Ramon Dekkers' place in Muay Thai history is somewhat up to debate. Some hail him as an All-Time Great, others dismiss him as a fan favorite whose achievements are overrated, but all can agree he changed the face of competitive Muay Thai.
Ramon Dekkers was born September 4, 1969 in a small rural community in Holland, just south of Amsterdam. He started martial arts young, trying first Judo at age 12 for a few months and then boxing for about a year. Then Cor Hemmer, a Dutch kickboxing coach, specializing in Muay Thai moved to Dekker's town and opened a gym.
Dekkers started working with Hemmer around age 13, and took his first Muay Thai fight at 14-years-old. Even as a teenager Ramon demonstrated a great deal of talent and power in his strikes, and by the age of 18 he had won the Class A Muay Thai Championship of Holland.
At age 19, and after around 50 pro fights, Dekkers traveled to Thailand for the first time. He was scheduled to fight Namphon Nongkee Pahuyuth, who Dekkers had defeated in Amsterdam to win his second title belt. Ramon would lose the fight by decision. He would go on, after several more fights, to get a shot at the Lumpinee Stadium Lightweight Championship Title, and lose to Issara Sakkreerin.
This first trip to Thailand would teach Dekkers some important lessons about being a "Farang", or foreign fighter, in Thailand. On top of the very high level of fighter in Thailand, it was very difficult for a Farang to earn decision victories over Thai born fighters. Also, the strongest aspect of his game, his hands, were the least valued aspect of matches by judges. There was a belief in Thai boxing, which persists to this day in many gyms, that a Muay Thai fighter has eight surfaces to strike with, six of which are unpadded. So they are taught to strike with their shins, knees and elbows instead of their hands because of the damage potential, and thus many fighters did not focus much attention on their punching.
Dekkers was a hyper-aggressive fighter with an excellent killer instinct, but he tended to get out pointed by more experienced Thai-born fighters, but while it was a disadvantage in judging, Dekkers' excellent power in his hands proved a big advantage over fighters with underdeveloped hands.
There was nothing underdeveloped about Dekkers' next opponent, a man destine to become his great rival, Coban Lookchaomaesaitong, who knocked Dekkers out with a crisp left hook in France. Ramon returned to Thailand to rematch with Coban and this time it would be his punching power on display half way around the world.
Dekkers stayed in Thailand and took on another Thai stand out who had previously beaten him twice before, Saengtiennoi Sor. Rungrot. The Dutch champion beat Saengtiennoi by decision, but Saengtiennoi would end up winning the rubber match. He then returned back to Europe and defeated Frenchman Joel Cesar with back to back dramatic knockouts.
Dekkers returned to Thailand for a stint of fights, including a title fight against Coban which he lost by decision. Waiting for Ramon back in Europe was Italian born fighter, Joe Prestia. A friend of Joel Cesar, Prestia was one of the best kickboxers in France having won national and European championships. Prestia challenged Dekkers and the two fought in Paris, France.
Dekkers was no longer a skinny teenager, he had entered the athletic prime of his career, and was an extremely powerful striker. At this point he was considered one of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world, and was awarded the 1992 Thailand Fighter of the Year Award, an unprecedented accomplishment for a foreign born fighter.
In 1993, Dekkers was set to fight Coban, the fourth time these two elite fighters would meet. In the past Coban had played the matador to Dekkers' bull, and, while Dekkers had defeated him once, Coban had a 2-1 edge in their rivalry. In this final meeting a more mature Dekkers reigned himself him and beat Coban in a tactical bout. There is some controversy to this match as Dekkers, who had suffered recent losses due to cuts, demanded no elbows in their match and Coban agreed.
This was hardly the end of Ramon Dekkers' career, which would span over 200 professional fights and 20 years. It would include a retirement, a comeback, a one fight MMA career, and an emotional farewell fight.
Dekkers finished his career with a 186 (95 KOs) - 30 record, most of it poorly documented, with 6 world titles. While there is some disagreement exactly where Dekkers ranks among the all-time greats of Muay Thai or if he ranks among them at all, he stood as the first foreign born fighter to go into Thailand and beat top ranked Thai fighters. But on the other side of that coin, Dekkers lost as many, if not more, fights against elite opponents, making it is somewhat difficult to find him a place in history.
What is certain is he was one of the first Muay Thai fighters to emerge from Holland, now a rich hot bed of kickboxing talent. Dekkers spent time as a Muay Thai trainer in his hometown with Golden Glory.
Then on Febuary 27, 2013 while riding his bike, Dekkers collapsed after feeling light headed. EMTs attempted to revive him but Dekkers passed away at the far too young age of 43-years-old. He remains a near mythical figure to many who train in the art of the eight limbs.
Special Thanks to Bloody Elbow's own Fraser Coffeen and Sweet Scientist (and his awesome article on Dekkers vs Coban) for their help sorting through what little information there was on Dekkers' career. And to Iron Arm Muay Thai and MMA for suggesting Dekkers to me.