From Queensland to Bangkok: Matthew Deane's Journey from Pop Star to Top of the Muay Thai World
Just planning to visit, Australian Matthew Deane came to Thailand fresh out of high school and never went back.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Deane
An Aussie kid who grew up near the beach, Matthew Deane loves Muay Thai. He's built his career around it. But how did a kid from a small tourist town in Queensland become a household name in Thailand? His rise to the top is anything but ordinary. It's a combination of two key factors: passion and bloodline.
Deane is half Thai. His mother met his father while at university in Australia and the rest is history. Since he was a kid, Deane had been coming to Thailand for summer holidays where he would train Muay Thai. He has a background in martial arts, having earned himself a black belt in Shoto-Kai Karate.
His uncle, Ajarn Chai Sirisute, was the first person to take Muay Thai to the United States, way back in 1968. Having fought and trained extensively in Thailand, he took his knowledge abroad teaching groups as varied as the Hell's Angels, and government agencies. He also worked strength and conditioning with the Dallas Cowboys and founded the Thai Boxing Association, or TBA as it's known in the Muay Thai circuit.
It was those annual visits with his uncle, where the knowledge of Muay Thai was passed, and the passion ignited. When Deane finished high school he came to Thailand to explore, but he never ended up going back to Australia. From there his life took a very interesting turn when he was scouted to be a model.
At first, he was completely taken aback. Just hanging out at the mall with friends when a complete stranger approached him with an offer. Growing up in a small town with no entertainment business whatsoever, Deane was new to the massive industry in Thailand, as well as their fascination with Eurasians. Despite his initiation apprehension, his family was there to support him. He started with commercials, but things escalated very quickly.
"I was intending on studying out here but then I'm doing catwalks, commercials and some lady calls me up asking if I can sing! Six months later I'm in a music video, Thais love pop shit!"
After acting he took a job with MTV Thailand that then kickstarted his MC career in Muay Thai. Fluent in both Thai and English, the transition was natural. He started with Thai Fight, but also worked for Kunlun, Super Muay Thai, and Petchyindee to name a few. He is currently working with True4U, a more traditional Muay Thai weekly broadcast.
Thai Fight was the first modern production of Muay Thai. Deane worked with them behind the scenes and as an MC.
"They did well at first. They had Buakaw there. He's a great ambassador to the sport. He has it all: the talent, the look, the charisma. But they didn't push forward with the match ups to keep it competitive. They had a good chance to make it worldwide. They could have been doing it every week, or at least every month. Other promotions have come in since then with the entertainment like Max Muay Thai and Muay Mun Wan Sook (True4U). The fights are super close and super tight."
He was with Thai Fight for three years when other promotions started calling him up. At the time, he was very open to new opportunities and unhappy with the direction Thai Fight was going.
"As someone who owns a gym and who considers himself part of the Muay Thai community, having fights that were one-sided, or non-competitive— no fault of the fighters, they fight whoever they are matched-up against, it wasn't fun for me. It's not fun seeing your friends just beat the shit out of their opponents. It got boring for me. I wanted to do something that was more beneficial for the sport."
Leaving his acting career behind, Deane is fully invested in Muay Thai. He's the young fresh face that is needed to bridge the gap between Thailand and the West. But what's more, his entertainment background and the status it granted him has kickstarted a new wave of Muay Thai for Thailand's rich kids. His gym, Khongsittha, has found that balance.
"At Khongsittha we are looking to do a customized experience, doing things that other gyms can't do. For Thai people, we had a boom with Muay Thai a few years ago when it was fashionable and trendy. They are all about the social media. For the Thai public now they respect Muay Thai more. They are a bit fickle in terms of fads so we are focusing more on Westerners now."
Deane was always attracted to the grit of Muay Thai. He trained at Fairtex Pattaya nearly a decade ago when it was just opening. The power, technique, and pure aggression of fighters like Yodsanklai, Kaew, and Kem was inspiring, but even more was getting to watch them hang out and play like children. The juxtaposition of these professional athletes who were just able to turn it off when they were done was a stark contrast from the entertainment industry, where he watched his peers get far too emotionally invested.
He was going to the stadiums on a regular basis, his favourite being the old Lumpini,
"Watching the likes of Saenchai, Petchboonchu and Pakorn regularly ply their trade there was equally inspiring, the world needed to know who these guys were! Before, the majority of Thai people had zero respect for Muay Thai. They saw it as a poor man's sport that was brutal, bloody, and dirty. It was, but that's not the complete story. I learned a lot from training and getting to know the fighters. It's a huge part of Thai culture: respect, discipline, sportsmanship."
Deane's gym brings it all together. He's managed to create a gym that is clean, fun, and accommodating to all levels that includes a team of top-notch active fighters training and honing their skills. Anyone staying at Khongsittha is given a tremendous opportunity to better themselves, through regular training in such a talent-rich environment. The gym also stays true to the cultural roots of Muay Thai, paramount to Deane's vision for his gym. Not a lot of celebrities have lent their faces to Muay Thai, so Deane's presence in the sport, both in Thailand and in the West, is overwhelmingly positive. This unique ability to balance the two cultures as both a Thai and an Australian places him in a very special position; truly no easy feat.
Additional reporting by Matt Lucas.