By John Wolcott
It’s in the all-telling square where Muaythai fighters exchange limb for limb and somehow, through some transcending act, convert the perils of pain into personal pleasure. Both physically and mentally it takes a special kind of person to subject themselves to such feats; a sort of madness that only lives in those who dare enough to extinguish the boredoms of life with the thrill of the fight. However, if we dig even deeper we come to learn that brawn and brute are not the only defining characteristics of a Muaythai pugilist. Also found are the virtues of humility, respect, and loyalty. It’s these very traits that separate a Muaythai fighter from someone who just fights in Muaythai. If you’ve been around the sport for some time you acquire a good idea of the fighters who embody these basic, albeit scarce, qualities. One of these fighters is Pittsburgh’s Mark DeLuca.
I recently found out about DeLuca’s retirement and like many others in the Muaythai community, I saw it as nothing short of a surprise. Immediately, I was compelled to write. After all, Muaythai is just starting to grow in the states and I’d wondered how it would be with one less traditional representative on the East coast. In an area where establishing mixed martial artists take to the ring and boast the monicker of “Muaythai fighter” for the night, it was a breath of fresh air to see DeLuca’s name grace any fight card. With a very traditional style, from the wai kru to the final bell, DeLuca set out in each bout to showcase Muaythai in its proper form. It’s because of this that true fans of the sport are forever grateful.
\Those who are new to Muaythai may have only come to know Mark DeLuca more recently through the rise of media coverage on American Muaythai; however, DeLuca has been in the game for some time now. First introduced to Muaythai in 2000 at the age of 16, it wasn’t until 4 years later when he began competing. Once he started, for the Pittsburgh native, there was no looking back. The same way DeLuca embraced the culture and traditions of Muaythai was the same way he embraced the fight – with passion. So much so that his desire to compete led him to many corners of the world. Having fought in Scotland in 2005, at the IFMAs for Team USA in 2007, Thailand on two more occasions, and the UK, it isn’t hard to see why DeLuca is so well-versed in the art of eight limbs. Even DeLuca’s trainer had noted Mark’s journey as the most telling aspect of his career.
As Stephen Strotmeyer told me: “Mark has always had a strong character and good morals. His career in Muaythai exposed him to an elite level of international competition and training and he developed an even stronger sense of what is right and wrong in the sport. He’s seen the best in people and at times, the worst. And through those interactions, he’s been a pinnacle for professionalism in the sport and a complete gentleman in and out of the ring.”
It’s not often that the adjectives of gentlemen and fighter could be used to describe the same person, however, that is exactly who DeLuca is. Even those who aren’t as close to him as his own trainer would tell you the same. One of those people is fellow Muaythai fighter, Justin Greskiewicz. DeLuca and Greskiewicz have shared the ring together on a few occasions, both earning a win over the other. Greskiewicz nearly echoed the same sentiments as Strotmeyer, saying, “Probably the biggest reason why I love him is that despite being among the top fighters in the country, he was never a ‘tough guy.’ He was always all smiles, totally respectful, and completely nice. I think that’s rad.” Justin finished off with saying, “For real, I hope he’s not done for good, because that’s the type of dude the sport needs. He loves this game and it loves him back. Hope he knows that.”
Some may ask how such a nice person has gone so far in a sport which requires the ability turn off any niceness in the ring and consciously bring harm to an adversary. This may be attributed to DeLuca’s fighting spirit, something that his Thai trainer, Matee Jedeepitak, took notice of and later dubbed him Jaipetch – the Thai designation for Diamond Heart. It was with DeLuca’s “Diamond Heart” that he was able to earn the Thai Boxing Association’s Super Lightweight Professional World Title defeating Raul Llopis in 2008. This was just 4 years after the very first time he stepped into that telling square. It was also DeLuca’s heart that fueled his desire to be part of Muaythai even before it was the thing to do. Before tournament earnings of $10,000 and prior to promotions being streamed live on the Internet, DeLuca was in it for the love.
As I’d mentioned earlier, when I heard about Mark DeLuca’s retirement from fighting I felt compelled to write. If Muaythai does grow to be as big as boxing or mma, will newcomers be familiar with the fighters who’ve blazed the path for the newer generation? This is something I wanted the world to know; that fighters like DeLuca were the ones keeping the sport and culture alive through tradition and attitude. That without fighters like him, the ring would be a hollow ground, lacking the virtues that make up muaythai as a whole. If there’s anything that DeLuca’s career can tell us it’s this: that even in a world were it sometimes doesn’t pay to be nice, in a world which teaches us to step on the next person to bring ourselves to the top, there are still people who live by an old code. And upon meeting DeLuca one will recognize that code. While the sport of Muaythai continues to grow in America, I hope those who have carved their legacy into its walls will not be forgotten. I hope fans and practitioners alike will remember the ambassadors, and I hope they will be familiar with Mark DeLuca, Diamond Heart.