Liam Harrison interview: How the Muay Thai world champion from Harehills got the top of his game

He made his pro debut when he was 14 and is now an 8x Muay Thai world champion. Liam Harrison charts his career with Abbey Maclure.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 1st January 2022, 4:45 pm

With eight world titles and a record number of fights under his belt, Muay Thai champion Liam Harrison has been dubbed a "living legend" of the combat sport.

The 36-year-old is "obsessed" with Thai boxing and is showing no sign of slowing down more than two decades after he first stepped into the ring.

Born in Harehills, Liam was a promising footballer as a child before taking up Muay Thai as a young teenager - a decision he says changed his life.

Liam Harrison, of Harehills, is an 8x Muay Thai world champion (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

"If you didn’t know how to fight where I was you were going to get eaten alive," Liam told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“It was one of the reasons I got into Thai boxing. But I’ve got a lot of good memories in Harehills.”

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Liam was introduced to Bad Company Thai Boxing Gym, where he trains and coaches to this day, by his cousin Andy Howson when he was 13.

Th 36-year-old still fights professionally while he coaches others through the ranks at Bad Company Thai Boxing Gym in Leeds (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

The pair have now fought in dozens of world title fights between them, putting Leeds on the map for Muay Thai, a martial art that combines the use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.

"I fell in love with it straight away, I was instantly hooked," Liam said.

“Everything else in my life took a back step and it became my main obsession.

“It gave me discipline which was important because of the age I was and the people I was knocking around with at the time. A lot of my friends ended up in prison.

Liam has a gruelling training routine to prepare for fights, which he often takes on at short notice (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

“It put me on the right track. When everyone else was messing around on the streets at night, I was in the gym.

“It taught me respect and it probably saved my life, I could have ended up getting up to all sorts of things. It took me off the streets and taught me a lot.”

Turning professional just before his 15th birthday, Liam became notorious for his powerful left hook and devastating low kicks, unbeaten in his first 29 fights.

He has fought all over the world, including in Thailand where he lived and trained for two years - earning the nickname 'The Hitman'.

“It all happened so quickly," Liam added.

"I was obsessed with fighting, I wasn’t really thinking about the success I was having.

“Before I knew it, when I was 17 I was fighting for the UK number one spot and then I was fighting all the best fighters in the world by the time I was 19."

The highlight of Liam's career came in 2010 when, after losing a world title to Thailand's Anuwat Kaewsamrit, he took on the notorious fighter in a rematch at the Manchester Arena.

He won the fight in front of his friends and family - on his dad's birthday - and solidified his place as one of the best Muay Thai fighters to come out of the UK.

While the sport is growing in popularity, for a long time it was in the shadows of other martial arts such as MMA.

Liam said: "It took me a long time to get where I am and people always asked if I wanted to get into MMA, but it never interested me.

“I was always focused on Muay Thai and I don’t fight for money, even though the money is better now. I fight because I enjoy it and it’s who I am.

“I’m still just as obsessed with it as the first time I walked into the gym.”

Liam still fights professionally while he coaches others through the ranks at Bad Company, as well as hosting seminars, masterclass courses and sharing training tools online.

But what does it take to become a champion?

"You’ve got to be the first person through the gym door and the last person to leave," Liam said.

"Don’t let any wins go to your head or any losses get to your heart. You’ve just got to stay focused and dedicated to your training.

“Losing is part of the sport, you have to learn how to deal with it. In Muay Thai, it’s not like boxing where you’re just punching - there are so many different ways you can win or lose.

"You’re always going to come up against a style that’s better than yours.

“You’ve got to learn how to bounce back stronger. It’s part of life, learning to deal with loss. Only true champions can have a heavy loss and bounce back.”

'Muay Thai is like a drug and I’m so addicted to it'

Liam has a gruelling training routine to prepare for fights, which he often takes on at short notice.

His days start at around 6.30am when he takes his dog out for a walk before he gets to the gym for 10am - sparring and working on his technique.

He'll run on a treadmill or use a Wattbike in the afternoon before he's back in the gym in the evening.

“I’ll then do strength and conditioning twice a week," Liam added.

“There’s a lot going on. Nothing has changed since my first fight, Muay Thai is like a drug and I’m so addicted to it.

“Nothing can beat the buzz when you get your hand raised at the end or coming out into a stadium when there’s 15,000 people cheering for you.

"It’s an adrenaline rush and nothing can compare to it.”

The making of a champion

Liam recently teamed up with a fitness record label launched by a Syrian refugee, Yazid Eid, which explores the power of music on athletic performance.

Training Tunes creates original songs and music videos inspired by athletes, hoping to provide a motivational boost for people to work out.

The music video for the track Champion follows Liam as he trains for a last-minute fight and takes to the ring.

"I thought it was a really good idea," Liam said.

"Music is a key part of training. When I’m in the gym, going for a run or on my Wattbike it’s never quiet, I’ve always got music on in the background."

Yazid praised the Leeds champion for being a "living legend of Muay Thai" and said he was the perfect fit for the latest anthem.

The energetic track features up-and-coming grime artist YayaorJB as he tells the story of the making of a champion.

"Liam is a tremendous fighter," Yazid added.

"He took the fight on short notice and the fighter changed a couple of times, but he was adamant that he wanted to do it.

"He had a knee operation the following day - that’s the kind of mindset and the work that these amazing athletes put into their sport.

“Liam is an inspiration to many people and we’ve tried to embody that in the song and music video."

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