Two Out of Three Ain't Bad — For Most People. For Stamp Fairtex, However, It's Not Enough!
This story begins with a scenario you've seen in a classic movie franchise and in the hit Netflix series it spawned: A mild-mannered youth gets bullied at school day after day. The kid comes under the guidance of a wise martial arts teacher, who imparts the ways of combat. When the kid decides that enough is enough on the schoolyard, you know the end is near. Using skills learned from the sensei, the kid vanquishes the bullies — and even wins a local tournament.
Before you stop reading so you can go catch up on Cobra Kai, know that this particular story has more twists than a double spinning back kick.
In order to continue this real-life version of the "wax on, wax off" saga, we have to talk math. Why? Well, because later on in this story, the world's toughest math teacher is going to show up. And, believe me, you don't want to fail his pop quiz!
Statistically, it's about a million-to-one shot that a person can become a pro athlete in the NFL, MLB or NBA. The odds are stacked even higher against a person who sets out to become a world champion in a combat sport. To become the best on the planet at two different combat sports, the odds can be calculated only by someone like Stephen Hawking. To become the first female world champion in three combat sports — well, you don't even want to try to figure out those odds!
But this is precisely what a Thai fighter named Stamp Fairtex is striving to accomplish, and she's almost there.
Farm Girl The future champion was born Natthawan Panthong in the city of Rayong, Thailand. It wasn't until later that she adopted the fight name Stamp Fairtex. She grew up on her family farm, which grew durian, a tropical fruit.
Looking back, she told me that for the most part, she enjoyed a happy life in the country. There was only one problem: Starting in kindergarten, she was bullied by other girls. "When I was 5 years old, this girl kept pinching me," Stamp recalled about the earliest days of her victimization. "I was scared. I would have bruises on my arm."
When she'd endured the abuse long enough, she sought help from her father, a muay Thai practitioner. At the gym his brother operated, Stamp's dad taught his daughter the basics of the martial art and, most important, the intricacies of the clinch, which was the position in which she often found herself in those schoolyard scraps. "It made me strong," she said. "Now I'm never scared when I have the clinch." Perhaps this is why she considers her father the hero of her life.
Within a year of taking up muay Thai, Stamp had ended the bullying and started fighting in the ring. (In this Southeast Asian nation, it's not uncommon for young people to compete in full contact.) She won her first match in less than 30 seconds. "It was Children's Day in Thailand," she said. "I walked forward and kneed, kneed — and won."
New Star Unlike Daniel-san in The Karate Kid, however, Stamp didn't stop after winning her version of the All Valley Karate Tournament. Competition quickly became a way of life for the youth. As the only female fighter in the camp where she trained, she frequently found herself fighting boys. No doubt that helped her build a foundation that was second to none.
On average, Stamp competed every other month, which gave her at least some time to see to her schooling. Over the ensuing decade, she was able to amass a record that spanned 80 pro bouts and included a stadium championship and a two-division Northeastern Thailand title. All the while, she used her winnings to help support her family.
Then when she was 18, destiny came calling, and it was in the form of a representative from the legendary Fairtex Gym in Pattaya."Fairtex wanted me and [some other] female fighters for their MMA program," Stamp said. "One of the trainers knew me. He said, 'If [you] come here, you will have a big future.'"
His pitch worked, and Stamp made the move, in part because she lacked worthy opponents in the countryside. But it wasn't all peaches and cream. "I missed my family a lot," she recalled. "I didn't have time for myself so much [because] I had to focus on training. I didn't have time to be a regular teenager. I saw my friends go to parties — it would look fun, but when I had free time, I had to sleep."
Two Titles Everyone knows the adage, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." In the case of Stamp Fairtex, the person who appeared was ex-high-school math teacher and former UFC middleweight champ Rich Franklin. Trivia note: Franklin was the real-life inspiration for the teacher who turned MMA fighter in the 2012 movie Here Comes the Boom, which stars Kevin James, Selma Hayek and Henry Winkler. (If you haven't seen it, you should — even if it's just to watch Bas Rutten, who plays Kevin James' coach, do his "happy dance.")Back to our story: In his capacity as vice president for ONE Championship, Franklin was in Thailand on a scouting mission when he ran across Stamp training at the Fairtex gym. I asked her about the encounter, and in her usual humble way, she downplayed her performance that day. "[I] simply showed my skills … I kicked pads and showed my MMA techniques," she said.
Franklin remembers the encounter somewhat more shockingly. "Our first recruiting session for Rich Franklin's ONE Warrior Series was in Thailand at Bangkok Fight Lab," he said. "I experienced what we call the 'Stamp effect.' While my co-host and I were watching two athletes in their tryout, we heard what sounded like a cannon off to our right. When we saw that it was Stamp kicking the pads, we completely forgot there were fighters actually trying out in front of us."
Franklin immediately booked her for her debut bout against Rashi Shinde. Knowing that Stamp brought the match to an abrupt end in the first round with a Thai kick that yielded a 19-second knockout, I asked her about the bout. "I just remember that I kicked her in the head," she said matter-of-factly. "There wasn't much more than that."
I watched the tape, and I must concur: Bell rings, Stamp kicks, Shinde drops, fight ends. Much more transpired afterward, though: The win landed Stamp a six-figure contract with ONE Championship.
Incredibly, the promoter scheduled her debut fight for the 2018 ONE Atomweight Kickboxing World Championship, where she would face Kai Ting "Killer Bee" Chuang. "It was my first time at a big stadium," Stamp recalled. "It was a big first in my life. I fought kickboxing, but I used a lot of muay Thai techniques."
Those muay Thai moves did not mean an easy victory. Chuang, a full-scholarship athlete at Taiwan University, offered some serious resistance and went the distance, but the Thai fighter won by unanimous decision, dethroning Chuang and earning her first world title.
Aware that they'd captured lightning in a bottle — and wanting to replicate the phenomenon as quickly as possible — ONE booked Stamp's next bout four months later. She would face 33-year-old Los Angeles native Janet Todd, a Pan-American muay Thai champ, for the inaugural ONE Atomweight Muay Thai World Championship.
In the ring, Stamp outboxed Todd, winning by unanimous decision and collecting her second world title. That feat put her in the same company as fellow female fighters Graciela Casillas (boxing and kickboxing) and Kayla Harrison (judo and MMA)."My … fight with Janet Todd was my most memorable. I walked out to Blackpink (a South Korean band) and did my 'Stamp dance' — I practiced the dance for a week or two," she said, smiling.
"I was the first woman to get two belts in two sports [for ONE Championship]. It was my first big match in muay Thai. I became famous for this fight. Everyone liked the fight with Janet Todd. I liked the bout, too."
No. 3Winning two world-championship belts in two combat sports was not enough for Stamp Fairtex — which is why she set her sights on earning the ONE Championship MMA title in 2021. She embarked on the path to that destination by winning her MMA debut by rear-naked choke, and now she sports a perfect 5-0 MMA record with three knockouts. Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, the 23-year-old will be itching to transition from contender to champion. This brings us back to mathematician Rich Franklin. With both of us acknowledging that Stamp is already a world-class striker, I asked Franklin if she can gain the grappling skills she needs to become the MMA champ. Franklin did the fight math in his head and gave the following calculation about her chances of success:
"When we recruited Stamp, she was still a little green on the ground but closing the gap quickly. More importantly, she is eager and willing to take chances and try new techniques in competition rather than playing it safe. Given she has been working on her ground game since we recruited her, she is a serious threat to the title."
ONE Future When I interviewed Stamp Fairtex for this story, she was ranked No. 5 in the MMA division. Only time, talent and the grit of this young fighter will determine whether she becomes a world champion in her third combat sport by taking down current titleholder Angela Lee. What I do know, however, is that any title she does win will be with ONE Championship.
I know that because I asked her if she might be lured away by a bigger promoter, but she was steadfast in her loyalty. "I won't fight in the UFC," she said. "I'm with ONE Championship. They gave me an opportunity, and they made me a star. They gave me a name. I won't leave."
She noted, however, that she's open to taking part in Thailand's national pastime again. "MMA is a new sport in my life," she said. "I like MMA a lot, [but] muay Thai is part of my Thai blood and heritage."
Whatever the future holds for Stamp Fairtex, chances are she'll succeed. Once her combat career is over, she said she plans to work for the family farm. But don't expect to see her selling fruit at a roadside stand. She studied marketing at school and no doubt will be crafting a plan for the agricultural enterprise — while tending to her social media followers and burgeoning fan base. Further down the road, she hopes to launch a career in the fashion trade.
Clearly, this farm girl who's on the road to becoming a triple belt holder is no country bumpkin. You can see it in her plans, and you can see it in the answer she gave to my final question, which concerned whether she posts videos of her workouts online: "I don't really show too many special techniques — so my opponents won't know [what's in store for them]."One can only wonder what else is in store for Stamp Fairtex and her opponents as she rides the wave of fight fame at ONE Championship.
Perry William Kelly has a sixth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu and is an instructor in four other martial arts. He's the former national coordinator for use of force for the Correctional Service of Canada. In 2017 he was a karate gold medalist at the World Police and Fire Games, and in 2018 he received the Joe Lewis Eternal Warrior Award. His website is perrywkelly.com.
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