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Fitness & Health

03rd May 2016

This British teacher beat cancer to become a Thai Boxing world champion at three weights

He is an absolute machine...

Ben Kenyon

Dean James is an absolute machine.

The 32-year-old Wolverhampton native looks every inch the fearsome fighter and he has the belts to back it up.

The full-time PE teacher is a Muay Thai world champion in three different weight classes.

But the hardest fight of his life was beating cancer when he was diagnosed with the disease aged just 19.

After three operations and seven months of chemotherapy to treat the colon cancer, he overcame the disease – though doctors warned him not to take up full contact sports.

But sports-mad James had been inspired by Muay Thai training he had witnessed in the gym working out just after he was diagnosed – and this is where his road to world title glory started.

“I was blown away,” he says. “I couldn’t believe how someone could generate so much power into a pad continuously. I found myself wondering what these guys were training.”

“I learnt a lot about Muay Thai just by watching it. My body wasn’t ready for intense combat at first, but watching it all from ringside was intellectually stimulating and gave me something to focus on.”

And that was it. He started using Thai boxing-style training in a bid to stay fit and positive. But while the training was a way to keep him in shape, it gave him an outlet for his pent-up anger, frustration and pain he’d endured with his cancer.

“Training Muay Thai was like a physical and emotional release for me. I had spent so much time in hospital, I felt I was missing out on so much. I guess that frustration built up inside me over time. Punching and kicking the bags made me feel so much better”.

His road to recovery was a tough one. He was forced to drop out of university after his disgnosis and once he got into Muay Thai he had to keep it from his parents who feared for his health.

But the fuse was lit and he started training harder and harder and gaining confidence.

He went on to win Commonwealth and European championships before going on to conquer the world at three different weights.

Here he scored another TKO against Rungravee after he broke his arm (again)…

He has a professional fight record of 26 fights and 22 wins, beating some big names in the sport including Rungravee Sasiprapa (Thailand), Dimity Varats (Belarus) and French Muay Thai star Amine Kacem.

James is know considered one of the best flyweight and bantamweight fighters outside of Thailand.

Training and fighting has transformed his life.

“I’d been so frustrated in the previous few months since my diagnosis,” he says, “but Muay Thai helped me so much.

“By watching the sport and eventually participating in it, I found myself surrounded by terrific role models and nice people.”

But it’s now James himself who is a role model, teaching PE and arts at an independent high school for students with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.


His Muay Thai skills, his determined attitude to training and his winning mentality carry over into his role as a teacher.

“If someone tells me I can’t do something, I will do it to prove them wrong, he explains.

“This is the type of mind-set and drive I try to instil into my students – most of the time all you need is the confidence and support to overcome a challenge and succeed in the face of adversity.”

He continues to fight competitively against world class opponents and has recently signed a management deal with which will help develop his career and organise his future fixtures.