Why you should care

Because atomweight Stamp Fairtex is a global star in the making.

The entire ring was engulfed in a blizzard of gold confetti. Somewhere in the middle of the glitter stood 21-year-old Nong Stamp. She had just become the first fighter in ONE Championship history to win titles in two different disciplines — Muay Thai and kickboxing — and with a belt slung over each shoulder, she was being celebrated accordingly.

It looked a bit like the last scene in a movie. The fighter had scaled her Everest; it had been done. Yet in Stamp’s case, it could be a mere preface. After winning those two titles, she is now chasing gold in a third sport: mixed martial arts (MMA). It would be a stunning first. No one has ever held major titles in three different combat sports at the same time.

While Stamp’s two-sport title reign began in early 2019, she’s been quietly learning MMA since 2017, when she was recruited by the world-famous Fairtex team in the coastal city of Pattaya, Thailand. The gym’s objective was to groom her into an MMA champion. She leaped at the opportunity and, in keeping with Muay Thai tradition, incorporated the name of her gym into her own. Henceforth, she’d be known as Stamp Fairtex. (This tradition has produced much odder names, including Rodlek PK.Saenchaimuaythaigym and Petchboonchu FA Group.)

She could be the most well-rounded fighter in ONE [Championship].

Prem Busarakamwongs, manager of Stamp Fairtex’s gym

Stamp’s willingness to plunge head-first into an entirely new sport at 19 years old probably had something to do with the fact that she’s been fighting since she was a child.

“All of my surroundings, everything was about Muay Thai,” Stamp says of her youth, which unfurled on a fruit farm in Thailand’s Rayong Province, where her parents still live. “I had my first fight when I was 5 or 6 years old,” she adds casually, as though competing in a Muay Thai fight before learning to read was commonplace.

Having spent her whole life thus far learning how to punch, kick, elbow and knee, all while maintaining her school and social lives, Stamp is now studying the grappling components of the MMA arsenal — namely wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ). She admits that learning these new disciplines is taking time, but she is confident that she’ll improve as she continues to practice every day alongside about 25 other pro fighters inside Fairtex’s sprawling Pattaya facility.

 

“There’s a lot of detail that you need to remember in wrestling and BJJ,” she says. “I rate myself as a 3 out of 10 [in grappling] right now, just because of my lack of experience. But it’s just like Muay Thai. You practice and gain experience and eventually become better and better.”

Prem Busarakamwongs, the managing director at Fairtex, has been watching Stamp’s evolution into a mixed martial artist since she began. He’s excited with her progress so far and hopes she can tighten up her ground game. “Everyone will try to take her down,” he says. “It is very important to get her ground game and wrestling good enough that she can protect herself.”

He adds, “If she keeps training hard she can be a great fighter. Maybe she could be the most well-rounded fighter in ONE.”

With two victories in two MMA matches so far, she’s been impressive. The first occurred on ONE Championship’s ONE Warrior Series, in Singapore in June 2018, when she knocked out Rashi Shinde with a head kick in just 19 seconds. Her second came this past August in Bangkok when, after her kickboxing and Muay Thai title wins, she flaunted her widening grappling arsenal by submitting the previously unbeaten Asha Roka with a rear naked choke.

Still, she admits she’s not ready to compete with top fighters like the woman who currently sits on the throne in the ONE Championship atomweight (115-pound) division: Angela Lee. Stamp names the 23-year-old MMA champion as her biggest inspiration. As it turns out, the respect is mutual.

Like many inside the combat sports bubble, Lee has been paying close attention to Stamp’s journey into MMA and believes “it’s doable” for the Thai athlete to become a champion. “She’s very ambitious,” Lee says. “She has a great striking background, and I know she’s working hard on her ground game, and you can see that with her last fight. Coming into mixed martial arts, there’s a lot more to think about, a lot more to worry about and a lot more to study and to learn. But I think that she’s training hard, and I think she’s doing great.”

If Stamp does work her way to an MMA title fight, of course, it’s possible that Lee will be the woman standing across the canvas. Stamp figures she needs four or five more MMA fights before that could come to pass — not to mention defending her other two titles in the meantime.

She exudes humility, but her aims are clear. “Right now, my goal is to improve and eventually have the chance to fight for that [MMA] belt,” she says.

Stamp’s MMA journey will be fraught with peril. One wrong move in any given fight and she could find herself tapping to a submission, or even waking up under the Jumbotron after eating a well-timed kick or punch. Yet with a good team behind her, the faith of her growing fan base who regularly swarm her for autographs or selfies and — most importantly — immeasurable ambition, we might soon see her swallowed up by another cloud of gold confetti, a third title belt hanging somewhere inside the glitter.

Read more: As a child, she fled violence. Now her fists could bring her stardom.

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