There is a unifying element that all athletes need to succeed: a good coach. In Asia, the sport of MMA is most well-developed in Japan where the concept of a good coach’s directive of team training is not only accepted but imperative.
Many great gyms have fostered athletes able to compete on an international level because of the eye and guidance of their coach. Reaching further across Asia, there is an innovator who understands the dynamic and has been willing to chance it outside the confines of the ‘safe’ Japanese market. He is the inimitable Chatri Sityodtong.
Coming from a disadvantaged background and engaging in combat sports early as a child, Sityodtong has developed a self-professed affinity for uphill battles.
He left Thailand, graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School, became managing director of a multi-billion dollar hedge fund on Wall Street, then started his own successful entrepreneurial career in multiple industries.
Turning his hand at the business of fight sports is arguably his riskiest venture yet, but Sityodtong has attacked it with a vengeance and made the Evolve MMA brand a worldwide name in the space of a few short years.
To do something this bold of course takes money and business acumen, yet the human element predominates. Sityodtong has that down cold.
Whether it’s an encouraging hand up to struggling friends or a straight right to naysayers, he now embodies the persona of a coach in all aspects of his public life. Evolve MMA consistently draws top talent from across the globe to its fight camp. As MMA explodes in the Asian region, it now works to produce homegrown champions. To discover more about the coach behind the phenomenal team of champions, Asia MMA sat down with the Evolve MMA founder to find out more.
You’re a successful businessman, why did you feel the need to start a combat club and fight team?
Martial arts has always been my greatest passion in life. I’ve been doing Muay Thai for almost twenty-five years as a student, fighter, teacher, and coach. I’ve been grappling for around five years. I love martial arts. I love that it changes lives. It changed my life ever since I stepped into Sityodtong Camp in Thailand as a child. MMA is really just an extension of my love for martial arts.
The Evolve Fight Team, our professional fight team, was born out of my love for martial arts. From the very first day that Evolve opened its doors, it has had a Fighters Program dedicated to professional fighters. When I look back on it, I think it is kind of funny because there were only three or four of us training in the Program at the beginning – it consisted of myself, Yoddecha Sityodtong, Leandro Issa, and Mitch Chilson. It grew consistently from then on. Now, we consistently have around fifteen to twenty professional fighters.
Why did you have so much confidence in the MMA sport business?
When you love something, nothing is impossible.
Have your confidence and passion been rewarded?
To be honest, I think it is still too early to judge the success of Evolve MMA. Ask me again in 10 years.
How would you describe your coaching style?
If you asked my fighters, they would say that I am definitely a very tough leader. I have the highest standards of excellence in everything that I do. And I demand the best from everyone. Without a doubt, I am passionate and crazy in both good and bad ways. It is no secret that I have a fiery temper. At the end of the day, my heart is in the right place though and everyone on the team knows it. I love everyone at Evolve MMA and everyone knows that I genuinely want what is best for them.
Do you have a formula?
Yes, it is the same formula that my Grandmaster Kru Yodtong Senanan of Sityodtong Camp taught me as a child. He always used to tell me, “In fighting and in life, the best attract the best and the best produce the best.” I have never forgotten those words. Of course, it is a very easy concept to talk about, but it is very hard to implement in real life.
How hands-on are you?
I am only hands-on as much as I need to be. Some fighters need encouragement. Some fighters need a fiery speech. Some fighters need guidance. Some fighters need a lot of hand-holding. Some fighters don’t need much. It really depends on what I see in a fighter. In general though, I let our world champions in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, MMA, and wrestling do all the heavy lifting with our fighters. They deserve the credit for the success of the Evolve Fight Team. I see where a fighter needs to improve and I assign the right teachers to him/her. The areas where I am most hands-on are training camp, game plan, strategy, and cornering.
How do you gauge your fighter’s abilities?
Experience. I’ve been around the fight game for a long time.
How much do you adapt to a fighter’s existing training when they do a camp at Evolve?
I don’t really tailor it for them. The Fighters Program is a complete MMA program for world-class professional fighters. I only tailor training camps for specific opponents, but only if I really feel it is necessary. Of course, we work specific areas as it relates to the game plan and strategy for the fight.
Do you have a method for building a fighter’s career?
Yes of course. I spend a lot of time observing the strengths and weaknesses of every fighter on the Evolve Fight Team. I don’t just observe them as fighters. I look at their strengths and weaknesses as human beings too.
What is your method for dealing with those weaknesses?
I am blessed to have fifty-one instructors at Evolve MMA and most of them are world champions. So if I see a particular weakness in a fighter, I address it by dedicating one of the experts in that area to them. It really depends, though. I like to say that Evolve MMA is the largest living encyclopedia of martial arts in the world. The depth and breadth of knowledge on the instructor team is insane. The diversity of backgrounds from all of our world champions is incredible. The learning environment here is extraordinary. All of us – we never stop learning from each other.
Why is this team interaction important?
People think that fighting is an individual sport, but that is the farthest thing from the truth. Fighting is the ultimate team sport. A world champion does not become a world champion alone. As a fighter, you are only as good as your coaches and your teammates. Without heat and pressure, a diamond cannot become a diamond. It will remain a piece of coal. A fighter is the same way. If I see selfish behavior, I am very quick to give a warning. I want fighters who are selfless to their teammates. The funny thing is that if everyone is selfless, everyone actually ends up gaining more on an individual level. In life, you must give in order to receive. The best attract the best. And the best produce the best.
What is your method for building a team?
It starts with inviting the right type of people onto the Evolve Fight Team. Of course, I also look at world champion potential and their prior credentials in martial arts too. If you invite the right people (and fire the wrong people), then everything else takes care of itself in terms of unity. Blood, sweat, tears, and fun. We train together. We win together. We lose together. And we hang out together. Evolve is our life.
Can the Evolve MMA and Fight Team concept work in other areas of the world?
Yes, I believe so. The Evolve Fight Team is a professional sports team just like the LA Lakers, Manchester United, or any other professional sports team. My fighters are all full-time employees. They are professional athletes.
What qualities do you look for in accepting a fighter onto the Evolve fight team?
We have an extensive tryout and interview process. I look for great human beings with integrity, humility, high standards of excellence, a desire for continuous improvement, teamwork, and loyalty. My goal is to produce world champions. It takes a lot of different elements together to produce a world champion.
What’s the interview process like for Evolve fight team members?
They usually get invited to tryout for the team. They have to pass the physical aspects first of the tryout. If they pass the tryout process, they meet a few of my staff at Evolve. And for the final round, they meet with me. It’s usually a long drawn out process unless I feel strongly about a person. For example, when I saw Eddie train at Evolve for the first time, I knew that he was extraordinary both as an athlete and as a human being. I am a keen observer of people and my instincts are usually correct. And if I make a mistake, I am quick to let people go.
What do you tell your fighters to expect when they start on the team?
Everyone at Evolve knows that I am a very tough leader. Everyone knows that I have incredibly high standards of excellence. I lead by example in how I live my life. Everyone knows that I am crazy and intense. I don’t accept mediocrity anywhere at Evolve MMA. Period.
What advice can you give to fighters serious about establishing a career in MMA?
Align yourself with the best. The best attract the best. And the best produce the best. Find a coach or a team that you believe in. Find a coach who genuinely cares about you and your future.
Are there any new members coming on board that you can share?
Every day, I scout talent around the world. I can’t talk about our pipeline, but I am very excited. I have some unbelievable fighters who want to be a part of the Evolve Fight Team. Stay tuned for some exciting news in the near future.
How do you get or keep a fighter focused?
I like to work with self-motivated fighters who have big dreams. I am a very tough leader and everyone knows that if they don’t train every day, they will be asked to leave. I tell our guys that every day, someone on the team is raising the average of the work ethic on the team and someone is lowering the average of the work ethic on the team. I also tell them that every day, they need to improve. Everyone at Evolve MMA knows that I have a 1% philosophy.
Explain your 1% philosophy.
I have a personal philosophy of trying to improve myself by 1% every day in at least one area of my life. It’s not always tangible, but I am continuously striving to learn, grow, and evolve in every area of my life. The power of compounding is one of the greatest forces in the world. If I can compound myself by 1% daily, then I am happy. I want to be better today than I was yesterday. I want to be better tomorrow than I am today, as a human being, an entrepreneur, a martial artist, everything.
Who in MMA and coaching inspires you and why?
My biggest influences are Kru Yodtong Senanan and Renzo Gracie. I was blessed to start my Muay Thai career at Sityodtong Camp as a child in Thailand and to observe how Kru Yodtong Senanan achieved so much in life. He produced the most Muay Thai World Champions in history in Thailand. He helped the poor in Thailand tremendously too. Renzo is a shining example of an incredible human being, a remarkable fighter, and an extraordinary teacher. Renzo’s life story is crazy and he has achieved so much.
Who do you admire in business?
My biggest heroes in business are entrepreneurs. They change the world. Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and many others.
What makes you a good coach?
I can’t tell you that I am good. I can only tell you that I believe in my way. Every coach is good in his/her own way. As a coach, my biggest asset is my open mind. I surround myself with some of the best martial artists and world champions on the planet so that I am always learning. I create an open learning environment so that we can all grow as martial artists and human beings from each other.
I give my heart and soul to my fighters. I train with them, I win with them, and I lose with them. They also all know that I have walked in their shoes before as a fighter. I know exactly what goes through a fighter’s mind and heart at every stage of training camp and at every minute before, during, and after a fight. I know every aspect of fighting because I have lived it.
What is the training like for your professional fighters?
The team trains twice a day, six days a week. During the week, we train 9am to 11am and 2 to 4pm. On weekends though, I let the fighters pick and choose what they want to train and what day their rest day is. Training is 100% mandatory for all fighters on the Evolve Fight Team. We are professionals and I have zero tolerance for poor work ethic. I have fired fighters over poor work ethic.
How do you approach training in each discipline – separately?
I believe in mastery of each discipline like Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and boxing. MMA specific stuff is also very important such as transitions and cage work. However, my personal belief is that a fighter’s foundation must be strong in the basics of each discipline before moving onto MMA.
Do your MMA fighters all do gi training?
Yes, we train in the gi at least once a week.
How do you deal with road work in a developed city?
We run on the city roads.
Are fight team members active in teaching?
Yes, most of the guys teach two classes a day on average.
When it comes to fight day, who bears the responsibility to corner?
Either myself or Heath is usually in the corner for all of our fighters. Heath and I work very well together. During training camp, we always come up with game plans and strategies separately, but then we come together to discuss them. Most of the time, we come up with the exact same game plan and strategy. Even though Heath is a wrestler and I am a striker, Heath and I think very similarly when it comes to MMA. He’s really a brilliant coach and I respect him deeply. Of course, all of the other instructors give their inputs as well. However, Heath and I are the leaders of the team and we make the final call.
When a fighter loses, how do you handle it with them?
I don’t focus only on the outcome. Of course, I love winning and I am a very competitive person. However, I care more deeply about the process than the outcome. I always tell my fighters that a fighter can only control three things: 1) how hard they train during camp, 2) how well they listen to their coaches during camp and during the fight, and 3) how much heart they exhibit in the cage in the fight. Everything else is out of their control. If a fighter gives 100% in those areas, I don’t care about the outcome of a fight. I really don’t. Feel free to ask any of my fighters. I have never gotten angry over a loss as long as a fighter gives 100% in those three areas.
What’s the most memorable fight you’ve watched?
There are too many to recall, but my favorite nights have always been at Lumpinee Stadium ever since I was a kid. On a big fight night, there is no place more electrifying, intense, loud, and explosive as Lumpinee Stadium. It’s almost a religious experience.
How do you manage the busy aspects of your life: work, training, and coaching the team?
I surround myself with the best. I have wonderful people who work for me at the various companies I am involved in. I give them autonomy and freedom to create their futures. Another factor might be that I don’t need much sleep – even though I love sleep. As for training, it’s simple. I train almost every day because I love it. Martial arts is my greatest passion in life.
Do you have a hobby or passion beyond martial arts that people don’t really know about?
For most of my life (since I was in my late teens), I have been a voracious reader of biographies of extraordinary people from all walks of life (sports, business, music, politics, charity, etc.) from all over the world. Call me a nerd, but it’s been one of my favorite hobbies to learn as much as I can about people who gave this world so much like Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, King Bhumipol, Warren Buffett, Dalai Lama, Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, Bruce Lee, Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong, Yodtong Senanan, George Soros, Bill Clinton, Magic Johnson, Bob Marley, Quincy Jones, Octavian, Julius Caesar, Mahatma Gandhi, and countless others.
Where do you like to vacation?
I try my best never to go back to the same place twice. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a personal goal of visiting two new countries per year. And I’ve been pretty good about it. Of course, sometimes I do go back to some of my favorite places. But in general, I like to visit new places because I love learning about new cultures, tasting new foods, and meeting new people.
What is your greatest goal for your fighters?
Nothing would make me happier than to produce a UFC or ONE FC world champion.