If you follow Muay Thai in Thailand you are probably aware of the dark side of the sport: Gambling.

Gambling is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it keeps the stadiums filled with people who are lively and passionate about the sport. Gamblers create a lot of excitement surrounding the fights and really do create an exciting atmosphere in the stadiums. On the other hand, the downside of the betting is it also brings a lot of corruption and scandals into the sport like fixed matches, thrown fights, and the worst…poisoning fighters before or during fights.

A recent example of the dark side of gambling is the recent poisoning of teenage Superstar Sangmanee Sor Tienpo (The Million Dollar Baby).

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Here is Sangmanee unconscious as he is been rushed to the hospital.

After his decision loss against Thanonchai, Sangmanee went into the backstage area and suddenly started to experience “seizure-like” symptoms and went into a state of shock.

He was immediately rushed to the hospital and observed by doctors throughout the night. As he laid unconscious, doctors found that he had been poisoned. Had Sangmanee not come to the emergency room when he did, the doctor’s said he could have died due to kidney failure.

To find out more about this teenage prodigy read: Sangmanee Sor Tienpo – The Next Generation of Muay Thai

Footage of Sangmanee in a stretcher after collapsing:

Poisoning is not Uncommon in Thailand

Thailand has a history of fighters being poisoned before fights in the past few decades. As recent as last summer there was an incident when two fighters collapsed before their fight, who had been poisoned.

Why does this happen? Because some gamblers are betting a lot of money for their fighter to win. These corrupt gamblers want to ensure that their fighter has an upper hand in the fight, tipping the odds in their favor. With some matches so close that literally an extra knee or sweep wins the match, it’s very possible to upset the balance with something like poison (even something very mild and not fatal can throw off the balance of a fight).

Money talks.

In Thailand, people will bet their entire life savings on a fight. Since the stakes are so high, some gamblers will do anything to win. If you ask any Thai fighter about poisonings, they will all acknowledge that it happens more than you think.

Sangmanee fighting for his life in the hospital emergency.

Sangmanee fighting for his life in the emergency room.

While you might be thinking, “who would poison a teenage boy?” The reality is it could be anyone, including people from his own fight camp (it’s not unheard of for certain people in a fighter’s own camp to make under-the-table bets against their own fighter and sabotage their fighter by some means — or straight out pay them to lose). Unfortunately, there is no possible way to ever find out the person behind Sangmanee’s poisoning, short of someone coming forward with a confession or video evidence turning up.

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The dark side of muay thai trickles down even to the local low level Muay Thai circuits where a lot of foreigners fight. If you want to dig deeper into the dark side of Muay Thai and how it affects your matchups if you fight here as a foreigner, do read our Fighting in Thailand: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly article for an expose on this and also our Fighting in Thailand: Five Matchup Scenerios You Will Face article

The harsh truth is the criminals who poisoned Sangmanee don’t care about the consequences of their actions; they only care about the money.

So just ban gambling from Muay Thai and be done with the whole thing right?

Not that simple folks. Besides that fact that it will never ever happen in Thailand, there are a whole barrel of reasons why gambling sustains and nourishes  Muay Thai in Thailand.  You see, if you forbid gambling during Muay Thai matches, few people would actually bother coming to watch the fights in the stadiums; the fighter purses would shrink drastically,  and the sport itself would fade from prominence in Thailand.

And the trickle down effect from an (enforced) gambling ban on the sport across Thailand would be that far fewer Thai boys would train to become fighters (no money in it anymore), there would be a drastic reduction of trainers (less money for wages, fewer people to train), and the number of gyms in Thailand would shrink. The sport (in Thailand) really would implode.

Basically, gambling literally fuels the entire engine of the Muay Thai sport in Thailand.

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It’s not really ‘gambling’ alone that’s the problem. Thailand is one of the more corrupt countries on the planet. Take a society steeped in corruption, where bribes and shady deals are the normal means of getting ahead in business and politics, mix in gambling, then toss in desperate gamblers who often bet their life’s savings (Jomhod, the famous fighter, bet his house and gym on his rematch with Somrak Khamsing a couple years ago in Raja stadium — and he lost) and you see where things might go away.

As long as there is gambling (and corruption) in Muay Thai, you will continue to hear of incidents of poisoning and fight fixing. Unfortunately for Sangmanee, he’s become the latest — and certainly not the last — a victim of the dark side of Muay Thai. Hopefully, Sangmanee can make a full recovery and continue his dominance in the sport.

The Fight – This was the fight Sangmanee was poisoned. It is clear the poison wasn’t in full effect until after the fight.