knees & elbows

words and photography: steven counts

Once of interest only inside the country's borders, the centuries-old martial art-cum-national pastime of Thailand is changing along with the global landscape. Nowadays, Muay Thai's best move far beyond the glories of Bangkok billboards to world kickboxing and UFC riches. Meanwhile, the nation's rural landscape is teeming with Muay Thai training schools and younger ages. Some come to learn the ancient traditions, some to earn their family's keep. All dream of becoming champions.

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Buakaw Banchamek is easily the most famous Muay Thai boxer in the world. Formerly fighting under the name Buakaw Por. Pramuk (for the Bangkok gym at which he trained from the age of 15), he has transcended the sport's domestic ark, winning the K-1 MAX Kickboxing World Championship twice. On October 11, he controversially lost the K-1 MAX final by disqualification, when he refused to return to the ring for a newly announced "sudden death" round against German Enriko Kehl.

Cloaked in his nation's flag, Muay Thai legend Buakaw Banchamek celebrates his win-by-decision over Australian Victor Nagbe. The fight, known as the Combat Banchamek, took place in Buakaw's hometown Surin province on April 14, 2014.