I have to preface this entire review of the TBA-SA Muay Thai Classic by saying that this event is, with no equivocations, the best amateur Muay Thai event in the United States. I also have to say that it is important for media outlets such as Muay Thai is Life and other Muay Thai news websites to cover these amateur tournaments since they are integral part to building up the sport of Muay Thai in the United States.
In U.S. sports, the term “amateur” has somewhat of a negative connotation. People assume that an amateur event is either going to be improperly or poorly put together or that the athletes are “absolute beginners” with “little to no skill”. In the case of Muay Thai in the U.S., this cannot be further from the truth. In combat sports, the term amateur, simply means you are not getting paid to fight or earning any money from your participation in an event. This does not mean that amateurs cannot fight in events where they are not required to wear protection, such as headgear or gloves. Or that they can’t fight in bouts where the rounds are just as long as those who fight pro, or that the rules (save for elbows being thrown) have to be any different from their pro counterparts.
Because the U.S. Muay Thai scene is still in it’s infancy, many of the so called “amateurs” at national amateur tournaments can sometimes have even more experience than those that fight professionally. They fight anywhere and everywhere, whether it be here in the United States or in Europe or Asia. It is for this reason that many times during tournaments such as this past weekend’s TBA, you can also see some of the best Muay Thai in North America.
Now, while the TBA-SA required all of its participants to wear protective gear (shin pads and headgear), the fighters that participated in this event showcased Muay Thai skill that far exceeded that which is commonly associated with the term “amateur”
To start things off, let me discuss the overall organization of the event. This years TBA-SA Muay Thai Classic had over 400+ registered fighters. Previously, when attending events that had a large number of participants, the registration and weigh-in process was an absolute nightmare. However, this would not be the case at the Muay Thai Classic. In the weeks leading up to the event, the TBA-SA allowed fighters to schedule weigh in appointments. Each weigh-in appointment block was about 15 minutes in length and was open to about 8-10 fighters. Fighters would not be allowed to weigh in until their specific weigh in time. And those that failed to schedule an appointment would have to wait until the entire process was done in order to weigh in.
The plan was effective and the weigh-ins were effortless. My only qualm with the whole registration process was the rules meeting complete with a high school style roll call. The roll call served two purposes: Check to see that fighters did in fact attend the rules meeting and give each fighter their fighter pass. Now, I do agree that it should be mandatory for fighters and trainers to attend a rules meeting to avoid any problems later during the competition but to stage a roll call in order to check if everyone is there seems like a waste of time. However, in defense of the TBA, it seems like the roll call is a necessary evil until the U.S. comes up with a unified set of pro and amateur Muay Thai rules that each and every sanctioning body must follow, thus making these rules meetings a thing of the past.
When it came to fight time, the event really did go off without a hitch. All large brackets were set to fight first. Fights were numbered in sequence and the venue had 3 rings where any and all fights would take place.
Save for a few intermissions and a minor unforeseen hiccup, the event ran smoothly and the fights didn’t go too far into the night. Well, maybe a little. The TBA officials we spoke to said that due to such a huge turnout they are looking into possibly making the event 3 days rather than 2. This could be a good and bad thing. Good, because the event should be able to run smoother than it already runs; Bad because weigh-ins would take place on Thursday, which would mean participants would have to take an extra day off from work and purchase an extra day at a hotel. I guess fighters, trainers, and officials will cross that bridge when they come to it.
One thing that I appreciated about the TBA and something I believe the IKF should consider doing, is dividing the competition into A,B, and Novice divisions. If you have 3 fights or less, you can choose to compete in the Novice division. 3-9 fights puts you in the B Division. And 9 fights or more puts you in the A Division. Now the A Class is open to fighters with any record if they choose to challenge themselves, but if they want to see how they stack up against similar competition than they can improve their chances by joining a division with fighters that match their respective skill level.
As for the competition, as I had mentioned previously, many of the fighters that attend the TBA have a skill set that far exceeds what many would consider “amateur”. In the A class, you can find fighters with over 50 amateur Muay Thai fights! Some of their amateur fights come from competing at the IFMA World Championships in Thailand, where the word “amateur” is loosely defined and has more to do with the fact that protection is worn rather than the fact that you have fought professionally elsewhere. Therefore the level of skill that you see from some fighters at the TBA exceeds that of even some of the pro fighters I have seen in the U.S.
Adding to the level of skill present at the tournament were our always tough neighbors to the north. Yes, Canada. Say what you want about Canada. You can say that their beer sucks, that their accents are funny, that hockey is the only sport they’re good at, or that their entire country is like a loft above a really great party. However, what you can’t say is that Canada’s Muay Thai scene takes a backseat to that of the U.S. Because honestly it doesn’t.
9 teams from Canada participated at this year’s TBA: Southside Muay Thai, York Muay Thai, Krudar Muay Thai, Mike Miles Muay Thai, Samir’s Combat Reaction, Pound 4 Pound Muay Thai & MMA, MAS Academy of Martial Arts, Warrior Muay Thai, and 8 Limbs Muay Thai. Making it seem like, as one coach jokingly put it, the “Canadian National Championships”.
I may be off on my statistics here, but I think that more than half of the titles at this years TBA went to Canada. They’re that good.
But besides that, their were obviously tons of teams from the United States that showcased some very solid Muay Thai, way too many to list obviously, but you can be sure that they made the U.S. Muay Thai scene proud.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with all of the teams that participated at the event. And if all of these fighters represent the future of Muay Thai in the United States, or North America for that matter, then let the whole world be put on notice. We are no longer going to continue walking in Europe and Asia’s shadow.
Below are some pictures I took of the event. I wanted to take more shots than this but being a competitor, corner, and photographer, all at once, turned out to be far more difficult than I had anticipated.
Also, if you were a competitor at this weekend’s event, we would very much appreciate if you took some time to complete this Muay Thai Fighter survey. The Muay Thai Injury Surveillance during Fight Events study is an innovative research study investigating injuries incurred during MuayThai fights. If you are 18 years of age or older, please share your experiences in our approximately 10 minute online survey by visiting: www.survey.pitt.edu/muaythai