Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is the most common striking foundation found in mixed martial arts. It employs knees, elbows, punches, kicks and clinch work. Many mixed martial artists train at schools or camps that offer a form or variation of Muay Thai, but some fighters cross train at schools that specialize in classical Muay Thai. One such school is located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and is overseen by one of the nation’s top Muay Thai teachers, Saekson Janjira. Janjira has quietly set up shop in a discrete strip mall north of Dallas and teaches his world champion style of Muay Thai to a plethora of kick boxers and professional mixed martial artists.
Saekson was born and raised in Pattaya, Thailand. The beach town is known internationally for its party scene, but natives recognize it for its poverty and Muay Thai. Like many professional Thai boxers from Pattaya, Saekson began training at an early age.
"I began when I was 8 years old," said Saekson. He indicated that it was common for Thai children to get involved in the sport young to provide extra income for their family. "It was difficult. My family had no money."
As Saekson grew into his frame, he developed into one of the nation’s premier kick boxers. Soon he was competing frequently in the world’s most famous Muay Thai arena, the legendary Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok.
"I fought there between 30 and 40 times," recalled the boxer. "Sometimes you have to fight twice a month, unless you’re hurt."
To prevent injury, Janjira learned to end his fights quickly. His strategy was simple and is still one he teaches today.
"Leg, leg, neck, neck, leg, neck," he said.
The leg and neck sequence refers to the order and location that Saekson would aim his deadly kicks.
After some time at the top of the Muay Thai world, and numerous championship titles, Saekson moved to Los Angles, where he taught Muay Thai and worked at UCLA.
The former champ explained, "I came [to America] only to fight, and first taught in L.A."
He later would start his own Muay Thai school and move to Dallas to be closer to family.
Once word got out that there was a world famous Muay Thai instructor in north Dallas, mixed martial artists began showing up to improve their stand up. UFC veteran Pete Spratt and WEC fighter (and ESPN Dallas.com MMA blogger) Anthony Njokuani trained with Saekson. Other up and coming fighters continually cycle through Saekson’s school to take their striking to another level.
"We train a lot of Machado guys, and they teach our guys enough BJJ to defend themselves and get back to their feet," said Saekson of a local partnership with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master Carlos Machado.
Currently Saekson’s school has around 250 students, and all of his pupils speak highly of him as a teacher and a person. A large portion of these students will show up to any MMA event that a fellow training partner is competing in. They are easy to spot because they are loud and proudly wear their teacher’s logo and Thai flag. Saekson sees the consistent appearance of his students important at fights and in class.
"My gym is like a family. They don’t call me teacher [or Kru], but they must be friends and have uniformity," he said.
The Thai ex-pat follows the evolution of MMA, and specifically the striking and Muay Thai elements.
"In MMA, the standup has gotten better. Six years ago it was very bad," he said.
When asked about any mixed martial artists in the national spotlight that strike him as competent kick boxers, Saekson reveals that, "Jose Aldo could kick box in Thailand. George St. Pierre though is not so good."
Of the MMA fighters currently training out of Saekson’s camp, Edwin Figueroa appears to be the closest to breaking through to a national promotion. He is currently 7-0, with his last victory against Johnny Bedford, a former Bellator competitor. The victory came at King of Kombat 9, on Aug. 8, and was perhaps the best fight on the card. Figueroa scrambled well for position, always making his opponent pay with vicious strikes and ended the fight at the beginning of the second round by KO.
When pressed to reveal any other fighters in the Saekson stable, coach Janjira is closed-lipped.
"I have four or five other fighters," he said, but he would not yet name the prospects. In due time, it is likely that they will be widely known in the North Texas mixed martial arts community.
Saekson Janjira has come a long way from the streets of Pattaya, Thailand. His presence and influence in North Texas has raised the bar for what is expected from a Thai boxer and mixed martial artist. For those fighters fortunate to have found Saekson’s school, the striking element in their mixed martial arts compound is undoubtedly a cut above.