If Shannon Wiratchai had listened to the advice of others, his life may have taken a completely different path.
Wiratchai takes on Rasul Yakhyaev at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD on 9 December in Bangkok, Thailand, but things could have been very different had he not followed the courage of his own convictions, despite the misgivings of those around him.
Wiratchai grew up in middle-class Thailand, where a career in martial arts was frowned upon as being for those unable to find a vocation in life.
Despite the stigma attached to martial arts, Wiratchai followed his passion, defying his peers and his parents as he embarked on his journey alone.
That determination to succeed against the wishes of others has proved a driving force in the career of “OneShin,” who continues to rise up the ONE Championship featherweight ranks.
“When I first told people I wanted to be a martial artist, they were like, ‘You are crazy, you cannot do that,’” the 29-year-old recalled.
“They started to doubt me, and say it is not going to happen. I just thought to myself, ‘Why can’t this happen when I really love it? Martial arts is wonderful.’
“Something that inspired me was all the people around me saying I cannot do this, so I tried my best to prove them wrong.”
Rather than follow the traditional path for Thai youths and adopt the national martial art of Muay Thai, Wiratchai carved his own niche, trying a host of martial arts.
He trained in judo, aikido, and kung fu, before adopting the likes of boxing, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the course of his evolution.
“Any martial artist can be a combat sports athlete, and if you are open-minded enough and are willing to learn more, you can [compete inside the cage],” he said.
“That inspired me to show that you can come from any background, and if you work hard and really love it, then you can have success.”
Ten bouts into his martial arts career, he’s well on his way to success. He has a record of 8-1 (1 no contest) and is currently riding a six-bout win streak, with five of those wins coming inside the distance.
He attributes his successes to one of the figures who started him off on his martial arts journey - his judo master.
“The first time I met my judo master, I was in high school,” he explained.
“It was the judo teacher at my school who introduced me to him. He was a sixth-degree black belt, the highest level in Thailand. At that time, he was 70 years old. A muscular, in-shape guy, even at that age.
“The first time I saw him, it showed me that you can live by martial arts your whole life, and it made me think maybe I could do the same.
‘He would throw the young guys around, even right now he would probably do it! In sparring, even on the ground, he would be beating the young men.”
Inspired by his tutor, Wiratchai found success through his formative years and carries that same drive and inspiration with him today, where he’s a shining example of how self-belief and determination can overcome the negativity of others.
Now people gravitate to him, as the Thai contender has turned from young prospect looking for inspiration to an inspirational figure himself.
It’s a role he’s more than happy to take on, having seen for himself the value of having an inspirational figure in his career.
“Now more people start to talk to me and ask me how to be a martial artist, how to be like me,” he said.
“It is very cool. I feel like when I show them I can do it, it can be an inspiration for them, and that is a good thing.
“Some people say I am a pioneer, but to me I am still just an athlete with lots more to learn in this sport.
“I want to be a better, more educated martial artist, and a better coach, and I try to work hard to have the most success in my career, so then more people can see me and it might help them learn.”