King Sanphet VIII was known as Phra Chao Sua, The Tiger King (พระเจ้าเสือ), is a Thai figure who is shrouded in legend and mystery. Born in 1661 in the province of Phichit in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, he started ruling in 1703 until 1709 and had a pretty short but eventful reign of six years.
Phra Chao Sua had a huge passion for hunting and fishing, but his real love was Muay Thai, which was all the rage in Siam at the time. With the country at peace, Muay Thai became the go-to pastime. According to stories, the King of Ayutthaya would show up to local Muay Thai events held at temple festivals, disguised as a commoner to fight, usually emerging victorious. A king, sometimes known as Suriyenthrathibodi, covering his trail to compete in combat sports helped create Muay Thai as a cultural pillar in Thailand, promoting the art to keep his soldiers fit for battle.
Incognito Muay Thai
Imagine you are a commoner who is fighting for income by being a Muay Thai striker. Then, one day, the king of the entire nation shows up to challenge you. This might affect how passionately you fight. Harming the king of a nation might come with consequences
King Phra Chao Sua was well aware of this. He had a passion for Muay Thai, and wanted to compete, but knew no one would ever face him. So what he would do is disguise, in a mask, himself to join in Muay Thai matches.
To add, this masked figure would show up to competitions and refuse to weigh in, he was willing to face a Nak Muay of any weight. During this time, Muay Thai was in its Muay Boran era. Meaning the rules were much different than today, no gloves, for example, instead used hemp rope or bare knuckled. Also, Muay Boran rules and style varied regionally.
With Muay Boran, matches were typically hosted at festivals or Buddhist temples. Each region would have a champion. In one story, he showed up to a local festival and was able to consecutively defeat two local champions before sneaking out without detection or suspicion.
The mask and the matches themselves vary a lot from legend to legend. We don’t entirely know what parts of these stories are true and what pieces are fiction. It’s possible over time that his legend has grown to be epic, but it’s also just as possible that because he was in disguise that we don’t know most of his successes when it comes to Muay Thai.
Some legends go so far as to say that some moves in Muay Thai were invented by the Tiger King. It’s quite a legacy the King of Ayutthaya created.
Stories passed down verbally can vary, but what we know for certain is that during his reign Muay Thai in Siam was at the height of popularity. This was largely due to it being peacetime in Siam, war with Burma had temporarily cooled.
Fighting gyms, camps, and grounds were developing and Muay Thai was the main spectacle at festivals. Nobles and regional lords were investing in the sport and often would sponsor a local gym.
King Phra Chao Sua – The Tiger King – Outside of Muay Thai
There are some colorful stories of King Phra Chao Sua which paint him to be quite an interesting character. For example, a pole boat he was a passenger on ran aground. For the steersman, this meant death. King Phra Chao Sua refused to do it and instead made a mud figure with no head, thus saying the steersman had been punished. Ultimately, the boat steersman refused and said he had to accept his fate, King Phra Chao Sua obliged. But, the king erected a shrine in his honor.
In another story, his elephant sank in the mud. King Phra Chao Sua, of Ayutthaya, was so angry that he was ready to flog two Princes to punish them. He had thought people around him were plotting against him. But, his wife, the Queen, stepped in to help calm him down.
During his short reign, the most important event was Siam suffering from a famine. Rice fields were not producing and fish were dying off due to a green growth atop the rivers. Diseases and illnesses began to spread across the nation. The king ordered people to use the green growth as a cure. After a few weeks, rains returned and rice began to grow once again. Thus, the famine soon ended.
At the age of just 47, King Phra Chao Sua passed away. He leaves behind an impressive legacy that no king on earth can boast. Nak Muay boxers today still remember him for his skills and guts in the ring and every February 6th Thai people and nak muay celebrate, National Muay Thai Day in his honor which marked his coronation day back in 1702.
Timothy Wheaton is a combat sports writer who covers MMA, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai. Tim is the authority on kickboxing and combat sports journalist who has covered K-1, PRIDE FC, UFC, GLORY Kickboxing, Bellator, ONE Championship, and plenty more.