On the evening of August 11 last year two-time muay thai champion Kangwanlek Petyindee was contemplating his retirement as he went for a quiet meal with a couple of friends in Thon Buri.
He had been fighting professionally for over 20 years and after 200 fights he knew his time at the top was coming to an end.
As a regular at Lumpini Stadium, the pinnacle of competition in the country, who had until recently been Thailand Bantamweight Champion he felt he had a few more fights in him. Little did he know he would soon find himself in a battle of a completely different type, fighting for his life with a bullet lodged centimetres above his heart.
An evening that, to the best of Kangwanlek’s knowledge, had passed without incident took a turn for the worst as he waited for a taxi in Thon Buri,
“I and my friends went to a restaurant called Isan Monsoon to get dinner and then when we finished we were waiting for a taxi when a group started a fight with my friend, I tried to talk to them but there was a man on the other side of the street with a gun and he shot me.”
Had the bullet’s trajectory been slightly lower he would have been a dead man. As it was he spent two days in intensive care with his life hanging in the balance. As the oldest fighter still competing successfully at Lumpini Stadium Kangwanlek knows a bit about beating the odds and he pulled through.
He spent another three weeks under observation in Sirirat Hospital and once he regained consciousness he learned a little more about the context of the altercation,
“While we were eating my friend went to the toilet and he got into an argument with someone about a Buddha Amulet. I think they shot me because they knew I was with the person they were arguing with but no one has been arrested so I don’t know for sure.”
Most men would have been hesitant to return to combat sports after such a serious injury and the 37-year-old admits that as he lay in the hospital muay thai was the furthest thing from his mind,
“At the time I didn’t think about coming back to fight, I was only thinking about not dying. When I was shot it did not hurt but I knew what had happened straightaway and I told my friend to take me to the hospital quickly, at the hospital it started to really hurt.”
Kangwanlek defied the doctors who told him his fighting career was almost certainly over to return to training eight months later and on Friday he will make an emotional return to the ring when he takes on Petnakorn Sorlatda Gym at Lumpini Stadium.
Although only a small scar remains where the bullet pierced his chest there is a still a question of what effect a strong blow could have on the wound, but for a fighter accustomed to competing every month this is not the most serious concern.
“In training when I get hit in the place I was shot it doesn’t hurt but if I get hit very hard maybe it will be a problem, I don’t know. I am not too confident about this fight, only 50/50, because I have not fought for 11 months which is a long time.”
A career in muay thai can be gruelling and conventional wisdom states that it is not sensible for a fighter to continue to compete once he is in his 30s, at least not at the elite level. There are no guidelines when it comes to continuing after near fatal shootings but Kangwanlek has never been one to let others dictate his destiny,
“I carry on fighting because I can! I don’t feel any different than I did when I was younger but sometimes my body hurts a little bit more after training and I get injured more easily. I plan to fight a few more times and then I will retire, after that I either want to go overseas to coach muay thai or open a ‘mom and pop’ store in Bangkok.”
Kangwanlek Petyindee’s fight with Petnakorn Sorlatda Gym takes place at Lumpini Stadium on Friday on a card promoted by Petchpiya. Tickets are Bt1,000-Bt2,000 for non-Thais, with discounts available for Thais.