by Matt Lucas
Last week, an Italian businessman barged into a Muay Thai gear shop in Bangkok, and attacked the shop’s owner. This matters because the businessman, Philip Villa, is not just any expat in Thailand, and the shopkeeper, Somchoke Suttisom, is not just any shopkeeper.
Villa threw a pair of Muay Thai shorts at Somchoke and then proceeded to punch him four times, injuring Somchoke’s face. A handful of Villa associates stood by and prevented store employees from assisting Somchoke.
“I thought that they might have weapons,” Somchoke said. “They kept gesturing as if they had guns or knives.”
The attack, which was caught on video by security, has become a viral sensation in Thailand.
Video of the incident can be seen here from this Thai news report at 2 min 47 secs.
Villa, who is also known as Philip Yokkao, runs the popular Muay Thai brand Yokkao with his girlfriend, Stefania Picelli. Since the company’s inception in 2012 in Italy, Yokkao has branded everything it has come across and sought a monopoly over all things Muay Thai. It has promoted fights, sold equipment, and sold shorts. The company recently opened a brand new facility in Bangkok, where the sport’s greatest superstar, Saenchai, trains.
However, Yokkao has also developed a reputation over the last few years for strong-arming Bangkok merchants. In the video, Villa demands that Somchoke stop selling Yokkao branded shorts that he has on display. He accuses Somchoke of stealing one of his designs. Somchoke attempts to remain calm and explain to Villa that he himself had commissioned the shorts years earlier, but never picked them up.
“Mr. Yokkao came to the shop with the design,” Somchoke said. “It was a tattoo design from the phone that he showed me.”
Invoices and purchase records confirm Somchoke’s version of events. After the incident, Somchoke went to the hospital where his injuries were attended to and then he filed a police report against Villa for invasion, defamation and assault.
Villa should have known that that the design was his. Perhaps he also should have known that Somchoke was married to Thai singer Au Haruthai. She used her celebrity to call a press conference at which Villa’s actions were publically condemned. The press conference and ensuing media storm have revealed a litany of abuses made by the Yokkao company.
“I worked with Mr. Yokkao in the past and was the main supplier for their goods from 2011 to 2014,” said one supplier. “We often had problems with the company. They would pay late or not at all. The last order they made from me was for 300 boxing gloves for a total of 300,000 baht (approx. $9,066.00 USD). He refused to pay because he said he’d opened his own factory.”
The supplier, who goes unnamed, is a second-generation Muay Thai factory owner who has made gloves, bags, and equipment for the sport for over twenty-five years. That didn’t stop Yokkao from accusing her of attempting to capitalize off Yokkao’s reputed success.
“He accused me of using the Yokkao name to grow my business but I have had my company for a long time. My parents opened the factory,” the supplier said. “Philipo Yokkao is a bad man, he is crazy.”
The Mekkere company in Bangkok has also accused Villa of strongarm tactics. They allege that
he contacted the company to acquire foam to be used for equipment. Yokkao was a regular customer and Villa tried to convince Mekkere to give him 70,000 baht (approx. $2,115.00 USD) worth of equipment on credit. The company acquiesced after repeated requests from Yokkao. However, after receiving the foam, Yokkao refused to pay for the goods, with Villa claiming that Mekkere had overcharged and swindled them.
Villa and Picelli have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Their brand has also been accused of forcing fighters to refuse lucrative bouts if they can’t fight them in Yokkao shorts.
“Yokkao wanted the fighters to only wear their branded shorts but fight promoters wanted the fighters to wear the promotion shorts,” said Tim Dharmajiva, who founded the Sitsonpeenong gym, and had a short sponsorship relationship with the company. “Yokkao would try to get us to turn down bouts for 200,000 baht (approx. $6,044.00 USD) or 300,000 baht (approx. $9,066.00 USD). The math just didn’t add up. If we take one fight that’s worth more than the whole year of sponsorship from Yokkao. Most of my income comes from the fighters. We had a lot of disputes with Yokkao. I never complied to turning down good fight offers, I can’t and won’t be pushed around.”
Dharmjiva who has successfully run Sitsongpeenong for over eight years was quick to clarify—not all foreign investment in Muay Thai is like Yokkao.
“Most of the successful gyms in Thailand are run by foreigners,” he said. “Most of the foreigners are good and then there is garbage like Philip. He needs to go. Philip has intimidated a lot of people in the past. Yokkao’s business ethics are bad.”
Yokkao has also preyed on newcomers who are unaware of their business practices.
“I made an order for $4,000 with Yokkao,” said, John Roderick, a Muay Thai instructor. “I was looking to start a pro shop with my friend and sell equipment. We made our purchase and when I followed up, I was told they had no product in stock at all. I then asked for a full refund. Yokkao refused. I submitted a complaint and a negative review with Paypal, which is how we transferred money. One of their employees contacted me telling me to remove the complaint or there would be repercussions as well as Yokkao not doing business with us.”