Tanaphong “The Lanna Warrior” Khunhankaew will be making his promotional debut with ONE FC in their 21st installment, “Roar of Tigers”, at Putra Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on October 17, 2014.
Khunhankaew, a 31-year old Thai, is slated to face an opponent who has earned the reputation as being the father of Pakistani MMA – Bashir Ahmad. Tanaphong currently holds a record of 5-3 and fights out of Team Quest Thailand in Chiang Mai while Ahmad is 2-1 and fights out of PAK MMA in Lahore.
MMA-in-ASIA’s Southeast Asia Correspondent Joanna Ash spoke with Tannaphong on the lead up to his ONE FC debut about his background, his opponent, and his confidence in getting the win.
MMA-in-ASIA: How does a Thai become an MMA fighter? What is your background in the martial arts?
Khunhankaew: Unlike many in Thailand who fight Muay Thai or MMA as a means to get out of an impoverished background, I come from a middle class family and chose to fight because of my love for the competitive nature of martial arts and the values of discipline, health and fitness it inculcates in people. In fact, I have recently graduated from the university with a Master’s degree in Sports Science and hope to turn my education, knowledge, skills and experience into something that can truly contribute to the general community.
MMA-in-ASIA: How did you get your nickname the “Lanna Warrior”?
Khunhankaew: Because I come from Northern Thailand which was previously known as the Kingdom of Lanna. The area gave birth to numerous great historical warriors.
MMA-in-ASIA: This upcoming fight is your ONE FC debut. How do you feel and how did you end up with ONE FC?
Khunhankaew: This is my official ONE FC debut and I am very excited to showcase my skills to an international fan base. I am very thankful to ONE FC for the opportunity. I chose to sign with ONE FC over other organizations because I felt most comfortable working with them and they are the best and biggest MMA organization in Asia.
MMA-in-ASIA: Did you start your MMA career with a martial arts base of Muay Thai and then evolve into MMA? What spurred you to be an MMA fighter?
Khunhankaew: Yes I started my career as a Muay Thai fighter and as I started to watch more MMA fights, I realized that Muay Thai is not a complete fighting system. Muay Thai is great but most fights go to the ground and Muay Thai is only useful on the ground if you can soccer kick your opponent. When I started taking an interest in MMA, I traveled to many different countries like Brazil to train in the sport because earlier in my career, MMA as a sport was not as developed in Thailand yet. My travels to the different gyms around the world helped improve my experience and skills immensely. These days, there are world-class gyms in Thailand that bring a high level of skills to MMA enthusiasts, like Team Quest Thailand, because of highly skilled MMA coaches like American pro MMA fighter Dylan “The Muscle” Fussell.
MMA-in-ASIA: You have more fights than Ahmad. How do you think your skills and experience stack up against him? What are your thoughts and opinions of Ahmad as an opponent?
Khunhankaew: Well, Bashir and I have trained together in the past at Team Quest Thailand and we are actually friends, so we know each other’s game very well. This is going to be like a chess game. Whomever can implement his game plan best is going to win the fight. My fight with Bashir is going to be a tough fight but I am confident I can execute my game plan better.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you see as your key challenge in the upcoming fight?
Khunhankaew: That’s going to be my ability to focus on fighting my own fight and not allowing Bashir to execute his game plan on fight night. Bashir has big heavy hands so I want to stay out of brawling exchanges with him. Saying that, I am usually not bothered about my opponents’ strengths. I am only focused on my strengths and what I am going to do to dominate the cage at fight night.
MMA-in-ASIA: What have you been doing to train for this fight? Was there anything extra added to your training regime?
Khunhankaew: This fight camp was an extremely intense one for me. Thankfully, I have been blessed with great training team mates like the undefeated Canadian Jeremy Kennedy and New Zealand’s Mark Abelardo who recently signed with PXC. I do not believe in “extra” training. It is all about putting in the hard work at every training session.
MMA-in-ASIA: Which was your most difficult fight and what did you learn from it?
Khunhankaew: All fights are difficult! In every fight, I learn something new about myself and how I can improve my game plan.
MMA-in-ASIA: Which was your best fight in your career?
Khunhankaew: The best fight in my career was the one when I fought Swedish fighter Alexander Denic. I was an underdog going into the fight and I managed to submit him with an armbar in the first round. I realized that I performed best under pressure.
MMA-in-ASIA: What is your confidence level in defeating Bashir?
Khunhankaew: I am 100% sure that I will be bringing a victory home to Team Quest Thailand.