Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

Who Was the First Muay Thai Fighter in the UFC?

If you are a fan of MMA, then you know that Muay Thai is one of the most essential parts of the sport. From its roundhouse kicks to its elbows, Muay Thai has influenced the striking of many professional mixed martial artists. But when did this style first appear in the UFC? Well friends, today we will be finding the answer to the question: Who was the first Muay Thai fighter in the UFC?

Orlando Wiet is officially the first fighter in the UFC with a Muay Thai background, having represented Muay Thai at UFC 2 in 1994. As far as I know, there has never been a fighter from Thailand on the UFC roster. However, there are some successful MMA fighters from Thailand who have fought outside of the UFC, the first being Rambaa Somdet, from Pattaya, Thailand.

Orlando Wiet’s Muay Thai Background

Now that we have established Orlando Wiet as the first Muay Thai fighter due to his participation at UFC 2, we can dive into his background in the Thai style of fighting. Before we start however, I must say the information available on early UFC fighters is very scarce, especially for Orlando Wiet, for reasons I’ll soon explain.

Orlando Wiet was born on October 24, 1965, in Paramaribo, Suriname (a South American country). He is presented as French at UFC 2, however, in an interview from 2005 that I found of Wiet, he said, “I am Dutch, and a native of Suriname” (translated from French). This leads me to assume that he relocated to Europe sometime when he was young.

In the interview he states that he has competed in 180 fights of various kinds, including Muay Thai, MMA, and kickboxing. He states he fought in Thailand several times, during which he presumably trained there as well.

In fact in the interview, he states that he has even won a Muay Thai competition in Thailand on points, and says he was probably one of few foreigners able to do so. He spent 4 years fighting and training in Thailand, fighting in events held at the famed Lumpinee Stadium, and fighting under local native Muay Thai promoter Songchai Rattanasuban.

At some point, Wiet was chosen to represent the martial art of Muay Thai at the UFC‘s second event. He was victorious in his first match against Robert Lucarelli, via corner stoppage. Unfortunately, he did not advance past the quarterfinals, losing to Remco Pardoel via TKO.

He competed in four more MMA fights, losing all four via submission. His negative record, paired with the fact that he never fought in the UFC after UFC 2, are the primary reasons for why his career is not well known today.

Orlando Wiet (left), fighting Robert Lucarelli at UFC 2.
Orlando Wiet (left), fighting Robert Lucarelli at UFC 2.

Native Thai Fighters in MMA

Unfortunately, there are not really any native Thai fighters in the UFC as far as I can tell. This is interesting because one would assume that a Thai fighter, having grown up kickboxing, would excel in MMA competition (with a bit of coaching in the wrestling department of course). However, we do see fighters from Thailand compete in other MMA organizations other than the UFC, a noteworthy one being ONE Championship.

There are two standout native Thai fighters who had success in MMA. The first is Rambaa Somdet, from Pattaya, Thailand, although he now resides in Tokyo. Somdet is the first fighter I could find with success in MMA competition, with his first professional fight being in 2001 (around the time of UFC 35).

He primarily competed in Japan, having fought in two Japanese promotions, DEEP, and Shooto. He had limited success in DEEP, having gone 2-2 in his first four fights before signing with Shooto. He was much more successful after leaving DEEP, as he was undefeated in the Shooto promotion. His last fight was in 2015.

Rambaa Somdet pictured with his Shooto Title.
Rambaa Somdet pictured with his Shooto Title.

The second standout Thai fighter competing in MMA is Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, hailing from Trang, Thailand. He is a former Muay Thai fighter, which he did for 20 years before retiring from Muay Thai in 2007. According to Dejdamrong, he retired with a record of 282-65-3, winning three Lumpinee titles in the process.

He is considered the most successful mixed martial artist from Thailand as of 2015. All his fights have been in the Singapore-based promotion, ONE Championship. Making his professional debut in 2014, he went 5-0 before winning the inaugural Strawweight Championship.

Through his wins, he has brought several ONE Championship events to Thailand, raising popularity of MMA in the Thai community. He is currently 10-4 in MMA, as of April 2019.

Dejdamrong pictured after winning the ONE Championship inaugural strawweight title.
Dejdamrong pictured after winning the ONE Championship inaugural strawweight title.

Where Are All the Thai MMA Fighters?

A question I see posed in MMA forums and comment sections alike is “Why aren’t there more Muay Thai natives fighting in MMA?” This is an interesting question because, as mentioned earlier, Muay Thai has been very effective in MMA competition, as it is seen used by many high level mixed martial artists.

So naturally fighters from Thailand would show interest in MMA right? Well, there are several explanations as to why fighters from Thailand don’t compete in MMA more frequently.

The most significant reason why more Muay Thai fighters don’t compete in MMA is because of the lack of awareness of MMA in Thailand. When Dejdamrong won the ONE Championship strawweight belt, he made headlines in Thailand.

On the subject of his friends who saw his fight, he said that “They don’t know too much about MMA but they were all very proud, because they saw the photo of me with the belt, and I hope before I retire I will be able to defend my title in Thailand.” His quote shows that it took a championship belt in MMA to gain recognition in Thailand.

In fact, Dejdamrong himself says that he didn’t know anything about MMA before initially training in it. He stated that, “When I came to Evolve MMA, I didn’t really know anything about MMA. I didn’t know the rules or what fighters were allowed to do.”

Dejdamron training at Evolve MMA.
Dejdamron training at Evolve MMA.

Muay Thai is very close to Thailand as a national sport. It is almost as if people in Thailand only watch Muay Thai fights, and people outside of Thailand don’t. On this, Dejdamrong stated that, “In Muay Thai the competition is very high, but only people in Thailand watch your fights”. MMA is very new to the people of Thailand, as they are more isolated from the rest of the world.

Lastly, another factor may be the weight. Many fighters from Thailand are in the smaller weight classes, from 100 to 150 pounds. The lowest weight class in the UFC for men is 125 pounds (flyweight), while in many other organizations (such as Bellator), the lowest is 135 pounds (bantamweight).

However, Dejdamrong and Somdet both competed in MMA at strawweight (115 pounds). The announcement of the strawweight division in One Championship intends to popularize the lower weight classes in MMA.

Despite all the reasons for why MMA isn’t popular in Thailand, this has started to change. With the successes of Dejdamrong and Somdet, MMA is beginning to gain a lot more popularity with the locals. A contributing factor is the many UFC fighters who visit Thailand to get trained by Muay Thai experts.

The growing popularity can be seen on this list by Tapology, which lists all known MMA fighters from Thailand. As you can note from the list, many of the fighters have only had one or two fights in MMA, while some of them have yet to make their debut.

Former UFC Champion Cody Garbrandt training in Thailand.
Former UFC Champion Cody Garbrandt training in Thailand.

Growing Popularity of Muay Thai in MMA

In modern MMA, Muay Thai is one of the most important martial arts when training. Roundhouse kicks with the Muay Thai style can be seen in almost every fight, as well as push kicks and leg kicks.

Different versions of Muay Thai have been created as well, most notably Bang Muay Thai, created by Duane Ludwig and Bas Rutten. The martial art is largely based on Muay Thai, but also includes elements of boxing, kickboxing, and traditional martial arts (such as karate).

It uses a colored belt system to distinguish rank, similar to those used in traditional martial arts. This form of Muay Thai is practiced by several notable martial artists, including former UFC Champion TJ Dillashaw, and title contender Joe Benavidez.

As Muay Thai and MMA continue to grow in popularity, we will likely see many more MMA fighters from Thailand enter big organizations. If you’re interested in training Muay Thai, consider checking out the Training Tips page, where I have several posts on Muay Thai. Thanks for reading!