Street fighter: Muay Thai star Sagat's rise to fame

In 1994 videogame Street Fighter made Sagat the "Emperor of Muay Thai" after legendary career in Thai & western boxing.


Street fighter: Muay Thai star Sagat's rise to video game fame

Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai

One of the most popular games in the 1990s was Street Fighter, which featured the Thai kickboxer named Sagat.

For those who do not know about Sagat:

- Sagat was a villain in video games and notoriously difficult to beat.

- Sagat wore muay Thai shorts with no shirt and had a patch over his right eye.

- Sagat became one of the most hated and feared characters.

- Sagat boxed with a strong punch, deadly uppercut and near unbeatable triple kick.


Covers of boxing magazines with Sagat during his rise to fame.

Not many people know the character Sagat was based on a real person named Sagat.

Sagat Petchyindee is a legendary muay Thai fighter and trainer who also tried his hand at Western - style boxing.

Many of the moves that appeared in the video game, with his name, were ones he used in his real and illustrious kickboxing career.

Sagat was born Wirun Phonphimai in 1958 in the town of Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima.

Sagat was the seventh of 10 children in a family with many famous muay Thai fighters, starting with his grandfather Suk Prasathin Phimai, who has a statue honouring his fighting exploits.

Sagat says he was introduced to muay Thai when he was 11 by one of his brothers.

After training for six months, Sagat had his first fight at a temple fair. He won and his reputation as being unbeatable grew as he fought 20 times in his home town without loss.

When he was 16, Boonyeam Sophon, the owner of Porntawee boxing camp in Nonthaburi, went to watch him fight.

"I will make you a star," Sagat recalls Boonyeam promising him. Sagat hopped on the van heading to Bangkok hoping he would keep his promise.


...Sagat's first fight in Bangkok was at Ratchadamnoen stadium.

He lost, but returned to the gym to train harder.

He earned 800 baht for each bout.

...Within two years, he improved to the point where he won five fights in a row.

Sagat also tried his hand at Western-style boxing with success.


But along the way, Sagat also tasted what it felt like to lose.

In 1978, having fought just two bouts of sanctioned Western-style boxing, Sagat was given a top 10 ranking and the chance to fight Puerto Rican Wilfredo "Bazooka" Gomez for the World Boxing Council crown.

The fight was staged in Korat and drew 40,000 fans, but the inexperienced Sagat was knocked out in the third round.

He later relinquished his OPBF lightweight title to a South Korean boxer, Park Bong-chun, in 1989.

He also started to experience losses in muay Thai, a sport he had mastered.

BOXED IN: Sagat was introduced to muay Thai boxing at the age of 11 by one of his brothers. PHOTOS: Chumporn Sangvilert


After turning 25, Sagat says he lost nine fights in a row and believed his career was coming to an end.

He sought the advice of many monks as he believed he was "cursed" by black magic.

He visited Luang Poh Khun, a famous monk back home in Nakhon Ratchasima, who gave him words of wisdom he still remembers today:

"Don't be infatuated with fame when you are rising, and don't give up when you fall," Luang Poh Khun told Sagat.

After he regained his confidence, Sagat returned to fighting and found his new weapon: an uppercut.

He earned a reputation as the knockout king and, after winning seven more titles, retired from fighting in Thailand when he was 28.

His overall fight record in all forms of boxing is 317 bouts, 266 wins, 40 losses and 11 draws with morethan 150 wins by knockout.

Sagat was both muay Thai and kickboxing world champion and won the Lumpini championship three times.

In boxing, he was world champion across three associations, with a professional record of 14 fights and 12 wins.


A renowned innovator, Sagat is credited with introducing several crucial methods deployed in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

His skills also brought wealth, regularly fighting for purses of 450,000 baht in Thailand and US$25,000 overseas.


No longer interested in gaining fame for himself as a boxer, Sagat began entertaining offers from gyms around the world hoping to bring him on board as a trainer.

He eventually took a job in Australia, where he spent a year passing on his experience to younger boxers.

He was also asked once to enter a boxing match representing Australia under the condition that if he won, he would get to raise the Thai flag. He won.

Sagat then moved to Japan, where he already had a reputation as a strong and fierce fighter, to teach at a gym in Osaka.


Then in 1994, the release of the Street Fighter video game helped bolster his claim to fame.

The game featured a boss character named Sagat, depicted as the "Emperor of Muay Thai" and renowned for his incredible power....

...The company that produced the video games, capcom, never contacted Sagat asking to use his likeness, nor did he receive any direct financial benefit.

Sagat said he considered suing Capcom, but eventually decided against it after considering the time and money the lawsuit would have required.

But Sagat has still managed to use the game to his advantage as a tool for self- promotion -- he isn't shy about telling strangers that he's a Street Fighter character.

He used that name recognition to land jobs in Italy and America as a trainer, travelling under the name "Sagat Thailand" to reinforce his Street Fighter credentials.


The fame and money Sagat earned from his boxing career meant he could have retired without ever working another day.

But it was around this time he lost the biggest fight of his life: drug addiction.

Sagat was first arrested for drug abuse in 2002.

A second arrest two years later would lead to prison time.

He struggled to kick his habit though, but was arrested again for distributing drugs in 2009, and sent back to prison for five years.

Eventually, Sagat became a boxing trainer at several fitness centres and eventually at the Sek Loso boxing camp.

The opportunities to train other people helped Sagat get his life back on track.

Even during the time he was in prison, he kept himself fit and trained other inmates.

Today at age 58, he says he can still kick like his 18-year-old self.

"Instead of sitting at home and accepting the fact that I am an old man, I want to show that people have to fight their way back up when they go down," Sagat said.

Sagat is now based at the Thai Boxing Master gym in Bangkok, where he trains rising young fighters.

"One of the most important lessons I want to give to all young boxers is not to be overly confident, because fame doesn't last forever," Sagat said.

"It is also important to save the money you earn and not to spend it foolishly."

"The only thing more difficult than winning a championship is defending one."

About the author

Writer: Jon Fernquest
Position: Online Writer