Pascal, please tell me about yourself.
Hi Robin,Thank you for the interview and the opportunity to share my story, hopefully motivating and inspiring others. About myself: my name is Pascal Schroth. I am 29 years old, born and raised in Bremerhaven, Germany. I am a professional fighter and multiple Muay Thai and kickboxing world champion. I own a gym in Koh Phangan, Thailand, where I live with my wife and two kids.
Let's talk about a difficult moment in your career. In a fight in China, your opponent attempted to break your neck by lifting you (which is forbidden in Muay Thai), putting you upside down and pushing your head into the ground. How did this happen?
Everything happened very quickly. It was October 20th, 2018, the day my life changed. I am not sure if his intention was to break my neck, but I am sure he intended to hurt me badly. It was a rematch; I had defeated the Chinese fighter a year earlier, so they flew me in for a rematch. Fifteen seconds into the first round, he came into close distance and started throwing wild punches. When I threw a knee to stop him, he grabbed me on my hip, like he was going to take me down. I was surprised by this move because the fight was supposed to be under kickboxing rules, and you are not allowed to grab the opponent's hip. Nevertheless, I blocked his attempt to take me down by holding against it. After a few seconds, he still wouldn't let go, and I was waiting for the referee to break us, but he didn't say a word. At some point, I thought maybe my force hold against him was causing him to force back. So I let go, hoping he might let go as well. But when I let go, he immediately adjusted his grip, lifted me up, turned me upside down, and smashed my head first on the canvas.
"Did you wake up in the hospital? Weren't you allowed to speak to anyone? The promoters and the organization were hiding this and even trying to bribe you? What happened?
What happened to me still feels surreal. I was fully conscious the whole time. When my head landed on the canvas, I immediately felt a crack, and I knew I was hurt. I had electric impulses rushing through my body from my fingertips to my head down to my toes. I was lying on my back, the spotlights shining on me, the referee counting me out, and in the corner of my eye, I saw my opponent celebrating. In the ring, I wasn't able to move. There was nothing more I wanted than to get up, but it felt impossible. The pain rushing through my body was something I had never experienced before. My team just shouted to the ring that I should stop trying to move and let them take care of me. I got carried out of the ring with a barrier and brought into a Chinese hospital where they told me I had my neck broken, something I refused to believe since I was able to move my arms and legs. I laid in the hospital for 4 days. I entered in fight shorts and left in fight shorts. I didn't have any consultation about my situation. Not once did I talk to an actual doctor. The only information they shared was that I had my neck broken, that's about it. I had no idea on what that would mean for my life. When I asked the nurse to help me lift my bed a bit, she said: "cannot." When I asked for how long, she answered: "hmmm maybe 6 months"... they wouldn't share my location or the name of the hospital where I was in. I only had contact with my family if somebody would give me hotspots so that I would have internet access. After four days, the promoter entered the room and asked me: "how much?" Quickly, I realized he asked me for a number to make everything disappear. Obviously, I couldn't give him an answer since I had no idea how to continue my life. I had no idea if I would walk again, work again, or anything. I was in a very vulnerable situation physically and mentally.
When did you realize your neck was broken? How bad was it?
The moment I landed on the canvas, I knew something was wrong. As I mentioned earlier, I felt the cracking, but I never assumed that my neck broke. My grandmother passed away some years ago. She broke her neck falling down the steps. So growing up, I always assumed when you break your neck, then that's it.
You came back and recovered. Not only this, you went again training after some time, and you got the world title one more time? This story is like Bruce Lee; people could write a book about you. Could you tell me about the journey from arriving in Germany, the recovery, to become champion again?
After four days in China, I had my first consultation actually from a German surgeon back in Phuket. He told me I broke my 5th vertebrae in two different places, and if my bone would have moved 1mm to left or right, it would hit my spinal cord, and I would be dead or paralyzed. Luckily, they were two straight fractures, and the bones didn't move. So I had to wear a full-body brace from my head over the chest to my lower back. I had to be immobilized until my bones had healed. I was wearing the brace 24/7 for six weeks and a neck support for another six weeks. After three months of total immobilization and discomfort, I was able to start my rehabilitation. At that time, I worked with a good friend of mine, Thomas Engberts, a Dutch physical therapist based in Phuket. He reached out to me the moment he saw I was injured and offered help. I worked with him three times a week for nine months. I broke my neck on October 20th, 2018 and made my comeback fight where I defended my world champion title in little less than a year on October 3rd, 2019. I would not have been able to recover and come back so strong if it wasn't for him. I will be forever grateful for all the time and effort he has put into me.
Wow! Let's go back to where it all started. You grew up in Bremerhaven. How did you end up in boxing, why did you go there, and what made you pursue it?
Growing up in Bremerhaven was tough. I was alone with my mom and my younger brother. I was first introduced to martial arts by a friend of my mom's who noticed that I was wasting my time drinking and smoking at the basketball court. At the age of 14, I was already smoking at home and doing what I wanted because I felt like the man of the house at a young age. When I entered the gym for the first time, I was intimidated but fell in love with it immediately. It was an old gym in an industrial area with big steel doors and loud music. Back then, I couldn't afford membership fees, so we agreed that I would work for it. I cleaned toilets, picked weeds, cleaned mats, and did anything else that needed to be done. In exchange, I was allowed to train. My passion was quickly ignited, and I knew that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. The training motivated me to be the best version of myself. I stopped drinking, stopped smoking, and stopped hanging out with people who dragged me down. The gym and the people in the gym became my new family. I was determined to be the best, so I did everything I had to do to be the best. I went running before school, took care of my food, and tried to get my life together with the trainers' eyes on me.
At one point, you decided to fly to Thailand with 200 euros in your pocket. Did you sleep partly outside? Did you eat for 1 euro once a day at a market? Where did you train? How did you make money? What did you want to achieve there, and how did it all work out?
In 2015, I came to Thailand with 300€ and a one-way ticket. At that time, I didn't see a future for myself in Germany anymore. I was 21 years old and had reached a point in my life where I didn't know what was next. I studied sports economics and did an internship in the gym, but that didn't fulfill me and my passion. I knew I was meant to do something bigger. So I took a risk, quit my "job," and flew to Thailand to fulfill my passion and live a life as a professional fighter with the best of the best.
I flew to Bangkok where I met P'Gae, who was my first trainer back then. I had no money, so I rented a bed in a hostel, shared a room with 6 people, and ate the cheapest food on the street I could find. I didn't need much, as long as I could train twice a day and follow my passion. I got my first fight after about 4 weeks of training, a kickboxing fight in China, which was great for me since I was already a European kickboxing champion. I won the title in the Netherlands in 2014. I won my first fight in China via KO in the second round and got a lot of attention for my performance. There, I met a promoter who was based in Pattaya. He said to me that I had a lot of potential and I should come with him. He could give me regular fights and open the doors for big stadiums. Since I had nothing to lose, I went with him and moved to Pattaya for 9 months. Under his wing, I did several more fights, both local and international. I fought several times in China, Vietnam, and big stages in Thailand like Max Muay Thai, Thaifight, and the famous Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok. When it came to money, it was quite simple: if I fought, I would get paid. If I didn't fight, I had no money. So, I basically lived off my fights from hand to mouth.
You met your today's wife somewhere and told me she cared for you while you were training. You have been a team for a long time. Could you tell me about it?
I met my wife in 2016. After staying in Pattaya for about 9 months, I moved to Phuket where I met my wife. At that time, I wasn't really interested in something serious because I thought women and kids would stop me in my career, and I was really invested in the sport. We started off as friends. I told her about my hopes and dreams. I was a young, hungry guy trying to make it. She told me at that time that wherever the sport would bring me, she would always be there and support me as long as I wanted her on my side. Never before had somebody said something like this to me. To me, she seemed too good to be true. I was still broke, but she believed in me and supported me. She told me I had the potential to be somebody. When we would eat, she would pay. She created my first logo, my website, team shirt - you name it. She believed in me from the very beginning when nobody else did.
You trained with Gae as one of your first trainers way before he became famous. You recently introduced him, Superbon, and others again. From a retro perspective, how did the time go for you differently, and how in similar ways?
That’s right. We are still good friends. Sometimes I wonder where I would be today if I would have stayed with P’Gae and didn’t move to Pattaya. But I don’t want to live in the past and think about what could be or what would be if, because I am happy with my life as it is now, and I believe everything in life happens for a reason. We remained good friends, see each other regularly, and both grew bigger with the sport.
Are you a world champion in K1 and Muay Thai? In several boxing associations and weight classes. Recently you lost and then again recently you became a world champion? How do you, again and again, find the energy and will to go after this? What drives you? Where is this coming from?
Yes, I am holding several world titles in Muay Thai and kickboxing. In 2016, I won the King's Cup in Bangkok, a Muay Thai tournament to honor the latest king. I won that tournament and became King’s Cup champion 2016. I am one of three foreigners in history who ever won this tournament. So that, for instance, was more worth than my first world champion title, which I won in Nürnberg roughly a year later in November ‘17. In my comeback fight in October ‘19, I fought for the WKU World champion title - 72.5kg K1 rules. I successfully defended that title for several years until November 2022. After I lost the title, I changed my weight class to -70kg and challenged the champion, and knocked him out on February 18th, 2023. So, I am again the current WKU World champion K1 - 70kg, and I will make sure it stays this way.
For me, what drives me is the fire inside of me. For me, it’s not just a sport; it’s a lifestyle. All my life, everything has been about fighting. It's like an obsession. Now, as a father as well, I am leading by example, so I want to teach my kids that they can achieve anything in life they put their mind to, as long as they put in the work. It’s the mindset that separates the best from the rest.
Building a Business Abroad
You are pursuing a dream. You told me that you want your children to grow up at the beach. You have two kids and are making a living in Ko Phangan, Thailand. Did this happen according to plan? How much of it was coincidence versus following a mission or passion?
I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. I am grateful for everything every single day. After breaking my neck, I didn’t want to postpone anything in life anymore, so we decided to have kids. Now living here in Koh Phangan, a tropical island in paradise, I can provide a lifestyle for my kids that I couldn't give them anywhere else in the world. Seeing them happy means the world to me. Growing up, I never dared to dream of having a family like I have now, owning a gym in paradise, building my own house. I am truly blessed. Growing up in Bremerhaven where the unemployment rate is 49%, dreams are non-existing. Nobody dares to do something non-ordinary. I am truly happy that we managed to break that cycle and create a beautiful life overseas. Coming to Thailand in 2015 was the best decision of my life.
You own a gym called MAA (Martial Arts Academy) in Ko Phangan. It has an ice bath, a bar, and tons of space to train with different trainers. I know you are planning to have more, like a small hotel or a pool. What is the plan?
Yes, that’s right. In total, the gym land is about 5,000m2, 15 meters from the ocean. We offer lots of different classes for all levels. We are planning to expand the gym with different facilities as well as accommodation and a pool. Everything is being done step by step, but ultimately, we want to provide a training experience for our customers that they will never forget.
Is this already a business? You have marketing; you do Instagram and create content and reach. You have merchandise. What is the vision here?
Yes, it is. The goal is for the gym to be completely independent. Ultimately, we want to be able to offer a complete training experience where you don’t have to leave our land anymore. At the moment, we are still in the beginning stages, building up our reach and starting to get noticed by people all over the world. As of now, I haven’t invested a single euro in advertisement. We have a lot of returning customers who share their training experience with their friends, so we are basically only advertising by sharing raw experiences, which I am really proud of.
Why make your sport your business? When did you know your passion became a business, and when did you go from being just you to scaling up? How does one make themselves scalable?
I always knew I was going to open my own gym one day. The question was always just when and where. I love the sport, and I love sharing my knowledge with people. When we opened the gym, we created a place where people come together from all over the world, all of them having something in common: the love for the sport. Everybody trains for different reasons, some for self-defense, some for fitness, some to boost confidence, and some to be able to compete. Seeing all of them in the gym, having a good time, connecting, building friendships, and enjoying themselves in the end is all that matters.
Many believe one would separate someone as brutal as Muay Thai from family or business. But you and I know the opposite is the case. It is a sport full of respect, trust, and growth. For most Thais, this is a national sport and a family-first business. What do you think makes Muay Thai unique? Why would you encourage everyone to train in this sport?
Muay Thai is a national sport in Thailand, just like football in Germany. It's a sport loved and highly respected by the whole nation. Training Muay Thai will do anyone good. You get to experience a different level of body awareness, dealing with stronger and weaker persons, improving your own physical capabilities, and gaining a stronger mindset and confidence which reflects in your daily life. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to also just release some tension from our day-to-day life.
Many great business leaders train a lot, go to Ironman, and train hard. How important do you think sports are? How should someone add them to their daily routine? How to build consistency, and how important is this in daily life and leadership?
I recommend everybody to do sports. I think it’s truly necessary to have a healthy work-life balance. The most common excuse for people is that they don't have the time to train. But you have to prioritize yourself, if you make the time to train, it will only do good. Not just for the person themselves but also for their whole surroundings. If the tension, stress, and energy are relieved in the gym, you will feel much more in balance and content with yourself. You feel proud to have achieved something, and your physical performance is starting to increase, so does your confidence.
"What's the plan for the future? Where do you see MAA and Pascal Schroth in 10 years?"
Good question. I’ve learned not to look too much into the future. As of now, we are extending the gym and enjoying the journey of life.
Will you ever fight in "One Championship"?
Maybe. I was already in negotiations with them in 2018, prior to when I broke my neck. At that time, I had two fights already confirmed, one in China where I broke my neck and a world championship title fight in Germany. One Championship wanted me to cancel both of them in order to fight for them (a one-fight deal). I told them I couldn't do that and suggested finding another timing after the fights. In 2020, they hosted an event in Bangkok looking for fighters, but when I proposed myself to them, they declined, saying that I neglected them in 2018 and they wouldn't want me anymore.
"We have been training together; we did sparring, and you have been my trainer. Will I ever be capable of beating you? ;-)"
Thank you, Pascal!