A tough act to follow
To see Buakaw Por Pramuk in the ring is to see the art of Muay Thai fully realised. There's the supreme balance, the speed of hand and leg and the fearless pursuit of victory that beats with the very heart of the sport, no matter how battered and bruised the outside body may appear.
It's that exact passion that has driven the welterweight fighter to two world championships in the often brutal K1 fighting series as well as a host of national titles, along the way becoming - as the promoters will tell you - the most popular Muay Thai fighter on the planet.
Sometimes, when the 29-year-old Buakaw fights, it appears as though nothing can stop him, certainly nothing down here on earth anyway.
So it may come as some comfort to the noodle-armed and painfully mortal masses who have watched Buakaw in awe over the years that the man does, in fact, admit to having some fears at least.
And he found them - staring him right in the face - when the cameras started rolling on his first film set as he started shooting the epic Yamada: The Samurai Of Ayothaya.
'It's harder than you first think it will be,' says the Bangkok-based fighter. 'The producer selected the best Muay Thai fighters in the world, and that just happens to be me and Yodsanklai [Fairtex].
'Honestly, acting is not one of my strengths, but the action is. We did all the action scenes without wires or doubles. For me it was easier than trying to act.'
The film - produced to mark the 125th anniversary of Thai-Japanese diplomatic relations - is based on the story of the Japanese adventurer Yamada Nagamasa (played by Seigi Ozeki), who joined the royal Siam court in the 17th century.
'It's all about the Thai warrior spirit,' explains Buakaw, who plays one of the king's bodyguards. 'It's all about discipline, honour and respect. And the fact it is based on a true story makes it very special.'
While the producers of Yamada are looking for a deal that will bring the film to local screens - it has played at the Cannes film festival this year and in cinemas across Thailand - Hong Kong will get the chance to see its stars up close this afternoon as they top the billing at the Thai Fight Extreme 2011 event at Asia World Expo.
Joining Buakaw and The Contender Asia winner Yodsanklai on the card will be Thai Fight champion Fabio Pinca, Sudsakorn Sor Klinmee and Hong Kong's own Heung Pak-wing.
It is the first in what organisers hope will be an Asian, then global series that will pit the best Muay Thai fighters against each other in the quest to find a true world champion.
'We wanted to come to Hong Kong with this because there is an incredible Muay Thai culture here,' says promoter Sylvain Nouwen. 'There are something like 200 gyms in Hong Kong that make use of Muay Thai programmes so there is that connection with the general public. And contact sports like this are growing all over the world, these are exciting times for the sport.
'We wanted to give Hong Kong the best - and we think we are giving Hong Kong the best.'
Buakaw was first exposed to Muay Thai as a child of eight, the age at which he first entered the gym in his home town of Surin and knew the fight game was the life for him.
'Life was difficult then,' he says. 'We needed to fight to earn money. But I always wanted to be the best, I have always thought that way. Losing is not an option in my head, never. 'Even if my body has been battered and my brain has decided to give up the fight, my spirit makes the last decision and it's always the same - keep going, don't give up, don't step down, the fight is yours.'
The fighter is expecting a wild afternoon today and he says the thrill of getting up in front of a crowd is something that drives him on.
'In the good moments, the people love you,' he says. 'And sometimes they even do in the bad moments, too. For me it is all about the challenge, that's my driving point and that's what Muay Thai is all about.'
Thai Fight Extreme 2011, today from 3pm, Asia World Expo. Tickets: HK$190-$1,200. Inquiries: 2611 9666