Samuel Bark took the brick from the fire. His fingers clasped it lightly. He bounced it back and forth between his hands then held it tight as it cooled.
“What are you doing? I asked.
“The Thai guys told me that it would help with my shins, they are sore from my last fight,” the Swedish fighter replied. He pushed the hot rock on his leg. He winced with pain as the steaming brick ground against his shin. Bark had been training at Sangtiennoi’s in Phatum Thani for 9 months when I had met him. He’d stay in Thailand for 11 months, fighting 15 times.
He was a long way from his hometown of Halmstad, Sweden. Halmstad is a small town where everyone knows everyone and the winters are cold and long. The summers are short. There isn’t much to do.
It couldn’t be much different from Sangtieenoi’s gym in Thailand where the summers are long and the heat is constant. Two broken down cars sit on the side of the road near the entrance to the legendary Deadly Kisser’s gym. Grass and shrubbery have grown through the vehicles. Every day there is constant activity, running, clinching, sparring despite the sparse environment.
As an adolescent, Bark, made a run at soccer only to quit to take up fighting. “I wanted to see if I could fight,” Bark said in his accented English. The 14 fights he had in his homeland were B-Class bouts: no elbows, no knees to the head, but no protection either. He’d started Muay Thai at 14 and ten years later he’d amassed 18 professional bouts with only one loss to Tum Sitydotong in Australia.
The blonde haired Bark had arrived at the gym because of a suggestion. He’d spent five months in Australia at Don Millar’s gym while working at a fruit and veggie delivery shop. Millar advised Bark to go to Sangtiennoi’s to take his training to the next level. Bark saved his wages after fighting a professional fight in Sydney and moved out to Bangkok.
The training at Sangtiennoi’s get much more raw. Fighters smash threadbare pads, while ducks and pigs meander around the barely carpeted gym floors. In the breaks between rounds the trainers move the fighting cocks so the chickens will stay in the shade.
“Training at Sangtiennoi’s is hard. It doesn’t get much harder,” Bark told me. “I know I’m gonna win when I train here. All the hours, all the clinching, sparring, padwork. All the hours kicking and punching…”
Bark’s constant focus has paid off with 8 wins at the Max Stadium, 4 of which came by knockout in one year (check out Bark’s knockout over Max champ here). When I asked him how he developed his knock out power, he replied, “I don’t know. I felt that I could hit hard and with 5 knockouts this year. I proved it to myself. “ His hard hitting hands gained him the nickname of Samon Dekkers after the legendary Dutch fighter Ramon Dekkers. Sangtiennoi, who nicknamed Bark, had three bouts with the famous Turbine from Hell, winning two and losing one.
Bark’s heavy hands and knockout power were no doubt honed by his padholders. For five months he had one padholder. That padholder worked 3 rounds of boxing and 2 rounds with both kicks and punches every session.
Bark then went on to a second padholder during his stay. His second padholder constantly pressured him, requiring Bark to hit the pads with the same techniques each time. “It was the same stuff over and over but I used the same techniques in my fights. I do the same thing over and over in my fights.”
The repetition has created a confidence for Bark, “I worked up a name for myself at Max. When I am there I feel confident. I know what they believe and I believe it too.”
The constant fighting was both a bone and a bane to Bark. “When you fight every month you hurt somewhere. The experience is good… I feel more calm in the ring when I fight constantly. For my body it’s hard. For my mind it’s good.”
Despite the action in the ring fighting elsewhere such as on the Kunlun undercard made Bark more nervous. “I was nervous because there were so many big names on the card, Sittichai, Dzabar. I felt okay in the ring but my opponent, he hit hard. I got a decision win though he got me in the first round but I got up quick after he knocked me down with a left hook. I knocked him down in 2nd with head kick and secured the win.”
Bark was also given the comfort of Moses Sangtiennoi in his corner at Kunlun. The son of Sangtiennoi, Moses had taken up muay Thai in his teens and had won an S Cup under the guidance of his father. “Moses was good in the corner, almost the same as Sangtiennoi. They say the same things.”
The rhythm of fighting will continue on for Bark as he returns to Sweden for the Amateur Championships, then he is off to Australia for a bout on Rebellion and finally a reappearance on Max Muay Thai and Sangtiennoi’s gym later this year.
The hot brick had cooled by the time I left Bark but he was still pressing it on his shin, pushing out the soreness. He didn’t have big dreams to try to make a living off of fighting… “I don’t wanna get rich but I don’t wanna work. I’d rather train and fight.”
The piece of mason was cold but Bark kept pressing it down, pushing out the pain, getting ready for the next fight.