Jonathan Haggerty is now One Championship’s Bantamweight Champion after defeating Nong-O. Haggerty has been consistently at the front of international Muay Thai, after first winning the flyweight title from Sam-A in a surprise upset.
After back-to-back losses to Rodtang, we finally saw Haggerty move up a division after failing to make weight and the new division seems to suit him better. Jonathan Haggerty is an exceptional fighter but at 125 he was particularly vulnerable to body shots, which is common among taller, lankier fighters such as himself.
At 135, Haggerty looks strong and muscular, but hasn’t lost the speed that has made him so formidable in the past. Against Nong-O there wasn’t an awful lot to say about his performance, other than he landed a 1-2 to the body, before following up with a 1-2 to the head catching Nong-O off guard and dropping him. After that the fight was essentially over, with Nong-O not able to recover after the fight was restarted.
A lot has been made of this fight. With a couple of high-profile Thai’s losing at One, fans are hyperbolically stating that the West has finally caught up, and some are even questioning the effectiveness of Muay Thai, which makes about as much sense as questioning the effectiveness of boxing because a boxer lost a boxing match.
The truth is simply that the Nong-O is older, has a lot of mileage on him and is competing with four-ounce gloves which make knock outs easier; he simply got caught by a young, fast opponent. It says nothing about Nong-O’s ability as a fighter other than ‘this time, he lost’.
What is more interesting about the fight is Jonathan Haggerty. Haggerty is one of the only westerners to have success against top level Muay Thai fighters while training in his home country. While there are greats like Rafi Bohic, Damien Alamos and Youssef Boughanem, these great European fighters won top stadium titles while they were living and training full time in Thailand. They never had to wait for the west to ‘catch up’ because any success for them was automatically success for the Thai training. They were European in passport only, as far as the sport was concerned.
Jonathan Haggerty is different. Training from the age of 7, not unlike most Thais, he has consistently trained and fought out of London for his entire career. Yet, unlike other Western Muay Thai fighters, who largely have success through aggressive pressure low kicking and boxing, with enough clinch to defend themselves – Haggerty excels in a very specific Thai style.
Jonathan Haggerty is all about switch kicks and teeps. He has a tricky, distance-based style built on feinting and confusing the opponent with his lead leg. Even his stance is very traditional Thai. While there are many factors to Haggerty’s success, it’s hard not to infer that his success against Thai fighters comes from his willingness to fight in their method. Usually, western fighters approach a muay Thai bout like kickboxing with elbows, and we don’t see very much distance control. This predictably results in the westerner punching themselves out or just getting danced around by the more technically competent Thai boxers.
We should also consider that while One Championship markets itself as putting on Muay Thai fights, they are not Muay Thai bouts in the same way that stadium Muay Thai is. Traditional Muay Thai has a radically different scoring system, which doesn’t include punches or low kicks unless they do meaningful damage, and the later rounds are scored more highly than the first two. Equally, traditional Muay Thai is always contested in a ring, with boxing gloves. One uses four-ounce MMA gloves, and whether the fight is in a ring, or a circular cage quite literally depends on the day.
For veterans like Nong-O and Sam-A, they are fighting in a different sport to what they trained in. There are adjustments that have to be made in both their defence and the pace of the fight. Even Rodtang, who is probably the most successful Thai in One right now, has difficulty cutting off the cage, which I’ve talked about in a prior article.
For Haggerty, he’s young and has a style that is fundamentally based on movement and evasion, which means he has to do relatively little in order to adjust to the cage and four-ounce gloves. He can dance around all day and the bigger the arena he’s in, the better. For fighters that spent their time trying to trap opponents in corners, or weren’t used to having to chase down opponents, that can make their job a lot harder.
Jonathan Haggerty may well be the perfect fighter for this particular style of Muay Thai. He’s fast, he’s evasive and he’s young, which means he has many years to keep improving at this very specific type of Muay Thai, should One still be going in a few years. I think as time goes by, he will become harder and harder to beat – not because Westerners are catching up, or because Thai’s are declining – but because he is one of the first to adapt an authentic Thai style to this new found sport.
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