Swedish Smilla “the Hurricane” Sundell is taking Muay Thai by storm

The stadium was packed with people. “Smilla – the Hurricane – Sundell”, the announcer yelled in the microphone and his enthusiastic voice filled the stadium. In the second round of intense fighting, the young Swedish girl pushed her opponent to the corner of the boxing ring. Her fists rained down on Natalia Diachkova’s body, who stood bent over protecting her face. Smilla placed her hands Diachkova’s back and rammed her knee into the Russian fighter’s side. Diachkova swiveled out of the ring, out between the ropes that frame the fighting ground.

The judge put his arm in between the female fighters and raised his hands over his head to announce, that the fight was over. Smilla ran to the other side of the ring, making small jumps of joy as she went. Her father, mouth wide open in a scream of excitement, jumped over the fence into his daughter’s arms. Father and daughter held each other tight and screamed – the hard work had finally paid off.

That Saturday morning Smilla won the fight in the infamous Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok, but she lost her title as a world champion.

Smilla Sundell after her fight with Natalia Diachkova. Photo: Instagram @smilla_fairtex

Taking Thai-boxing by storm

Swedish Smilla Sundell was only 12 years old, when her family moved from Sundbyberg in Sweden to the sunshine island of Ko Samui in southern Thailand. She quickly got a nag for Muay Thai boxing, the only sport available on the island.

When Smilla was 15, her family returned to Sweden. Her little sister had to finish her schooling and covid had made life abroad difficult. But Smilla stayed. Thai-boxing was too important to let go. She moved to the Fairtex Gym in Pattaya, where she still trains today.

Smilla became the youngest person to ever win a Muay Thai world title in April 2022 at only 17 years old. She was the ONE Championship Women’s Strawweight Muay Thai World Champion until the weight-in on Thursday 2 May 2024.

The young Thai-boxer weighed 126,5lbs or 57,4kg. The allowed maximum weight for the straw weight fight category for women is 125lbs or 56,7kg. Smilla lost her world title on the scales by weighing less than a kilo too much. A video recorded Smilla’s reaction just after the weigh-in. Tears rolled down her cheeks, as she buries her face in her hands. But despite the disappointment Smilla’s opponent agreed to a fight. Smilla fought and won, but because she weighed too much for her weight group, she couldn’t take home the belt.

Losing weight

The so-called “cutting” phase is the most difficult thing about fighting, according to Smilla. Smilla and many other combat fighters partake in extreme weight-loss activities just before they get weighed. On the last day, the fighters spend some hours in a sauna to sweat out extra water. Others may use dialectics and laxatives or do cardio. On average a fighter will “cut” around 7 percent of their body weight before they step on the scale.

“The day before weigh-in you basically don’t eat anything and I usually run. It is the whole week before the fight, which is very intense,” according to Smilla.

In the period between the weight-in and the fight, the fighter will then gain weight again to regain their strength. Basically, the aim is to lose as much weight as possible, so the fighters can compete at a lower weight group than what they actually weigh.

“I feel like it is a bit difficult to have a healthy relationship with my body in a cutting phase. You can definitely end up in very dark places, but when you get a fight maybe you can get out of it,” Smilla said.

Smilla’s trainers even considered cutting her long blonde hair in order to make her weigh the right amount for the fight. But the hair only weighed a quarter pound, and therefore it didn’t make enough of a difference.

In 2015 a ONE Championship star called Yang Jian Bing died, when his heart stopped after a especially harsh weight-cut. The tragedy prompted ONE to impose hydration tests in the week of the weigh-in. Smilla has also noticed a difference between men and women when it comes to cutting.

“Women don’t lose as much water and the weight is also dependent on the menstrual cycle. I just need to try my best all the time. I have nutritionists who take care of me and make sure I am healthy. That helps a lot,” Smilla said.

A girl from Sundbyberg

The birthplace of Smilla’s passion has become her home as well.

“Thailand is my home. But for me I would say that home is where my family is,” Smilla said.

The 19-year-old Muay Thai boxer has been living on her own for four years now and is more than 8000 kilometers away from her family.

“I didn’t see my mom in over one and a half year, and yeah it was hard. But I have FacetTime, which helped a lot. I think I maybe missed out on some teenage stuff, but I’m doing what I love right now, so I am happy for that.”

Even though it is unusual for young people to be alone in a foreign country at that age, Smilla is very proud of, what she has accomplished.

“I think I have already done the coolest thing within Muay Thai boxing – winning the belt at 17. I think if I had grown up in Sweden, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’d be working a normal job, and, yeah, not see the world I do now,” Smilla said.

New opportunities

Even though Smilla lost her title, she hasn’t lost her spirit. Her team and her have pushed ONE Championship for a heavier weight group the so-called flyweight’s division, so she can continue fighting. But she also is not sure if she could go for the strawweight once more if she maybe gets an extra month for losing  weight.

And their efforts might bear fruit sooner rather than later as the ONE Championship’s director Chatri Sityodtong said publicly, that he considers opening a new 135lbs women’s Muay Thai division in light of Smilla’s loss.

Smilla is also considering trying out Mixed Martial Arts – maybe even in Sweden, where she knows a good gym. Right now, Smilla is looking forward to a tour around the US, where she will do seminars and teach other fighters her techniques.


About Charlotte Nike Albrechtsen

Charlotte Nike Albrechtsen is a journalist working with ScandAsia at the headquarters in Bangkok.

View all posts by Charlotte Nike Albrechtsen

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