When talking about combat sports in India, one of only two things usually pop up in the minds of most – Boxing and Wrestling. That may be due to the fact that Indian athletes have usually been more successful in these two sports in the international stages. Lovlina Borgohain’s medal winning finish in Boxing and Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Bajrang Punia’s double exploits in Wrestling in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics are fresh in the minds of every Indian.
However, not many people know of this combat sport which is rapidly rising in prominence in the country as well as in the international stages. One of the most popular and most watched combat sports in Thailand, Muay Thai has slowly found its way into India and many Indian athletes have been wowed by the sport. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recently given its nod to officially recognize the sport as an Olympic event and it will soon rise in prominence across the country, opines Ambarish Ning Gogoi.
Born in a small village called Langkashi in Assam’s Tinsukia, Ambarish is now one of only eight professional Muay Thai fighters from India. Having spent his fare share of time in the amateur circuits here in the country, Ambarish now fights out of Phuket Fight Club in Thailand. Once every now and then he gets to cool down from his high intensity fighting lifestyle when he chooses to come back home and spend some time with his family. On one of his cooling periods, we were able to sit down with him for a chat. Here are the excerpts.
Ambarish Ning Gogoi on how he came to know about Muay Thai and his initial years.
“I started combat sports from 2011. I began with Boxing, which is regarded as the base for Muay Thai, that is every Muay Thai athlete usually begin with Boxing. From 2011 to 2014, I was into Boxing. I began my amateur Boxing career from Dibrugarh and later moved to Mizoram. I thought about entering the professional circuit in Boxing, which means that now I am both a licensed Boxer and a Muay Thai athlete. While in Mizoram, a close fried had asked me to try out Muay Thai and when I did, I fell in love with it. In 2016, I began fighting in the professional circuit in Muay Thai.”
“I began Muay Thai in the amateur circuit first. I was the national champion twice in 2016 and again in 2017. I have also represented India in World Games twice. Having completed the amateur circuit, I was itching to try my hands in the professional circuit. My promoter arranged a fight against an opponent from Japan to which I had said yes, and that’s how my professional career began. I soon shifted to Thailand where at first, I went to Phuket Top Team, a Muay Thai Boxing gym. I started my training there and represented them in fights. From there, I shifted camps and went to Phuket Fight Club, whom I represent now in my professional fights.”
On his current record in the professional circuit.
“My current record in the professional circuit is 7-1, that is, I won seven and lost one match so far. That solitary loss came against a fighter from Japan. I did not know at the time but the Japanese fighter who I came up against, he was the topmost ranked fighter of the entire Japan – Korea circuit. I have a motto that ‘if a person can bleed, he can be killed’ and with that in mind, I entered the ring. But coming up against him, I understood the difference between amateur and professional circuits. I had a more aggressive style, while my opponent had an entirely technical approach. I was not able to land a single hit on him, while he repeatedly kept hitting me. After that loss, I went straight back to the drawing board and worked on my style, my weaknesses and now I am a completely different player.”
On how professional circuit is different from amateur circuit
“It is completely different in the professional circuit. For a start, the scoring system is entirely different. In the professional circuit, you come up against international opponents, so the difficulty is also much higher. Another thing is, in the amateur circuit, athletes play for medals and honours. The money in the amateur circuit is also very less. In comparison, the professional circuit is all about building a reputation, while the pay scale is also massive.”
On how much money are we talking about
In professional Muay Thai, the pay scale is based on a class system. For example, in class ‘C’ fighters earn around Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000 per match. As you go up, in class ‘B’ the pay is around Rs 45,000 – Rs 50,000 per match. In the topmost tier, that is, class ‘A’, the per match earnings start from somewhere around Rs 1 lakh and there is no upper limit. The difficulty also rises as you go up the tiers. In class ‘A’ only the top-ranked fighters face up and these fights garner a lot of worldwide attention. There is also a huge betting scene behind these fights, hence the pay is also much higher. I currently fight in tier ‘B’.”
On his lifestyle in Thailand
“Intense, absolutely intense. We wake up every morning and go out for several rounds of jogging. Then back in the gym and hours of training there. Then we sleep in the afternoon and again the same routine in the evening. We are placed on strict diets as we have to maintain our bodies and our physical conditioning. These are all looked after by our clubs. I have often witnessed that fighters head out at night for ice-cream. I believe, this is down to the fact that our bodies are so sugar deprived that we crave for something sweet. Even though it is against rules, but when one ice-cream turns to five, we really don’t seem to comprehend.”
On his upcoming fights
“At present I am on my cooling period. We have intense training sessions, strict diets that are all looked after by our clubs whom we represent. At the end of a fighting season, we get a cooling period to relax. As far as my upcoming fights are concerned, I have asked my promoters to organize a match with the Japanese opponent against whom I have my only loss. I am out for redemption, and I want to defeat him. But he has already beaten me, so what he will be looking for this time around is more money. Let’s see, I hope towards the last quarter of this year, we can come to terms to face each other and this time, I will have my win.”
On his advice to young athletes
“My advice to athletes who are in the amateur circuit would be to make a solid foundation for themselves. Play minimum 30 to 35 fights in the amateur circuit. It will help you to gain ring experience which is very useful later. After that, shift to the professional circuit, be it in boxing or Muay Thai. The professional circuit is totally different from amateur one. It’s all about records. Once you have a good record behind your name, you’ll be more known which will translate into a better paycheck. To be financially sound in sports, have a good amateur career and then shift to the professional circuit.”
On sports as a career option
“Sports is not only a good career option, but it brings a discipline into your life. That discipline carries over other aspects of your life, whichever profession you are in. I urge all parents to not look at sports in a negative light and enroll their kids into any sport. A person who is physically fit, is mentally fit. A person who is not fit physically, somewhere or the other there will be a limitation. If you see scientifically as well, a person who is physically fit, releases more dopamine or happy hormones. So, if you take care of your body, your body will take care of you.”
On Muay Thai making its way into Olympics
“The future is really bright. The IOC has recognized Muay Thai officially and I believe by 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, it will be introduced. It is a very good step for the sport and those who follow it. Muay Thai will also grow in popularity. After IOC’s recognition, I think now Muay Thai will boom here in India as well.”
“It is already a massive sport in Thailand and the craze there is huge. You won’t believe, men, women and children all come to the streets. They set up TVs and hoard in front of it to watch fights. The professional circuit is very popular there. There is also a big gambling scene running behind it which also contributes to the popularity. Also, I have seen seven to eight-year-olds who start fighting to escape the poverty. There are areas in Thailand where the financial condition is very poor. These eight-year-olds bring home money from their fights. Some of them have now grown up to become world champs because of this game.”
Ambarish, who hails from Assam’s Tinsukia and was raised in Duliajan. He is the son of late Kanak Gogoi and Mrs. Tripti Borgohain Gogoi. He registered a famous win on November 12, 2022, at Patong Boxing Stadium. Against his opponent on the night from Thailand, Gogoi emerged victorious by a margin of 30-27 and won all the rounds.