear very knowledgeable people talk about Harry Greb (1920s) with reverence, taking him to be as great as anyone who ever fought, with no fight footage. The story of Samart's greatness kind of flows from a few directions. First of all, its about when he fought. He changed the game as it transitioned from the Silver Age of Muay Thai to the Golden Age. I write a bit about this here, he MOVED like nobody else, maybe before or since, but was kind of the first to do it: 

This gives his a special aura that fighters in history have. They change the sport. The other part of this is, in Thailand itself, and by the fighters themselves, he is regarded as the greatest, maybe the way that Jordan is in basketball. Jordan rode the wave of a sudden popularization and huge economic growth of the sport, and also came to define it. It wasn't just that Jordan was incredible, its the Time he played in, and the aura he developed as his brand in the NBA in terms of marketing awareness exploded. After Samart retired he made movies, he became a handsome singing star, he became a SUPERSTAR, culturally. This is important, because Muay Thai fighters in Thailand have had a stigma of being low class. He was kind of a James Bond of Muay Thai, just as Muay Thai was peaking in popularity. This charm and popularity, beyond the world of Muay Thai, is no small thing to Thais, and to Thai fighters who were his contemporaries. He was a cross-over star. To us, maybe not a big deal, but to Thais huge. Your aura is what you are as a fighter, and his aura grew well beyond the ring. Thais call it sanae, meaning something like charm, but carrying with it the feeling of invulnerability. A "you can't touch this" aura. Legends of the past complain that fighters of today do not have this.

Then you add in his WBC World Title. He wasn't a World Champion for very long, other fighters like Weerapol have been WBC champion more prolifically, but for Thais boxing brings much more International honor than being a Lumpinee Champion. The country celebrates and idolizes its boxing champions, especially from that era. Some of Thailand's wide reverence for western boxing excellence came from the strong patronage of boxing from H.M. Rama IX, who not only modernized Thailand's Muay Thai, but also held boxing in extremely high esteem and helped promote it. That Samart and the King had the same birthday date (December 5th) probably only added to the magical connection, in a country where days and dates really matter.

So, when you talk with Thais it's all Samart.

The other layer of this is that western, English language coverage of Samart becomes exaggerated and embellished (probably), because of his immense reputation in Thailand. A super gifted fighter with great eyes, a fighter who moved like no other, a WBC Boxing World Title, and almost none of his prime captured on tape, its a recipe for idolization.

Just as with Jordan, there are arguments to be technically had against his GOATness, if you want to dig into everything. He almost never fought up, and sometimes fought down, so, powerful enough connections gave him matchups that were favorable, albeit against a very strong field. This is unlike many great fighters who were forced into weight classes that were not their own, once they cleaned out their own natural weight division. Gym and matchup power is a very important aspect of career greatness, ask Somrak about that. You can say he wasn't a great clinch fighter, more of an anti-clinch fighter, and that he lost badly two of the more high-profile fights he fought vs Dieselnoi (for FOTY) and Wangchannoi (his final stadium fight). It even could be said that if Samart hadn't come back from boxing to win his 3rd FOTY, his older brother Kongtoranee, who is largely forgotten by English language history, could have had an even better career with more stadium belts, 2 FOTYs, and coming within a hair's breath of winning a World Title in boxing (if I recall?)

But these are just jostling greatness next to greatness. To the Thais, pretty uniformly, he is the greatest. You can see the votes we tallied among ex-fighters as to who is the GOAT: https://twitter.com/mediasres/status/1432803403860561921

Only Wichannoi and Dieselnoi are even in the ballpark.

Also, really importantly, some of his greatness might not even be evident from video at all. Sylvie never had been a big fan of his fighting style on video, she just isn't a lover of how he fought. Hey, not every great fighter can be your favorite. But when we filmed with him she was blown away by what it felt like to be opposite him. You can see that session here (patrons): https://www.patreon.com/posts/17174396

She's filmed with countless legends and even though they were only working through basic movements nobody moved like him, nobody stood like him. Even in his mid 50s his aura was incredible, and his movements like nobody. He has a naturalness, an ease, that is really prized by Thais, and in person it really hit her. On video she didn't have strong feelings for him, but in person he completely won her over. Everything they said was true!

So, for me its a mixture of things. He changed Muay Thai with his style, he had incredible eyes and feel, a very relaxed defensive manner combined with sudden, unexpected power (Krongsak told us, Samart was born to fight), he had gym power to set up favorable matchups, he became a cross-over cultural superstar, and the lack of prime career footage may have even magnified his aura as the decades went by. Also, in a culture like Thailand its very hard to carry the mantle of greatness. So many great fighters end their careers in very difficult circumstances. What makes him great is also how he carried greatness, and still to this day carries it, I think.

 

Here are two related posts:

 

 

You can also see my 30 minute video study of Samart's victory over Namphon, as a patron: https://www.patreon.com/posts/54893112

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    • wait wait wait.... what the actual fuck?!?
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