Author

About the Author
CEO & Editor-in-Chief at Muay Thai is Life, my goal is to continue helping the sports of Muay Thai and Kickboxing grow in the United States and around the world. I love this sport and consider it to be something far more unique than just fighting. I dislike the politics of the sport, so I always do my best to stay away from the nasty bits of it, unless completely necessary. Host of The Striking Corner. Hit me up at eric@strikingcorner.com and you can also follow me on my personal Instagram @erickaewsamrit

Muay Thai is Life speaks with Joe Schilling about his upcoming bout at M-One Grand!

There is no doubt that Joe “Stich’em Up” Schilling is one of the rising stars in the American Muay Thai scene. There is also no doubt in our mind that he is a star in the making on the international scene as well. With a devastating and aggressive style that often times leaves his opponents face down on the canvas or bloodied up due to one of his vicious elbow strikes, Schilling is the real deal. Besides his exciting style in the ring, Schilling has an equally interesting persona outside the ring. A straight talking, no BS type of guy, he pulls no punches and says what he feels no matter if people like it or not. Some people may love him, some people may hate him, but the bottom line is that when Schilling talks people listen.

He has a polarizing personality, a violent and entertaining fight style, and a great back story; qualities that many sports greats, past and present, have possessed. Its if for this reason that we believe that Joe “Stich’em Up” Schilling may be a fighter that helps bring Muay Thai in America out of its niche status and gets others in the country to stand up and take notice of the sport we all know and love. Schilling may not want all this responsibility or even the “STAR” title -he doesn’t seem to be too much of a limelight craving individual- but it is exactly for this reason that he can and will bring the sport to new heights if he keeps performing the way he does. All he has to do is keep being himself and fans will love him for it.

In the following interview, Muay Thai is Life’s west coast director and photographer, Galen Okazaki speaks with Joe Schilling about his upcoming fight against Kaoklai Kaennorasing at M-One Grand‘s October 21st event at Club Nokia in Los Angeles as well as a couple of changes he gave us the EXCLUSIVE on. This card is going to be nuts!

For more M-one news as well as all Muay Thai news, media, interviews, and more, stay locked here on Muay Thai is life or like our Official Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Julie Kitchen speaks with Muay Thai is Life about the MPL, being “The Queen of Muay Thai”, and more!

We just recently had the honor of speaking with non-other than 13x Muay Thai World Champion, Julie Kitchen as part of our ongoing series of phone interviews titled “Muay Talk – Interviews with Muay Thai’s Champions”. If you are an avid Muay Thai fan or practitioner than Mrs. Kitchen needs absolutely no introduction. Hailing from Touchgloves Gym in Penzance, Cornwall, UK, Julie is a veteran in the sport of Muay Thai with over 50 fights and a title belt in just about every important Muay Thai organization you can think of. Now, if you are a fan of Muay Thai is Life then you know that I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with anything and everything from the UK.

I’m a sucker for English Premier League Football (Soccer for the yanks), dry English Humor, and probably wouldn’t survive if I didn’t start out my day with a “healthy” English breakfast. With that said, when Julie accepted our request for an interview, I became giddy and nervous for a multitude of reasons. One, given the fact that Julie’s nickname is “The Queen of Muay Thai” (and for good reason!) I became nervous as I know that all encounters with any form of royalty have to follow strict guidelines and protocol. I was distraught because I didn’t know whether or not I had to bow my head when we spoke or if I had to address her as “Your majesty” or “Your Royal Highness of Muay Thai badassery”.

My second dilemma was that, unbeknownst to Julie, I have a completely platonic and schoolyard crush on her. This was disconcerting because knowing that we would be seeing each other through Skype, I was consistently wondering if my hair was stylishly disheveled or if the lighting in the room was soft enough to accentuate my good side while hiding my flaws. In the end as I look back, I definitely know that I probably looked like a total scumbag, so I’m really sorry Julie and I hope my interviewing skills made up for my unpleasant appearance.

Last but not least, because Julie is from Penzance, during the interview I had to consistently fight the urge to breakout in song and sing “I am the very model of a modern Major General” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Now if you don’t know what I’m talking about, the song is hilarious and has been parodied on many occasions…plus it’s awesome…and if you don’t believe me, see for yourself

Anyway, regardless of the diatribe I just subjected you to, the fact still stands that Julie Kitchen is the #1 ranked female Muay Thai fighter in the world. She has not lost a single fight since 2008 and is currently enjoying a very healthy 15 fight win streak. She recently fought Martina Jindrova at the Muaythai Premier League’s inaugural event in Long Beach, California and will be fighting for the MPL again on November 6th in The Hague, Netherlands. Before you check out the video below we have to apologize for the sound issues during the interview, the Skype connection was less than ideal for some reason but we hope to rectify that when we speak with Julie again after her bout in November. A big thanks to Julie for being a trooper through the technical difficulties!

Muay Thai is Life speaks with Pittsburgh Muay Thai’s Stephen Strotmeyer about Muay Thai scoring, rules, & more

Kru Stephen Strotmeyer is the head instructor at Khaay Muay Sit-Kangmongkorn a.k.a. Pittsburgh Muay Thai. With about 27 fights both in Thailand and the US, his fight career was unfortunately cut short by illness. However, a true Muay Thai enthusiast, Stephen continued (and continues) to give back to the sport he loves. Having been on the 2004 U.S. Muay Thai team at the IFMA World Championships in Bangkok, Stephen later helped coach the 2007 U.S. Muay Thai team. Stephen, has also coached standout fighters such as Mark Deluca, Marcus Fisher, Ben Case, and more.

strotmeyer2Recently, Stephen was part of an advisory committee that included Samasek Kanthawong, Coban Lookchaomaesaitong, Tony Myers, Siraphop Ratanasuban,Jr., and Kaensak Sor Ploenchit. The committee was setup to assist the New Jersey State Athletic Comission (NJSAC) devise a set of Unified Muay Thai Rules which would hopefully become the standard for Muay Thai scoring in the U.S. Stephen recently took time to speak with Muay Thai is Life about the Unified Muay Thai Rules, Muay Thai scoring in the U.S., and the state of the sport in the U.S. as a whole. This is truly a great interview with one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the U.S. Muay Thai scene.

MTL: Thank you Stephen, for speaking with Muay Thai is Life. You were on the advisory panel put together by the NJSAC to develop a set of Unified Muay Thai Rules. There has been a lot of controversy in the U.S. about Muay Thai fights not being scored correctly, in your opinion what has been the cause of this and what was the ultimate goal of the commission in putting together these Unified Rules?

Stephen: The goal of the commission was to establish a consistent set of Muaythai rules that would be used across North America, ideally. Nick Lembo was a major proponent for this, and was also instrumental in establishing the unified MMA rules. The goal would be that all 50 states, Canada and Mexico would adopt the ABC unified Muaythai rules and anywhere you fight in North America would have a common ruleset.

Regarding Muaythai fights not being scored correctly, it’s simply seating unqualified judges. They lack a fundamental understanding of the true scoring guidelines, or are biased judges, whether for local fighters, or they are biased in interpretation of what scores, and that bias is often blatantly wrong. Many of the athletic commissions and sanctioning bodies lack a clear understanding of scoring Muaythai. This leads to decisions like Cosmo v. Sakmongkol or Howson v. Adanza where the clear winner was absolutely robbed of the proper decision.

MTL: In a few words, what are the key points in the Unified Muay Thai Rules that will differentiate it from the way you feel Muay Thai is currently being scored in the U.S.?

Stephen: The rules themselves, in my opinion, will only establish consistency when fighting. That is a critical step though for fighters to know they will fight in say, NJ and NY under the same rules. Currently, you will fight Muaythai in NJ, then a month later fight a kickboxing, or modified fight in NY and have to adjust training. Fighting Muaythai means using 8 limbs, not 6. Fighting with elbows is a totally different sport.

The scoring is what needs a massive educational overhaul. You see Muaythai in CA and NV being sanctioned by reputable sanctioning bodies, but then having serious deficiencies leading to high profile fight outcomes that are baffling. Having the rules in place is a fantastic, but substandard judging is another animal entirely.

MTL: Now that the Unified Muay Thai rules have been established, some say the next step and perhaps the most difficult is to get commissions and promotions across the U.S. to adapt to the rules. Do you agree?

Stephen: I hope they do, and to be honest, I’m not sure how the voting, or choosing to adopt the rules works as a process, as I was on the advisory committee, but not an ABC member. That would be a great followup series of questions for Nick Lembo who chaired our committee.

MTL: In simple terms, what is the main difference between Muay Thai scoring and the scoring for sports such as K-1 or Kickboxing?

Stephen: I don’t have training in Kickboxing or K-1 scoring so cannot truly attest to the differences. I have a bias when watching K-1 from my Muaythai officiating training. For example, a few years back, Souwer fought Yod, and I thought Yod took it comfortably, but the shocking result was a points win for Souwer. How? K-1 criteria are NOT the same, and I watched the fight with an inherent and intuitive bias. Unless I was trained to score a K-1 bout, I’m applying erroneous criteria.

But, the fundamental points I try to stress at my camp, to many others I have working relationships with is that Muaythai is about position and effect for the entirety of the fight. The fighter that moves and forces his opponent to lose position, be off-balanced as a result of landing effective strikes, while maintainingg balance and composure throughout all 5 rounds is the stronger fighter, hence, winner.

MTL: Being a proponent of preserving traditional Muay Thai, does it bother you that commissions such as the California State Athletic Commission have banned the use of prajouds and Thai liniment, and have had fighters shorten the Wai Kru?

Stephen: As a purist steeped in tradition, YES. However, there are times when shortening from a ram muay to wai kru could be necessary for streaming, TV, etc. I bet you watched that Jamaica show a few years back on PPV…and probably screamed at the telly to get the fashion show over and onto the fights, right? To the general fight fan, you might get a similar response about the music, the ceremony and they want to just see a fight. We could argue we don’t want that element, we want the educated fan, but the sport needs more interest to grow. Limiting it to pure Muaythai as if we were in Thailand with 30+ minutes of ram muay time on a card and alienating a larger, more common audience that expands beyond those who train Muaythai or have a friend or family member who does is not going to provide enough of a base to grow. Regarding liniment, prajiads, and the mongkong, I see nothing there that should be banned and don’t understand the logic behind that.

MTL: Some have argued that fighters should change their styles to “finish fights” as they believe Americans want to see KO’s, do you feel that the traditional Muay Thai and the manner in which Muay Thai is traditionally scored does not appeal to the U.S. fight mentality?

Stephen: That’s a ridiculously simplistic opinion without merit. Traditional Muaythai does appeal to Americans but the reason for it being a fringe combat sport to boxing or MMA isn’t because the KO rate is low, it’s because there are only niche markets for it – NY, NJ, CA, NV have a Muaythai subculture that supports the sport, but again, it’s mostly catering to itself. A heightened awareness and elevated profile is crucial. Shows like the Contender, Challenger, MPL, streaming on GFL, etc. can really help do this. Additionally, aside from educating the officials, the fans that are unfamiliar to scoring would probably benefit from insights into how Muaythai differs from K-1, etc.

MTL: If the way Americans score Muay Thai doesn’t change do you feel the sport will grow here in America? And if it does grow with those rules, do you think we would even be able to label it as “Muay Thai”?

If you consciously decide to change the scoring to meet the putative demands of the supporters how can pandering like this not be considered selling out the sport? If you ignore proper scoring, but adopt proper rules and call it Muaythai, that’s shameful. Either do it right or don’t and call it kickboxing.

MTL: Thank you for taking time to speak with us Stephen and answer a lot of the tough questions the supporters of traditional Muay Thai have wanted answers to

For another very informative interview with Stephen which focuses more on his career as a fighter and coach, take a look at this great interview by Matt Lucas.

For more Muay Thai news keep checking back here at Muay Thai is Life. Also be be sure to like our Official Facebook Page and/or follow us on Twitter @muaythaiislife

Muay Thai is Life speaks with UK fighter Andy Howson – Featured Fighter of the Month

Every month, Muay Thai is Life designates a fighter from the Muay Thai scene worldwide as our “Featured Fighter of the Month.” Said fighter will grace the landing page of our Official Muay Thai is Life Facebook page, while we will also feature an interview with said fighter here on our official website. Our last two fighters have been from across the pond, including this month’s talented nakmuay, Andy Howson. Andy has fought against top talent from around the world including Thailand, Holland, UK, and the US. Andy took the time to sit down with Muay Thai is Life and tell us a little about his career and what he has planned for the remainder of the year and on into 2012.

MTL: Andy, thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Muay Thai is Life, for our American readers that may not be familiar with your fighting career, tell us about where you train, how many fights you have, and what titles you currently hold

Andy: Hey, its no problem, thank you for the chance of the interview. My name is Andy “Punisher” Howson I’m 32 years old and I train out of Richard Smith’s Badcompany Gym here in Leeds, UK. I have had 57 fights 49 wins, 7 losses and 1 draw with 22 by way of KO or stoppage and I am the WMC (MAD) World Champion, ISKA World Champion, ICO World Champion, WMC Intercontinental Champion, WPKL Intercontinental Champion and the WAKO PRO European Champion.

MTL: A lot of people don’t know but world champion fighter and your Bad Company gym teammate, Liam Harrison, is your cousin correct? You guys have been training together for quite a while, so I wanted to ask, who started training in Muay Thai first? And talk to us a little bit about how you guys ended up training together at Bad Company

Andy: Yeah that’s right, Liam is my younger cousin of 6 years and we have been training together at Bad Company under the guidance of Richard Smith for almost 13 years now (Ouch! Bet he’s going to feel old now when he reads this, lol)

Well basically I found out about the gym through one of the guys I used to work with (Desmond Claxton). He was training to go into the Marines and was training at Badco (Bad Company) around 3-4 days a week for help with his strength and conditioning, he ended up deciding to fight and asked if I wanted to go along and watch and support him, I went along and loved it and the following week I went down to training with him and that was it, I was hooked. A lot of people don’t know this but Liam was playing Football (Soccer to you guys =) lol) at a pretty high level all through school but I asked if he wanted to come down and watch me training 1 night and he too loved it and was training with me just 2 days later and look what’s happened from there…we’ve created a monster! :D.

MTL: Aside from yourself and Liam, Bad Company Gym is home to a few other big name fighters such as Jordan Watson, James France, and Rich Cadden to name a few. In your opinion, why has Bad Company had so much success in building top quality fighters? What’s the gyms secret? Also, what is it like training with so many top level fighters?

Andy: Well to be honest with you, I really don’t believe there is any secret to it, it’s all down to individual hard work from each of us and a desire to be a success and be champions and fight the best. And obviously Richard has a lot to do with that, in fact he is key to myself, Liam’s and the gyms success full stop. I can’t lie, I have totally taken him for granted in the past but he truly is an amazing coach, not 1 class at the gym is ever the same and he is always coming up with new tricks, etc… even after over 20 years in the game. It’s no wonder though to be honest because you don’t go away to Thailand as much as he has and not learn a hell of a lot you know? And his wife Lisa also let me in on a little secret a few weeks back too. She’s been catching him watching fights on Youtube and rewinding certain bits and slowing them down, etc and modifying them and things like that. Now I’m going to guess there’s not many coaches out there that go through that just to bring something new into the gym, but the simple fact is he really loves the sport. I think another good quality about our gym Badco, is that no 2 fighters are the same or have the same style, me I like to have a war, I have no idea why cause I can be technical when I need or want to be, but I just love to get involved and give the crowd some excitement, Liam is known for his knockout power mostly in his left hook as everyone knows and loves to kick legs but honestly he is 1 of the most technical fighters I have ever sparred with, Jordan is just so slick and has amazing balance and is an awesome kicker. I think that’s a great quality about Richard, he doesn’t try to change our styles, just works at it and molds it and brings them all together as a package.

MTL: So you recently decided to come back to Muay Thai after retiring from the sport for a while. What prompted the decision to come back?

Photo by Marty Rockatansky

Andy: Yeah, I’m making a come back already after been retired for like 3 months, lol. To be honest with you I had kind of fallen out of love with the sport a bit in the last couple of years and it had/has shown in my last like 5 fights, I wasn’t taking training seriously, wasn’t dieting right so struggling at times to cut the weight which effected me in a few of my fights. I don’t know what it was but I was working full time again and was finding it hard to juggle work and training every night, and training hard to fight at the level I fight at was killing me, I was exhausted and I put it down to just getting older if I’m honest with you. I decided after my last fight that would be it, but then 3 days after that last fight and announcing I was finished I was made redundant (layoff) from my job which was a massive shock to me and made me have to rethink a few things, and in the mean time I was busy in the gym working pads with some of the guys and going to a few shows and it just ignited that flame again. I just had to come back, and I’m so glad I did, Cause I have a few bits of unfinished business I have to sort out before I can retire a happy man.

MTL: Now, we recently saw you in Liam Harrison’s corner at the Warriors Cup XII event in New Jersey where Liam faced off with Justin Greskiewicz. Rumor has it that you have been in talks with Weapons 9 promoter Christian Tran about fighting at the next Warriors Cup in December. What can you tell us about that? Are you ready to come back to fight in the United States?

Andy: Yeah that’s right you saw me in the corner mostly jumping around and making a fool of myself, I get way too excited in the corner when it’s for Liam, ha ha it’s a bit harder with us being family, he says the same too.

But yes I was asked by Christian if I would like to fight on the next show he has in December and jumped at the chance, I’m really looking forward to it as we where treated so well when I came over with Liam. Christian is a great guy as is all his team and gym so I’m really excited about it. I have no idea who I may be fighting as of yet but that is all to be sorted out with Richard but he is currently away in Thailand and not due back for another week or so, but I’m sure Christian and he will be talking and arranging things soon so I will keep you posted.

MTL: Speaking of fighting in the United States, your U.S. debut was at the Muay Thai in America card in California when you lost a very controversial split decision to Romie Adanza. Are you looking to get back in the ring with Romie anytime soon?

Andy: I’ve been looking to get in the ring with Romie since the decision was given that night! I’m a fair guy and I have had more than enough fights to know when I have won or lost a fight, and I think I can safely say I am a very sporting guy inside the ring as most people who have seen me fight will know, but when a decision is SO bad like that? Well I want, need, and have to have revenge for that! And to be fair I fought Romie at a lower weight than I have ever fought before. I came in at 117lbs when I’m normally a 124-127lbs fighter, and I had gone 5 rounds only 6 days before against Dean James and was banged up. I body kicked and long kneed my way to what I (and John Wayne Parr, who was in my corner for the fight) thought was a more than comfortable points win, but it wasn’t to be. It’s no reflection on Romie or his team, Romie is a great guy and we got on really well and shared a few beers the next day, but to say I was and still am gutted about the decision is an understatement. But fingers crossed I have something hopefully in the pipeline to be over there in LA for the rematch in January and I wont have fought 6 days before and be banged up so it’s going to be a totally different story.

MTL: So coming from the strong Muay Thai scene in the UK and having attended a few shows here in the U.S., what is your opinion on the growth of Muay Thai in the United States? What do you thing about the level of the fighters currently coming out of the U.S.?

Andy: Well to be honest, I have only been to the 2 shows over there and what with fighting on one and having a fighter on the other, I didn’t really get to see much of the fights. However, from what I have seen and having trained with some guys myself, things over there are really picking up and it’s a great sign for the U.S. Muay Thai scene. Obviously you’ve got Kevin Ross who’s doing his thing and seems to be improving with every fight but there was also a few of the younger fighters on the last show that impressed me, and a few of the boys who fought on MTIA with me such as Nat McIntyre and Andy Kapel, both fought really well. Poor Nat drew the short straw fighting Neungsiam but showed how tough he was and stuck in there for the 5 rounds, and Andy is just a strong strong guy! But things are looking good, from the standard of a couple of the guys at Bryan Doblers gym in LA where I trained there is some talent coming through there and also at Christians gym in New Jersey.

MTL: So aside from the possibility of fighting in the U.S. in December, do you have any other fights lined up before then? What can we expect from you in the remainder of this year and in 2012?

Andy: Well I am hoping to fight in October if I can get the chance, would be nice to have a warm up fight to shake off the ring rust before heading over to fight for you guys, then also fingers crossed I have the Romie rematch in Jan, I dont know if you guys over there know but myself and Liam with 1 of our best friends Clint are now also promoting shows and will be having our 3rd HGH promtions event in Febuary next year so I think I’m going to jump on in and fight on that too. Then, I don’t know, to be honest I have had people ask me about possible fights in April and May also but like I say that all depends on Richard and to be honest on how the fights before that go. I didn’t retire for no reason the first time around, lol.

MTL: Andy, once again, we really appreciate you stopping by to speak with us here at Muay Thai is Life. We wish you nothing but luck as you step back into the sport and hope to see you compete in the U.S. again very soon!

Andy: No problem, thank you so much for the interview and I look forward to speaking to you soon and fighting over in the states real soon. Take care.

UK’s Simon Chu discusses his upcoming bout with Ky Hollenbeck at “Battle in the Desert 3”

I had the opportunity to meet Simon Chu when during the filming of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations in Bangkok, I was asked to spar Kiatphontip Gym’s resident trainer and ex champion, Jompop Kiatphontip. The sparring/mock fight was shot for entirely comedic purposes, but to also showcase the skill of the Thais even when faced with a larger, heavier opponent. Contrary to what people saw on the show after editing was done, Jompop and I did in fact fight for 5×3 minute rounds where Jompop proceeded to school me in the ways of Muay Thai for every single round, much to the delight of the young fighters in the gym and the millions who would eventually see the show.

Although I didn’t speak to Simon during the shoot, I do remember him as part of the crowd that was laughing hysterically as Jompop used me as his 230 lb. punching bag. However, while at the gym, I was told that there was a British champion training at the gym with his equally talented sister, Maria Chu. I saw Simon train with Jompop and the other trainers at the gym and instantly saw why he was a champion. Simon is a fast and explosive fighter with a lot of power and great technique who will now be bringing his talents stateside as he looks to forcefully strip the USA’s Ky Hollenbeck of his WBC Interim World Middleweight title. The fight is set to take place at Lion Fight Promotions “Battle in the Desert 3”, which will be held on August 20th in Primm, Nevada.

Muay Thai is Life was able to speak with the five time British Champion as he prepares for his upcoming fight.

MTL: Thank you Simon for speaking with Muay Thai is Life, we really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy training schedule to speak with us. So for our US readers that don’t know of your accomplishments, please tell our readers a little bit more about yourself such as: where you train out of, how many fights you have, and some of the titles you have won?

Simon: I train out of the Kiatphontip UK Gym in Leeds, England. I have had 35 fights with 29 wins, 17 wins coming by KO. I am a two time European and five time British champion.

MTL: I had the opportunity to train at the Kiatphontip Gym facility outside of Bangkok and as I understand you, Jompop Kiatphontip, and your sister Maria Chu, who is also an accomplished Muay Thai fighter, decided to open up a satellite gym in the UK. Tell us a little bit about how the gym came to be. Also, having done a little sparring with Jompop myself, I am aware he is quite the hard trainer! So how is training going?

Simon: Yes, we are a sister gym to Kiatphontip Bangkok, Jompop and my sister are married and all three of us are Muaythai fighters although Jompop is retired now. Jompop is one of, if not the best Thai trainer in the UK right now and it’s great training with him every day. As you guessed, the training regime is very hard and based on how we train in Thailand. My preparation for this fight is going very well and I am feeling very strong now.

MTL: So you are set to set face U.S. nakmuay Ky Hollenbeck on August 20th at Lion Fight Promotions’ “Battle at the Desert 3”. This will be your first ever fight in the U.S., so how do you feel about fighting stateside?

Simon: Yes, I’m set to fight Ky Hollenbeck in Las Vegas in two weeks time. I can’t wait to fight stateside especially as it is in Las Vegas.

MTL: Your opponent, Ky Hollenbeck, is considered by some to be among the top Muay Thai fighters in the U.S. He has a pretty aggressive and sometimes unorthodox style, have you seen any of his fights and if so what do you think about how you guys match up stylistically?

Simon: Yes, I know Ky is a good Muay Thai fighter and can be unorthodox at times. All I can say is that I train very, very hard and am looking forward to tearing it up over there, and the fact that he has his WBC title on the line makes it even better. It’s hard to say exactly how our styles will match up really, I guess you will have to be there to see!

MTL: What advantages and disadvantages, if any, do you see yourself having in this fight?

Simon: The advantages I have in this fight are my overall Muay Thai experience and as always my power and speed.

MTL: Changing subjects, the UK has quite the active Muay Thai scene in comparison with the United States, but we are glad to say we feel Muay Thai is starting to really pick up steam here in the U.S. Your participation in this upcoming event is a testament to that growth. From what you have seen (fighters, events, etc..), what is your opinion about the growth of U.S. in the States?

Simon: Yes, the UK has a very active Muay Thai scene with many fighters living and fighting in Thailand for long periods of time. This in turn has helped build the high level that the UK has in Muay Thai right now. The level of MMA in the States is some of the best in the world but it’s great to see that Muay Thai is starting to make an impact over there too. America has some very good talent coming through right now and the fight cards are including some of the best Thai and foreign fighters in the world.

MTL: So aside from your upcoming fight here in the U.S., what else do you have scheduled for 2011?

Simon: I try to focus my mind on one fight at a time so I have no fights confirmed yet, but there’s talk of me fighting in France in October.

MTL: So, before we go Simon, what are your predictions about your upcoming fight with Hollenbeck?

Simon: My predictions are that it’s going to be a great fight!

MTL: So that’s it folks! Thank you again Simon for taking the time to speak with Muay Thai is Life! We wish you the best of luck in your U.S. Muay Thai debut!

Simon: You’re more than welcome and hopefully I see you there mate!

The Calm – A fighters emotional journey before he or she enters the ring

The other day as I was skimming through my news feed, I caught a glimpse of a comment someone had left on Kevin Ross‘ wall. The poster was asking Ross how he was able to keep his composure when he was hit hard or dazed during a fight. Ross responded with two pretty simple answers; that on one hand, some fighters either have or don’t have the ability to keep calm under pressure or that maintaining composure comes from the experience of having been through a lot of tough battles.

This question inspired me to write an article about what fighters go through in those last few moments before they enter the ring. What goes through their minds? Are they afraid? Are they calm? Are they a nervous wreck? I decided to ask a few pro and amateur fighters about their thoughts and emotions in the few seconds before the bell rings and what changes when it finally does.

Being a fighter myself, I identified with most of what the fighters I spoke too had to say. Many have different ways of dealing with the emotions they feel before a fight but most of the emotions, no matter the experience of the fighter, were surprisingly similar.

The emotions before a fight are akin to those one must go through before skydiving or bungee jumping. It isn’t so much the action itself that scares you, it’s those few seconds before the action. The moments where your mind races through all the possibilities of what can go wrong and what can happen. The longer you wait before taking the leap or throwing that first contact, the more your mind becomes saturated with these thoughts, and the more likely you are to fail to take the leap or fight the way you should.

Pro fighter Mark Deluca brought up a good point about how he calms himself down before the fight, he says that it “helps to ‘try’ and remember that your opponent is human and he is feeling ALL of the same things whether you realize it or not.” Mark’s comment reminded me of something I heard a sportscaster say about a penalty kick shootout during an important soccer match. Having once been a striker himself, he pointed out that when the striker comes to take the penalty kick, the size of the goal seems to shrink and the goalie seems huge. Thus, the idea of scoring seems almost impossible. Meanwhile, another announcer on the panel that happened to be a former goalie, stated that when he was in that position and facing an opponent that was about to take a penalty kick, he felt himself get smaller and the goal itself grow larger and larger.

What the above comments teach us is that in a competitive atmosphere both parties are feeling the same nerves and that, when under pressure, the mind tends to make the odds of victory and success feel overwhelmingly limited.

Mark’s comment also reminded me of an instance in my own fighting career where I forgot that my opponent was most likely thinking the same thing about me as I was thinking about him. Over a year ago I was asked to fight in a Muay Thai gala in Paramaribo, Suriname. As both my opponent and I stepped up to weigh in and face off for the cameras, I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my god, this guy is massive!” I remember being more nervous than usual because it was my first international fight and I was taking on a fighter that was somewhat of a local celebrity. My corner for this fight was Real Fighter’s Gym owner and head coach, Eric Haycraft, and I remember telling Eric, “This guy is really big”. Eric looked at me, smirked and said, “So what? You do realize you are a pretty big guy too right?” I came to the realization right then and there that my opponent was most likely feeling the same nervousness and anxiety about me as I was about him. I realized that in the end, it would come down to who performed better in the ring.

As I spoke with Tony Manoharan, Ben Case, Patrick Yee, and Mark Deluca about their in ring experiences, the one thing that stood out to me was that as fighters, like the bungee jumper, we are not afraid of the fall i.e. the punches, kicks, knees, or the pain or fatigue we may feel during the fight. What we in fact fear is what may happen. What we fear are the thoughts of the worst scenarios we have conjured up in our mind becoming a reality. In essence, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously told us not to do, what we end up fearing, “is fear itself”.

Photo by BIRMphoto

So how do these pros overcome these feelings? Tony Manoharan (pictured left) says, “I do feel some of the butterflies in the stomach when climbing over the ropes. But once I’m in the ring, I’m in high spirits. Everything else becomes a blur and my focus is on my opponent. I’m there in front of many spectators, displaying something I truly love to do. I have the opportunity to show my trainers, teammates, friends, family and fans of the sport what I am capable of doing. It’s a genuine joy that passes through me, and that’s what overpowers the nerves”

For Patrick Yee dealing with the nerves before a fight comes down to realizing that the fight is only a few minutes of his life and that he will be celebrating his efforts afterwards. “Something else that helps me a lot is thinking that there will be a minute after the fight, an hour after the fight, a day, a week. This eases my nerves as it takes the spotlight off the fight and keeps it on the bigger picture. Whether it’s immediately after the fight drinking a beer with your handwraps still on or the day after eating donuts, I find that thinking about the future helps calm me down.

While each fighter differed on the way they dealt with the emotions before a fight, where they all shared similarities was in the thought that once the bell rang, all semblance of nervousness stopped. Ben Case simply states, “Then the bell rings and we touch gloves and the nerves and the thinking abruptly end, and before I know it it’s been 5 rounds and the fight is over.” Mark Deluca echoed Ben’s comments and stated, “as Ben said, once that first bit of contact is made, you go into that mode that you’ve trained so long and hard and then before you know it the fight is over.” Most importantly, all of them specified that being able to let go of the nerves and emotion had a lot to do with the confidence in their preparation before the fight.

A roller coaster of emotions

What all of these talented fighters agree on, and something I myself have felt, is the idea that the lead up to the fight is a roller-coaster of emotions. As Mark Deluca says, “one minute your thinking ‘I’m a machine, I am going to smash this guy’ and the next your thinking ‘What am I doing here? why am I doing this?'” No matter the experience of the fighter, one thing I always hear, is that right before the bell rings the most common thoughts that cross a fighters mind are, “Am I really about to do this?”, “Why do I do this?”, and “Why am I doing this?”.

But then the bell rings, the fists fly, and if you are a fighter like these guys and myself, there is really no where you would rather be. You fight for the love of the sport. You fight to show your trainers that you can execute what they have taught you, you fight to show your family and your friends what you have been working so hard at, and most importantly of all you fight to show yourself that YOU CAN.

So for all of you aspiring fighters out there, the important thing is to take the plunge before the nerves and thoughts of what could potentially happen, stall you from actually making IT happen. Train hard and it will pay off in the ring. And last but not least feel comfortable with the knowledge that the same nerves you feel are shared by fighters at the highest of levels and that your opponent is, without a doubt, feeling nerves similar to yours. Walk to the edge, get in the ring, and acknowledge the fear, use it, and finally, take the leap.