Buakaw’s Iranian Manager Is Making Waves in Bangkok

Fightland Blog

By Alexander Reynolds

All photos courtesy of the author

Pot-bellied ex-fighters with a chip on the shoulder have long dominated the business end of Bangkok’s Muay Thai scene. They got ripped off on the way up and now it’s their turn to do the same.

This isn’t the case with Sasan Ghosairi, an Iranian hulk who resembles the legendary gangster Al Capone. Ghosairi has broken the Thai monopoly on the domestic Muay Thai fight game and emerged as one of the biggest promoters and managers in the professional sport today. His promotions and stable of fighters are a veritable who’s who of Muay Thai—including Buakaw Banchamek, arguably the best pound for pound nak muay (Thai boxer) in the biz. It’s a tale of rags to riches, ring to ringside, kicking and punching all the way to the top—but how did this humble and soft-spoken Iranian get there?  

Like many a boxer before him, Ghosairi came up the hard way. He moved to Thailand 12 years ago from Iran and was fighting out of Rompo Gym in Bangkok’s rundown slaughterhouse district under the Don King eyes of Naront Siri aka “Mr. Pek”. At the time, many big name pro-fighters, both foreign and domestic, were getting the runaround from Thai promoters. They were often mismatched with heavier opponents and sometimes not even paid for their efforts. Fed up of this, and nearing the end of his own pro fight career in Bangkok as a heavyweight, Ghosairi decided to cross the ropes into the business side of the sport. In the beginning, the Iranian outsider was not taken seriously by the Thai sporting establishment. Nonetheless, he soon made a name for himself as a leading coach, promoter and matchmaker with Kunlun Fight (Asia’s largest kickboxing league) and co-founded the World Muay Thai Federation (WMF), the World Muay Thai Organization (WMO) and the International Professional Combat Council (IPCC). Ghosairi the outsider trumped the odds and emerged as a firm but fair businessman who looked after his fighters, and, moreover, didn’t rip them off.

Fightland: I didn’t know Muay Thai was big in Iran until I came to Bangkok where there are loads of Iranian kickboxers on the circuit. What is the Muay Thai scene in Iran like?
Sasan Ghosairi: Muay Thai doesn't have a long history in Iran, maybe 25 years. Most of the guys back home train hard like professionals but can only fight as amateurs. Even though Muay Thai is very popular in Iran, professional Muay Thai, as a sport, doesn’t exist. The professional stuff, like K1, is the dream of many and that explains why a lot of guys are heading out of the country to get on the circuit.

What about the MMA scene in Iran?
Everyone asks about that. It’s ironic. MMA doesn’t have any stage in Iran but we have some of the best wresting in world. There are a few MMA fighters. In the future, I would love to see one of our guys fighting one of those Americans or Brazilians in the UFC. It would be good box office. 

When did you come to Thailand? What was your first impression of the Muay Thai scene?
I arrived in Bangkok in 2004 during the rainy season—which gave me all the more reason to go and take shelter in the gym. Coming from the amateur scene in Iran, I didn't have that much of an idea about the professional scene in Thailand and South East Asia. As soon as I started at Rompo gym, I became a professional and had to fight everyone that the promoters threw in front of me. It was really tough. I soon learned fast. I had to.

What was your fight career like? Did you win any titles?
I wish! I didn't win any and didn’t have that much success. I started at the bottom and pretty much ended at the bottom. However, I did get matched up against a lot of world-class opponents. I won fights with some big names and I won some tough fights against many no name fighters, too. The biggest fight of my career was the bout with Mardsua. He had a fearsome reputation but I knocked him out in Round 3.

A lot of foreign fighters complain about bad treatment from Thai promoters. Were you treated well?
Yes and no. Many foreign fighters come to Thailand to make money and earn a living in Muay Thai. I should know. I was one of them. If you are good and get a fight with a name fighter, you will get a big purse but it won’t be easy. As for the business end of things, I soon learned that fighters, myself included, have got no idea how hard it is to be a fight promoter. Everyone hates the promoter and everyone blames the promoter. I should know. I have been guilty of it myself. This is the thing: promoters are just matchmakers. Sure, we want to do everything as cheaply as possible, but we always need to please the crowd. Without them, without fans, we are nothing and the sport is nothing. As a promoter, you can’t please everybody, but I try.

How hard was it to go from boxer to businessman?
When I stopped fighting in 2007, I had to think very hard and long about this change of career. I knew that being a businessman in Thailand was tough. A lot of guys get ripped off and go home crying. With me, it was different. I was going into something that I knew about. In Thailand, if you want to be a Muay Thai promoter, and be successful, it’s hard. The space is full. And you need to bring new marketing ideas, and business know-how, to get your own space. It doesn’t mean that you occupy the space of a Thai promoter. You get your own space in the market by your own merits.

Did you have any problems with rival Thai promoters or the Thai mafia?
I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve heard a lot of things. But, believe it or not, I haven’t had any guns stuck in my face or had any of my fighters get spiked with drugs. I was always conscious about not treading on any toes or doing things that might make them just a little bit jealous. The bottom line is, don’t mess with the locals. Try to find a way to work with them instead. 

You once managed and promoted Buakaw, who else do you manage and promote?
I’ve handled Buakaw for a few years now. We’ve done some good business together and had some big ass fights. Right now, I have over 20 top name boxers on the books and more than 100 A and B class fighters from all over the world. Having a favorite would get me into trouble. One guy to look out for is a Thai called Superbon Banchamek. He’s got a very high skill set and will be a top dog in the future.

We met at Rompo Gym. Now you are a part owner of the gym and run the Muay Thai Academy (MTA) out of that space. How did that come about?
I share the same gym as Mr. Kanda but we have different management for the fighters that train out of there. MTA was my idea from about 2008. It was bumpy at first, but, in 2009, we produced our first world champion. That got us noticed and put us on the map.

And what is it like being an Iranian and running a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok?
I get a lot of guys from back home coming in which is good. Apart from things like health and safety and fire regulations, which are kind of lax here, there’s not much difference between running a gym in Thailand, Iran, or any other country for that matter.

What deals are you offering fighters at the moment?
Deals? Well, to quote the Godfather, I always try to give my fighters an offer that they can’t refuse. Every fighter has a different skill level. So I always try to ease them in slowly rather than throw them in at the deep end. When I get guys coming in off the street, Thai or Farang (foreigner), it’s not a revolving door. I want to give them the best possible deal, not just chew them up and spit them out. They are like kids. You have to look after them and nurture them.

Are you signing on fighters from the USA?
Yes! I love American fighters! They are very marketable and I am always interested in putting them on the stage here in Thailand or the South East Asian region in general.

Tiger Gym on Phuket Island has BJJ. Have you thought of branching out into that side of things to increase the numbers of foreign fighters who want to fight out of the gym?
Tiger gym is a successful business and it has been the model for many gyms in Thailand to do the same as them. Not me. Tiger is good at what they do, and I am good at what I do. Muay Thai is still the biggest draw in the region. It’s my passion. And, where I am, in Bangkok, it’s the best place to be.

Are you going into MMA promotion or is it strictly Muay Thai?
The last three years or so it has just been top level Muay Thai and kick boxing. Realistically, to develop any sort of Kunlun MMA promotions in South East Asia, I would need to invest the same amount of time and energy in order for it to be successful as Kunlun kickboxing. So, it’s a case of not right now. I know Muay Thai and I am sticking to what I do right now.


Check out these related stories:

Buakaw Banchamek and the Life of a Muay Thai Celebrity

Banchamek Surin: Inside Buakaw's Gym in Rural Isaan