If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts about fighting for a living in Thailand, you’ll have figured out by now that it’s far from easy. Training injured, fighting injured, trying to scrape enough cash together for a meal, periods of homelessness, hospitalisation… sounds great, doesn’t it?
We all know that Muay Thai is the most brutal of combat sports, but I still feel that some people underestimate its ruthlessness, particularly in Thailand.
I recently received a message from a young lad who had his heart set on traveling to Thailand to fight full time. He was saying the exact same things as I was saying a few years ago when I wanted to escape life in the UK and live my dream in Thailand. All I cared about was fighting, and I didn’t care about the consequences – whatever happened, happened.
Only, this guy barely had any cash to take with him and he was just about to book his flight to fly out that week. I’m going to sound like a hypocrite here, but that’s a crazy idea.
First off –
Yes, I sold all my possessions and left the UK to live as a fighter in Thailand.
Yes, I landed in Bangkok with £100 in my pocket to live off.
Yes, I fought twice a month to earn my keep.
And yes, I was a total idiot!
I mean, you have to be a little bit crazy, don’t you? Looking back, I’m not quite sure what I was thinking. Everyone would like to think they’d do it, but to actually say “screw it, I’m doing it” and then jump on a plane is another thing completely.
The life of a fighter may seem glamorous on social media, and it may give you some cool stories to tell, but this thing is not easy.
I remember one of the worst situations I got myself into was when I was getting sponsored by a Thai gym owner down on one of the islands. It was low season, it pissed down with rain the whole time I was there and it was a really depressing and lonely place to be in.
The whole area around the gym including the apartments and all the roads that surrounded it were covered in mud and all I had for transport was a clapped out old bike that I shared with the Thai trainers. I was down to my last 650 baht ($20) with no fights lined up and no other income to speak of, but I had to get out of that place and get to a better gym that paid a fair fight purse. Fighting for 3,500 baht (just over $100) wasn’t really my idea of “fair”.
I decided to spend the 650 baht on a ticket to a different island in the gulf of Thailand to live at my old gym from an earlier trip. I drove to the ticket office through all the mud and managed to get my ticket out of there. On the way back to the gym, the bike stalled and I had to kick start it to get the piece of shit going again and ended up breaking my last pair of flip flops. I had no shoes to wear on my feet. Brilliant.
Wandering around Thailand with no shoes to wear and having to eat just rice on a daily basis leading up to fights because I didn’t have enough money to buy any meat or veg wasn’t cool. Nor was the fact that I was limping into the ring in a lot of my fights because I needed the cash.
There are definitely a lot of cool things about being a fighter in Thailand, but those things weren’t cool at all.
I want to share with you some of the hardships faced by a foreign fighter in Thailand, and how to deal with them to help prevent them from ending your trip early.
If you’re planning on fighting in this country for a living, you better be prepared for a shit storm on a daily basis. And here’s why;
Gym sponsorship deals rarely last
Needless to say, being sponsored by a gym isn’t your average 9-5 job where you go in, do your work and get paid a wage at the end of the week. It’s a little more complex than that. You are doing a favour for the gym (fighting) and the gym is doing you a favour in return (feeding you, training you and putting a roof over your head). And what (nearly) always happens is that one party, either the fighter or the gym owner, thinks they should be getting more from the deal. This is especially true when money is tight, as it often is in a lot of gyms in Thailand.
In every gym I was sponsored at, either I left because I wasn’t getting my fair share, or the gym owner kicked me out because they thought they were getting a raw deal. And, when they do decide that they don’t want to feed and house you anymore, they don’t give you 4 weeks notice! They’ll kick you out on your ass faster than you can say “the land of smiles”.
That’s the culture. Half the time it won’t even be anything personal, but they’ll be too proud to tell you that they don’t have enough money to keep you anymore and just cause an argument as an excuse to get rid of you.
When it was me who decided to leave, I would be stuck there for weeks or months before I could do anything about it due to the lack of funds.
Fighters and trainers change gyms like it’s going out of fashion in Thailand, so be prepared to up sticks and leave when things turn sour.
You’ll spend more money on “miscellaneous” items than you will on necessities
“Aaron, WTF. Why are you telling me about your “miscellaneous” items, I’m not going to Thailand to blow my money soapy massages bar girls”.
I’m not talking about those items that most people mark down as “miscellaneous”. I’m talking about pharmaceuticals and medical expenses. Fighting for a living kinda hurts. You’ll be spending ridiculous amounts of money in the pharmacy and in the hospital too.
For example, on my last trip to Thailand (fighting independently) I spent 10,000 baht on rabies jabs and orals after getting bitten by a dog on my afternoon run, about another 8,000 on orals and cream for the skin infections I picked up from the gym I was training at, and roughly 15,000 baht on other medical expenses including blood tests for kidney pains and a broken rib I received in a tournament I fought in while I was there. The broken rib also meant that I couldn’t fight for at least 10 weeks. All of that occurred in the first 3 months of me being there.
These are things you never plan for, and you’ll be screwed if you don’t have the cash to pay for them. Trips hardly ever go as you think they will, so always expect the unexpected.By the way, at some point you probably will blow your cash on a soapy massage and a bar girl.
You’ll be fighting for peanuts at the beginning
My first fight in Thailand was in a car park in front of about 50 people and I got paid 2,000 baht (about $40 at the time). I got slightly more for my next few, but they weren’t far off that figure.
Thailand is cheap, but it’s not that cheap. 2,000 baht wouldn’t even feed you for a month.
Starting at the bottom in Thailand seems pretty harsh; you’re fighting your heart out and bleeding like everyone else, but you’re getting paid a fraction of what some other people are earning. That’s the nature of the sport though, you have to work your way up the ranks in Thailand to earn good money. The more you win, the more promoters will be willing to pay you.
Sounds impossible, right? It’s not. Here are a few of things that helped me live as a pro fighter in Thailand.
3 Fighter Hacks For Easier Living
Firstly, get sponsored. If you have no other income then that’s the only choice you have. Cut a deal with a gym owner and get whatever you can for free; food, accommodation, training, whatever you can blag. You may even get a motorbike and some other perks.
I managed to get a coaching job and also earned a commission on new customers that I would bring to the gym.
Get some fight experience in your own country and maximise your chances of being taken in by a good gym. There are bad gyms in Thailand too.
Read my post How to Become a Sponsored Fighter in Thailand, to learn exactly how to go about it.
Secondly, become an expert at saving money in Thailand. You can’t live like a westerner if you’re to survive on a fighter’s wage. You’ll need to sacrifice a lot of your creature comforts and food preferences for a simpler way of living.
I lived in a wooden shack, on gym floors, on the beach, wherever. As long as I could fight, I didn’t care.
This post on 20 ways to save money in Thailand, will help you learn to live like a Thai. Even if you’re just planning a normal trip without living as a fighter, saving money will allow you to stay for longer.
Thirdly, get good. Win your fights and start fighting on bigger shows for more and more money. Once you’re getting regular slots on big shows you won’t need the gym to feed and house you anymore. Move out of the gym and pay for training at the gym of your choice.
The amount you get paid per fight also depends largely on where you fight, and on what show you fight on. In this post I give breakdowns of exactly how much you can expect to earn as a fighter in Thailand. Of course it’s tough in the beginning, but you’ll slowly begin earning more money if you persist.
Hopefully I’ve outlined the risks involved in doing something like this and helped you figure out a way to make it possible for yourself.
Living as a fighter in Thailand with no other income is for people who a) are totally obsessed with muay Thai b) love fighting c) are prepared to let go of all of the superficial crap they don’t actually need in the western world and become fulfilled in a real way by learning to live with very little and do something they love.
Whether you’re thinking of fighting for a living or just traveling to Thailand for a muay Thai training holiday, my FREE downloadable ebook 20 tips for training in Thailand should give you most of the answers to your questions including how to live on a budget, getting the most out of your time, fighting tips, and how to meet girls. Oh yeah, I didn’t forget that last one, got you covered.
Living and fighting full time in Thailand is like a roller coaster ride, a lot of the time you’re either on top of the world or up shit creek without a paddle, but I’d rather experience the euphoric highs and the crippling lows of being a fighter in Thailand than work a steady 9-5 job any day.