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.
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.”
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.
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