Phuket-based Celest is fighting Phetsinin Sor Phuangthong in the women’s atomweight quarter-final as part of the Fairtex Fight Road To ONE Thailand tournament next Friday (Aug 12). She is one of only two foreign female fighters selected for the competition.
Should she advance and ultimately win her division, Celest will receive a six-fight contract with ONE Championship worth US$100,000 (B3.6 million). Singapore-based ONE is Asia’s largest sports media property featuring bouts in mixed martial arts, submission grappling, kickboxing and Muay Thai.
Now ranked as the WBC Muay Thai Light Flyweight world number one, 28-year-old Celest has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Hailing from Sydney, her family worked huge promotional shows which meant a nomadic lifestyle down under. This also made it difficult for her in her formative years to lay down any significant roots or establish any sort of lasting relationship with a sports organisation – however, even if she could, she confesses that she wasn’t especially pro-sport as a youngster.
“I wouldn’t even run the 100 metres as a kid as I couldn’t stand any sort of exercise,” she admits with a chuckle.
Inspiration and curiosity
After leaving school she worked in the family business as she gradually slipped into a routine of drinking, partying and bad habits. She felt she had no real direction or focus.
Several key factors would change that attitude, however. Firstly, there was family friend Johnny Lewis, the renowned Australian boxing trainer and the head coach of six world champions, including Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tszyu. He introduced the sport to a young Celest and it stuck, even if she didn’t act on it immediately.
In a similar vein, during one of her numerous travels abroad, she visited a Muay Thai match at Patong’s Bangla Stadium in Phuket. The female fighter that evening really struck a chord with Celest and left her inspired, curious.
Then her boyfriend at the time broke up with her, cruelly labelling her overweight in the process. It motivated Celest to visit the gym where she subsequently took up Muay Thai. In 2016 she trained at a Muay Thai camp in Koh Samui, securing her first fight in the process despite not really having the requisite levels of training.
Five rounds later against a much bigger, more experienced Thai opponent she was nursing a broken nose but had secured her first win.
“I honestly didn’t realise how serious the fight was until I got into the ring,” Celest laughs. “But after I won I was hooked and I knew it was something I wanted to pursue further.”
She moved to Phuket in 2017, training at the now defunct Kaewphitak Muay Thai gym and devouring fights every Friday and Sunday evening until she had won the Patong Stadium Belt and the PK1 51kg World Championship belt.
However, despite her rapid rise, opportunities for women were few and far between outside of local contests and official rankings were non-existent. This was especially the case at Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok, very much regarded as the symbol of modern Muay Thai. Celest recalls a bout and subsequent incident several years ago when she was at the revered stadium as part of the corner team supporting her male friend who was fighting.
“There was a sign stating no women were allowed to enter or even touch the ring,” she remembers. “Some years previous women were not allowed to sit ring-side either. I had a security guard approach me and ask me to move away.”
In the following years Celest was part of a drive to change attitudes and open up opportunities for women in the sport. She was focused, driven and determined. She was going to achieve her goal. She was going to fight at the acclaimed home of Muay Thai one day.
“When I said I wanted to be the first woman to fight at Lumpinee Stadium people laughed at me and said that was never going to happen,” she recalls.
It didn’t deter her and, following the decision by Lumpinee to permit female boxers in November last year, she became the first ever woman to set foot in the famed ring - a genuinely ground-breaking moment that she reflects on fondly.
The fight itself against Kullanat Ornok was controversial after Celest had been informed it was only a three-round bout, adjusting her approach and style to more forthright and combative as a result. At the conlusion of the third-round, she was informed it was infact a five-round enconter and the extra duration was ultimately her downfall.
She may not have won the fight that evening but the result was somewhat secondary in comparison to the significance and enormity of the occasion. Being part of the first ever female bout at such a hallowed venue was a far bigger win.
“We have come such a very long way. This was so much more than just a fight,” Celest told AFP at the time.
Celest has been training at Phuket Singha Muaythai Gym in Chalong since the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and is very much at home in her surroundings. She has found a kindred soul in coach Kru Pat and is thriving under his acclaimed tutorship.
“Kru Pat said to me ‘We are going to be world champions’,” Celest tells me. “That is exactly in line with my personal goals so it is great to have that support and to be developing with someone in sync.”
The furture is bright and there is clearly still much more to come from this talented, driven young fighter. Her next test comes on Friday evening at Lumpinee Stadium and she is full of confidence, as she should be. After all, she has already made history there once before.