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NOTE: With the release of our recent podcast with Kevin Ross on March 22nd, 2016, we decided to bring this article back to the front page as it is a great complement to the podcast because it gives fans a more in depth look into Kevin’s start in Muay Thai and the obstacles he had to overcome to get where he is. The podcast can be found here: http://bit.ly/TSC-Ep-34

Kevin “The Soul Assassin” Ross – Article by Galen Okazaki

In•spi•ra•tion. According to Webster’s it means: “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions”. Many of our greatest individual accomplishments are fueled by inspiration. We find inspiration in the stories of others overcoming great odds, achieving great things or in rare cases…. both.

 

In December of 2010, I had the opportunity to photograph my first headline Muay Thai fight card. In the main event, American nakmuay Kevin Ross defeated 7 time world champ, Malaipet Sasiprapa by unanimous decision. This victory over a celebrated Thai fighter would propel Kevin to the forefront of American Muay Thai (in February of 2011 he would be voted North America’s 2010 Fighter of the Year). A few weeks after photographing this event, I received a “friend request” on Facebook from someone named “Huggy Bear”. Hmmm…after taking a look at his page and some of the pictures on it, I finally realized that “Huggy Bear” was none other than Kevin “the Soul Assassin” Ross, silly me! After watching this hard hitting, tatted up bad ass fighter, I didn’t make the connection to ahem…“Huggy Bear”. And so went my simple introduction to someone who would fascinate and inspire me as I got to know his story.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1980, the main thing that Kevin Ross remembers about growing up was the constant moving. Sometimes the family would stay in one place for just a couple of months and move on. Not the son of military parents, there was really no discernible reason for the constant moving, it just seemed to be the norm for this family. The one other thing he remembered about his childhood was his constant dream of one day becoming a fighter.

Finally in 1994, Kevin and his family settled in the city that he continues to call home today, Las Vegas. Kevin soon found himself running with a circle of friends whose primary goal in life was to party. His teen years were a fog, spent partying. Throughout this time Kevin grew close to one friend in particular, Moe. In time, Moe became the only one that Kevin shared his dream of being a fighter with. With his encouragement, Kevin visited Master Toddy’s gym to look into Muay Thai training. But the cost and the commitment it would take at the time were too much, so it was back to the partying life. Throughout their friendship, Moe was dealing with health issues. He needed a heart transplant and had been on the list for a heart transplant for a number of years. Sadly, Moe later passed away while in a hospital in California. The shock of Moe’s death sent Kevin into depression and a downward spiral of addiction. The spiral would last for four long years.

In 2003, a series of traumatic events would be the impetus for Kevin to turn his life around. First, one of his partying friends struck an oncoming car while driving under the influence and on the wrong side of the road. The driver of the other car was seriously injured. Shortly after that, another friend from the same circle put himself through his car windshield, almost killing himself while also driving under the influence. And then finally, while driving home after another round of partying, Kevin was pulled over for driving 120 mph in an emergency lane. He was stopped just a few feet from entrance of his neighborhood and for reasons he still doesn’t understand to this day, the officer did not arrest him and let him continue the short distance home. The combination of these three events in such a short period of time served as a huge wake-up call.

What finally turned Kevin’s life around for good was a talk he had with his father. While hanging out one night with Gina (Carano), his stepmother and his father, Kevin finally told his dad about his dream of becoming a fighter. When his father asked him what was stopping him, Kevin told him about the cost. After hearing all of this, Kevin’s father offered him a deal, he told him that if Kevin were to give up drinking, he would pay for it all. At that moment Kevin’s father pointed to the drink in Kevin’s hand and asked, “how about that one?”. Kevin poured out the drink and the deal was struck. He stopped drinking cold turkey, went back to Master Toddy’s gym the very next day, and started training in Muay Thai.

It wasn’t as simple as that though, four years of chemical addiction had taken a serious physical toll and there were still the withdrawals to deal with. It was a struggle and Kevin’s mettle would be tested to the core. Two things helped Kevin get through this period: his unwavering dream of becoming a fighter and the memory of his friend Moe, who dealt with the health issues that would ultimately take his life with dignity and who believed in Kevin’s dream of becoming a fighter.

After nine months of training, Kevin’s dream was finally realized, he had his first fight. It took place in Salt Lake City, Utah. Unfortunately, the opponent Kevin was supposed to fight didn’t show up and the only other available opponent was 20 pounds heavier and had already had 30 fights. No one would have blamed Kevin for not taking the fight but there was never a question in his mind, he took the fight. He lost when his corner threw in the towel. But in taking on this opponent, he had shown a trait that has now become his signature and most talked about characteristic,…he would never back down from a fight.

Kevin doesn’t recall losing another amateur fight after that but being a fighter was still a struggle. During this time Kevin ended up living in the gym…literally. He did this for three years. Having nowhere else to go, he lived in a makeshift living space and even then it was difficult to make ends meet. This was a true test of how badly he wanted to be a fighter. When people would tell him he should get a “real” job he knew that it was something he could not do and he never wavered.

When I asked him where this motivation, this unwillingness to give up and find a “real” job came from, his answer was a simple one. “If you are going to do something that truly means something to you, then you do it for all you’re worth and you strive to be the best you can be at it or you don’t do it at all“. This singular devotion to his dream would be demonstrated in many ways over the coming years.

There are other reasons for a fighter to give up, pain is one of them. There are many moments in a fighter’s career where his brain will tell him it’s time to stop during a fight or even training. As Kevin describes it, it’s a self preservation thing. You can see it taking over when a fighter takes a little longer to get up after a knock down, just long enough to get counted out. While Kevin has certainly experienced the desire to stop the pain himself many times throughout his career, he has never once succumbed to it.

There was one fight in particular where Kevin recalls his brain telling him to throw in the towel. It was his August 30, 2008 rematch with Kang En for the WBC Super Light Weight International title. Hurt very badly in the first round, Kevin was able to gather himself and went on to knock Kang out to regain his title.

More recently at Lion Fight Promotion’s inaugural “Battle in the Desert” event on February 12, 2011, Kevin took on a very tough Sittisak Por Sirichai. After taking a number of elbows to the head, Kevin’s face was a bloody mess and at times he was seeing three Sittisaks. When the ringside physician stopped to look at Kevin mid-round, Kevin of course told him everything was fine. The doctor told him that if it was anyone else he probably would have stopped the fight, but after seeing a number of Kevin’s fights, this doctor knew that Kevin could still fight on. Kevin went on to lose the fight in a split decision, but it was obvious to everyone who was there, that he was a warrior nonpareil.

This was just another example of Kevin’s drive to be the best he can be at his chosen profession. It is the reason why he continues to take on tough opponents, he knows it is the only way he can grow and push himself as a fighter. Kevin has never been interested in what affect an opponent might have on his win-loss record. It has always been about what affect the opponent has on his own growth as a fighter. Still not convinced?

In what many consider the seminal event in American Muay Thai, Kevin took on someone who is considered by many to be the best pound for pound Muay Thai fighter in the world, Saenchai Sinibimuaythai, at Stand-Up Promotion’s M-One Grand Muay Thai Championships on August 14, 2011. Kevin took a beating in rounds 2 and 3 but as is his style, he never stopped pressing the fight and actually looked to be the fresher fighter by the end of round five. Kevin ended up losing a majority decision, but left no doubt that he belonged in the same ring with the Thai legend.

So how does someone like Kevin Ross follow-up a performance like this? He takes on Sakkedao Petchpayathai at M-One Grand, this October 21st in Los Angeles CA. Sakkedao is currently the Lumpinee Stadium champion at 135 lbs and oh yeah, he also happens to be the only person to have recently defeated Saenchai.

As Kevin and I first talked about doing this story, he told me that his life is all about inspiring others to follow their dreams. Today, just eight short years after starting his career as a Muay Thai fighter, Kevin is living his own dream. The more I learned about Kevin, the more I knew that I had to tell his story. What he has overcome and achieved in this short period of time is the stuff of greatness. It has inspired me and no doubt it has inspired others. When I mentioned to Joe Schilling (who will be fighting for the WBC Super Middleweight World title on the same October 21st M-one Grand fight card as Kevin) that I would be writing an article about Kevin he told me that Kevin was the fighter that he aspired to be. I can think of no better testament to what Kevin has accomplished.

On his fan page Kevin Ross delivers this message: “People often sacrifice pursuing their dreams because they are worried about being poor or unstable. But no amount of money will ever make you happy and all you will do is live your life in regret. If you’re not living or pursuing your dream right now, stop what you’re doing and go after it.” As you come to know his story you realize that there is no better example of this message than the person delivering it. Be inspired!

Editor’s Note: Aside from being an accomplished fighter, Kevin is also a talented artist. In the gallery below you will find the photographs used in this article, taken by Muay Thai is Life’s Galen Okazaki (who also happened to have written this article) and some samples of Kevin’s artistic work, which we also feel you should see.