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Going Pro – When should you do it?

“How much do you get paid?” a question that most serious amateur fighters hate answering. The layman hears “amateur” and “I don’t get paid” and immediately scoffs as if to say, “oh, you’re not that serious. ” After all, their buddy from high school is a pro MMA fighter and he just started training 2 or 3 years ago. This drives me nuts.

Unlike ball sports, combat sports athletes don’t have the luxury of a regulated system that tracks the years you’ve put in and the level of competition that you compete at. In order to get your first amateur fight, you essentially just have to know a guy who knows a guy. Training isn’t even technically a requirement. Sure, most promoters will only accept trained fighters who will put on a good show for their crowd. But let’s be real here, when amateur fighters drop at the last minute, promoters tend to get desperate and accept anyone who is willing to save the show. I have seen some terrible fights at some local shows because of this. It really is the Wild West out here if you don’t have an experienced trainer looking out for you.

Signing A ContractI wish I could say it was much harder to go pro, but in some states its really not. Although you stand a much higher chance of brain damage, technically, the system is the same. You probably have to talk yourself up a bit more and maybe even just flat out lie to the promoter but at the end of the day, there’s still no back-end infrastructure to prove that you’re “bullshittin’”. After you have managed to con yourself in there and sign the contract, all you have to do is show up and (probably) get knocked out. Congratulations, you now get to tell all your friends that you’re a professional fighter.

This happens more than you might think.

However, the real problem here is not bullshitters getting knocked out, or that amateurs don’t get paid. It’s the fact that, in America, there are only 2 rungs on the ladder, Amateur and Professional. There are no levels in between that the serious athletes can use as an indicator of ability or for common people to apply prestige too. A college football player and a high school football player are both amateur athletes but are vastly different in ability and prestige.

Now imagine that high school football player who is the best player in his league. If his league’s competition is at a lower level, he still may not be at the level that his favorite colleges compete at. Now imagine the ranking system for the leagues doesn’t exist either, there’s no D1 or D2, there’s just football. If there’s no one around to check his ego, he may try and make the jump to college-level competition and meet a rude awakening.

IRude Awakeningn football that rude awakening would most likely happen at some sort of combine or college try-out. In combat-sports, it happens on a stage with an audience and a killer across the ring causing you brain trauma to score points.

On top of that, once you go pro in the US, you can never fight as an amateur again. Going pro can be a costly mistake that if made too soon, could result in a series of damaging losses and end your fighting career entirely. These are the risks that an amateur fighter takes when they go pro.

The question of whether or not to go pro also depends on which combat sport you mean to compete in. Once you’ve gone pro in any combat sport, you must remain a professional in all of them. That means if you’re a great grappler and you go pro in MMA, you can never take an amateur boxing match to build that skillset. Competing as a professional boxer is your only option if you want boxing experience on your resume. Needless to say, professional boxers tend to be better boxers than great grapplers, so it can be hard to cultivate their boxing skillset with competition once they have already gone pro.

It also takes more competition experience to get prepared in a serious fashion to go pro in some combat sports over others. It seems to be related to the age and progression of the particular sport within the USA. MMA is the youngest combat sport and least developed on the amateur level. Mixed martial artists tend to have the least amount of amateur fights before going pro, sometimes not even having 1 and still reaching the UFC. As opposed to amateur boxers who usually average around 100 matches and couldn’t possibly hope to even win one professional fight without amateur experience. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was 84-6 as an amateur, and Andre Ward was 114-5. Most successful Muay Thai fighters find themselves right in the middle, averaging anywhere between 20-50 amateur fights before making the leap to better competition and a paycheck.

That doesn’t speak very authentically to the skillsets that need to be acquired or the time spent training to acquire them. In all combat sports, years of training are required in order to make a serious run at the professional ranks.

With all of this considered it still leaves me dumbfounded. There really isn’t a right or a wrong answer to the question. I have personally seen professional fighters in all combat sports that I know I could destroy in competition, yet I remain an amateur. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make me prepared for a professional career in any of the combat sports.

MBK Fight

So what does? Over the last few years I’ve taken it upon myself to find the answer to this question from every resource available to me. In either my own, or other’s interviews, I’ve been able to extrapolate advice from champions like Gastón Bolaños, Kevin Ross, Joe Schilling and world renown coaches like Eric Haycraft and Kirian Fitzgibbons. They all seem to reiterate the same advice. Stay amateur for as long as possible. Once you go pro the stakes are higher and the competition is brutal. The most effectual piece of information that I found came from Eric Haycraft when he explained to me in an interview that going pro means you are going to fight less. There are significantly less promotions out there for professional fighters, especially in boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai and its much harder to find fights.

So if you’re thinking about going pro, consider this.

The Striking Corner Podcast returns Dec. 22nd and a call to all Muay Thai fanatics! + VIDEO

 

The Striking Corner Podcast will make it’s triumphant return on Tuesday Dec. 22nd. It has been a little over 4 months since our last podcast and although we never intended to halt production. Juggling the birth of my new son, heavy demands at work, a tediously long commute, and some nagging health issues caused me to halt production and tell Vinny we would nee to put the podcast on hiatus. After all, family and health come first and I needed to focus on those issues first so that I could later give the podcast and website the 100% attention it deserves.

If you know anything about me, when it comes to design, multimedia, etc…I am a perfectionist. I want The Striking Corner to be the best looking website and the most professional sounding podcast. So I dedicate a lot of time to aesthetics. However, what I realize is that spending so much time on the aesthetics of the site and balancing my work at The Striking Corner with a full time job and a growing family has made our content suffer.

There are so many sites dedicated to Muay Thai and Kickboxing lately that do very well of keeping fervent Muay Thai fans informed of all the upcoming events, fights, news, etc…and I want The Striking Corner to be just as good at providing news and information as it is pleasant to look at and listen to. So that is my goal for 2016. We will basically be making a call to all our photographer friends, writing friends, and passionate Muay Thai friends for help with keeping the content flowing at The Striking Corner website. Vinny and I will take care of the podcast but we have definitely arrived at a point where we need help with writing articles and covering events i.e. pictures, recaps, etc.

If you are a writer or photographer looking for a place to showcase your work and get noticed. Then The Striking Corner will be the place for you. We don’t make a dime from the site as of yet. So all work is strictly on a volunteer basis. But as we grow you will grow with us. So if you are interested in working with us in any of the capacities mentioned above then please send us an e-mail at info@strikingcorner.com

So with all that said, our podcast returns on Tues. Dec. 22nd, we will then take a break for the holidays and will be back in full on Jan. 5th! I’m working on a few new things to make the podcast sound better than ever so stay tuned.  The video above is just a start and features just some of the new audio imaging for our podcast.  We just want to make it sound better than ever and also aim to have the best guests on the show EVER!  Stay tuned and thank you for all of your support.  Happy Holidays!

  • Eric Rivera – CEO of The Striking Corner

Last Night in Bangkok

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece after one of my trips to Bangkok.  It was written just a few hours before heading to the airport to come back to the states. This particular experience was unique because unlike my other trips to Bangkok, I would not be staying in a Muay Thai camp and their usually very minimal and for lack of a better word, spartan accommodations.  During this trip I actually had the privilege to stay at the very luxurious and legendary Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. The company I was doing some work  for at the time put me up at this breathtaking hotel with all expenses paid so the experience was needless to say very different than my previous trips to Thailand.  

It’s about 8 pm, I’m sitting at my hotel room desk contemplating what I am going to do tonight, this being my final night in Bangkok.

Once again, I took the 3 leg, almost 30 hour journey from Miami to Dallas, Dallas to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Bangkok. Once again I arrived to the sweltering heat of this Kingdom that feels like home, and once again I was bewitched, enchanted, and awestruck by this mysteriously intoxicating city.

The Oriental Hotel - Bangkok

The Oriental Hotel – Bangkok

As I write these words I’m sitting at a finely crafted wooden desk in my very chic and expensive room at one of Southeast Asia’s most celebrated colonial era hotels, The Oriental – Bangkok. Room service seems to be active 24/7. With absolutely dedicated customer service that borders on overkill, it seems as if every time I leave my room, even if only to have a quick breakfast or lunch, room service sneaks into my room to tidy up. I have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Champagne -given to me upon my arrival, and for which I haven’t found the time nor occasion to drink- put on ice daily and again neatly placed into its sterling silver bucket. Pants, shorts, and shirts that had been strewn throughout my room just moments ago, are once again neatly folded or hung in the closet.

I am currently snacking on two fruit cocktail shooters made from Thailand’s freshest local fruit, evidently the five star hotels’ idea of the appropriate turn down service treat, which I have to say is much better than those silver and green wrapped chocolate mints given in most hotels stateside. Yes, I’m definitely not going to complain, this luxury is pretty much undeserved. However,…I will take it.

However, even with all this luxury, my mind is just consumed by the sadness that in just a few hours I am leaving once again. The 30 hour trip halfway around the world to get here seems like it was just yesterday and once again here I am getting ready to go “home”. The view of Bangkok from my 14th story hotel window only serves as further torture at this moment. The lights of the city below and the moonlight reflecting off the Chao Praya are beckoning me, begging me to stay. Or is it me begging? Yes, it’s probably me.

 

Bangkok at Night

Bangkok at Night

This is Thailand. It is home.

It feels more like home to me now than my real home. Every time I am back home, I am longing to go “home”. Bangkok consumes my thoughts, its klongs and sois the subject of every dream. I re-walk the streets of the city, taking in the smell of the various food stalls that line each thoroughfare. I long for Yaowarat’s neon lights, the hustle and bustle of its many oversized seafood restaurants with each locale having waiters wearing the restaurants designated color.

I sit here writing this, because even though I am here, I already miss it. I know that the saddening hour when I must board the plane that takes me away from here, is rapidly approaching. I fear that if I go out and enjoy myself now, the enjoyment will cause for the hours to pass rapidly and that moment to come sooner. If I stay here, looking at this clock, while staring at the lights of the city I love, time will slow down…hopefully stop.

Bangkok is truly intoxicating and habit forming. It’s no less addictive than the Yaa Baa that currently plagues Bangkok’s poorer sectors. I have been here many times before and still can’t seem to get my fix, or feed my hunger. This lovely obsession with Muay Thai brought me here, and now the city and country itself want to keep me here. When I go home, it’s constantly going to call for me. And like a junky looking to score his next high, I’m going to come crawling back, foaming at the mouth. However, right now, the time for talk is over.

The lights beckon, the girls call out into the night, and the streets scream for my presence. There is one last dish of Grapow Moo waiting for me, one last bottle of Singha or Beer Chang to quench this thirst, and one…last night in Bangkok to exprience. Not even this room at one of the most luxurious of Southeast Asian colonial era remnants, a tribute to years long since past, is going to keep me from this last night and these last few hours. Tonight I get lost in the sweet chaos of Bangkok once again. Don’t wait up.

See you when I see you.

Martial Arts and Fighting

By James Gregory –

My amateur Muay Thai record is now 2-7-2, well 2-8-2 after I began this draft and lost another decision this past weekend. While I have had some extremely close ones, from a competitive standpoint, in no way is that a “good” record. While neither is it a good feeling to come up on the losing side of a decision, or to be knocked out three times, I feel that I have gradually become a better fighter, and I am having fun. I enjoy training and fighting Muay Thai. It makes me feel human. 

And over the course of the now almost six years since I first stepped into a gym, my life outside of the gym has also improved dramatically. I have regained my health after ten years of struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse. I’ve become strong enough to have a real relationship with the person I love rather than stringing together superficiality and shying away when it was time to stop pretending there wasn’t a person on the other end. I was diligent enough to stick with a new idea long enough for it to become a successful business despite not beginning with any knowledge or experience in the field. I have, I hope, developed a healthy concept of confidence, a belief in myself, not cockiness, a belief one is better than others. 

That said, I’m sure I’m also trying to justify a jealousy of those more competitively successful than I am. I’ve always heard that “fighting’s not for everyone,” and I’ve always wanted to convince myself—am still trying to convince myself—that I’m one of the select few who it is for. Everyone wants to be one of the cool kids, at some level. 

And to be honest, I am frustrated. I’ve learned from some of the very best teachers; I feel like I do my work, actively work to absorb new techniques and get better, take the matches that are given to me—some against better fighters, some on short notice—and I would like to think I fight with heart. I’m developing a complex of sorts. I wonder why everyone else is able to win and not me; what is wrong with me; what do all the “winners” have that I’m missing. Where is the line between pushing yourself and being kind to yourself, between working to become better and self-abuse, between a healthy desire to win and an obsession to be better than others. A lot of the time, I just don’t feel like I have the qualities it takes to be a fighter, and it’s a heartbreaking feeling, especially when contrasted with how much I love Muay Thai. 

And then I step back and take the long view: realizing everything Muay Thai has done for my health, happiness and sobriety, the positive human relationships it’s allowed me to form, the challenges its helped me face outside of the ring, the possibility of teaching others later in life, and again, the simple fact that I enjoy doing it. Every day of my life, it’s where I most want to be. It’s a constantly deeper descent, or ascent, into profound self-reflection which is simultaneously terrifying and gratifying. 

When you step onto the mats of a Muay Thai camp, even as a first-time student taking an intro class, you are immediately placed into a situation of confrontation. You find yourself surrounded by other people, being asked to do something very difficult with your body in front of those people and have your efforts critiqued. You will need to do things incorrectly, to fail, hundreds and thousands of times to have a taste of proficiency and the feeling of having learned, and earned, something. And for that process to continue, it must remain unchanging. You must simply be open to failing at higher and higher levels, and be open to critique in more and more minute detail, being put in a brighter and brighter, and in the case of fighting, a literal spotlight.

This is where martial arts become a microcosm of life, and where the pixelated mysticism surrounding the “magic” of the martial artist resolves itself into clearer focus. If you repeatedly place yourself into situations where you must perform; are repeatedly willing to fail and to see your failures only as opportunities for improvement, and come to view the process not as a “30 Day Challenge,” but as an essential and eternal philosophical state of being that applies not only to your art, but to your entire life, on top of the physical benefit of fun, regular exercise, it is near impossible not to see holistic improvement throughout your whole being.

I believe this process is very much possible whether or not you fight. While the scale of intensity may be magnified, fighting is still a similar process to martial arts practice. Both require the same type of vulnerability and humility, if at different levels. What level you pick is relative to yourself, to your goals, and to your own happiness.

But what is the essential difference between the act of fighting and martial arts? I think one oversimplified answer is to say that if you’re not fighting, you’re not “really” doing martial arts. After all, it’s not a mit punching, bag kicking or board breaking art, it’s a martial art, right? People will point to arts and practitioners that don’t spar, or don’t get into the ring, and say they aren’t doing what it’s “really” all about.

I can see both sides of this. If you never fight, never even spar with contact, but are confident in your ability to fight based solely on theoretical study, I suppose my question would be, “How do you know?”

At the same time, it’s also a very strange idea to me that the “practicality” of martial arts is defined solely in their value as a form of hand-to-hand combat. In the six years I’ve studied Muay Thai, outside of the twelve match fights and five smokers I’ve competed in, I’ve never once been forced to test its “practicality” in a street fight. So, if I judge the practicality of something I’ve put thousands of hours into by the yardstick of something I’ve had to do zero times in the “real world,” how much sense does that definition make?

Even those who fight for a living, or for their family’s living, and even those who are unfortunately forced to do so, ultimately fight under a somewhat contrived premise. Instead of using force for sheer survival such as the defense of their country, or homes, or family, or their own person, it is for others’ entertainment, spectating, and even wagering. It’s called a “show” for a reason, because it’s spectacle. And the added irony is that I don’t believe anyone who fights does so at all for the people watching. It’s much too difficult a thing to do for reasons as extrinsic as people you’ve never met looking for a place to drink beers on a Friday night. Be it the desire for personal challenge, or economic need in the form of the “prize” that the prizefighter fights for to put food on his or her table, I don’t believe any of the reasons the folks who step into the ring do so really have to do with the crowd.

I in no way mean to trivialize the fact that many do make their living, and many a very meager living, by fighting—only to say that they are not fighting their opponent directly for their next meal, but rather to receive payment from a promoter, and ultimately from the spectators who come for fun. Everything is one step removed from itself. This is also why in many martial arts circles, particularly in my experience in Muay Thai, there is little animosity between fighters, rather a highly refined craftsmanlike sense of mutual artistry and respect. How else could you fight your friends?

But to return to the question of the difference between martial arts and fighting, I think the real answer is most likely “same same, but different.” I believe the goal of martial arts in our age is for many is the betterment of self. One may never be a great fighter, but if they are able to take the sharp extremity of fighting and direct it toward other areas of their personality or life to better them, the fight is very much practical, and very much beneficial to them. It is the highest level of practice leveraged toward the highest level of life.

One can be a great fighter yet never see that greatness wash through the rest of their life. You can have a great fight career and then end up a broken person because that’s all you allow  your greatness to become, and without it, you have nothing left to hold onto when your body can’t fight another round.

At the same time, I’ve seen people start Muay Thai much later in life, come to class diligently, and grow and become happier as a person, family member, and businessperson, without ever stepping into the ring. A person just like this, who I draw continual inspiration from at the gym, told me, “I don’t see myself ever actually fighting, but I do Muay Thai because during class and learning sparring everything is completely real. I want to learn how to be right there and give everything I can—mind, body and heart. I think the practice has already changed me quite a lot for the better—especially as a parent.”

The truly legendary people, those for whom the arts are their entire lives, and a big part of the lives of others, are those who have the talent and dedication to become accomplished fighters, but who also channel their greatness toward teaching others, building and maintaining gyms, and positively impacting their students and the people around them—the greatness they have developed in the gym and the ring transforms into a greatness that shines throughout their entire lives. Or perhaps better put, the two have always been the same.

Even after fighting for three years, I feel extremely conflicted, and often entirely clueless, about what I’m fighting for. I don’t believe I have many of the qualities it takes to be great: youth, natural talent, a certain selfishness that puts one’s own training always first, and perhaps most ironically, I have no desire to hurt people or even really to win. Simultaneously, I know that if I want to help people by passing on the ring and life knowledge Muay Thai has given me, I want that knowledge to be as authentic as it can be.

Despite, or perhaps because of this internal conflict, I still feel that the way out is through. And I can at least take peace in the fact that I challenged myself and had an honest experience, albeit a difficult and humble one. I think a lot of this thing is a figuring out as you go along, the meaning becomes apparent only through the process.

I also must remind myself that, by most measures, three years is an incredibly short amount of time. I was speaking to a good friend and fellow fighter with a similar amount of experience who told me, “I feel like I am only beginning to understand Muay Thai.” You look at the standout folks that go from amateur to pro quickly in the US and it can be quite humbling, but for most, I believe myself included, the road is long, and you have to trust and enjoy the process. I’m only just beginning, and there’s no real carrot at the end of the stick. You have to just take every day and every fight and take joy in the process and the learning.

“People say that what we’re all seeking a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”—Joseph Campbell

The Gift of the Fight

—James Gregory is the author of Paleo for Fighters, Heart of 8: What Is Muay Thai?, Primal Deliverance: How Paleo Saved My Life from Addiction, and Japan: Stories from the Inside

Once you hear the ripping, nails-across-the-chalkboard tear of the duct tape being wrapped around your gloves, there is no turning back. You have to walk out in front of hundreds of people, three-quarters-naked, and get into a fist fight—and not just any fist fight, but one that should be dancelike in its grace and fluidity. If you are performing the wai kru, then you actually have to dance on top of that. You must simultaneously be a dog in a fight and a link in an ancient artistic chain, a proverbial jasmine blossom in the phuang malai floral garland that adorn the fighters for good luck before the fight.

In my first few fights, all this made me incredibly nervous. I wasn’t scared of my opponent so much or even of getting hurt, or “scared” at all really. It was—and there is no more accurate descriptor for it—”performance anxiety.” “What if I get in here and totally freak out?” “Am I going to be able to throw the technique that we worked on?” “I hope I can represent my camp well.” More than anything, I would get nervous about being able to do the one thing that it is all about: showing good Muay Thai.

Part of how I began to escape from this anxiety was by getting out of my own head and into the moment. This is one of my biggest challenges in life, yet one that I have achieved gradual, albeit still incomplete release from by knowing when it’s time to analyze, and when it is time to simply “flow.” Once you are in a performance setting, it’s no longer time to think, but to do. Make no mistake about it, there is no harder performance than a ring fight.

You have to trust that the years and months and weeks and hours and countless repetitions and pushing-through that make up your training will simply glide from your subconscious, through your muscle memory, and into a good performance, a good fight. Once I got to the place where I realized, “all you have to do is fight,” my mind became clearer, and I could get in there and just do the thing. Better than before, at least.

Since moving to Jersey City this April and beginning to train with Ajahn Coban at Coban’s Muay Thai Camp in New York City, I’ve been fortunate to get a glimpse into what it means to have grown up as a Muay Thai fighter in Thailand. In the United States, Muay Thai seems to attract mostly educated, often artistic, and often otherwise professionally accomplished practitioners. Yet, from what I have glimpsed, in Thailand, many fighters begin fighting as small children to escape poverty. While many of us have to go out of our way to find something hard, a hard life is all they have ever known. Meditating on this has given me a lot of gratitude.

During the last few days of my training camp for my fight at Warriors Cup XVIII earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting a fighter I had long followed and admired, “Boom” Whattanaya, as he finished his training camp for his WBC championship fight with Rami Ibrahim. Just before meeting Boom, I had read an interview with him in which he describes his life of fighting as a child so his parents could eat, of 5am-to-11pm days split between factory work and training, a life he continued for years. And yet despite this—or perhaps because it— he was one of the kindest, brightest souls I have ever met.

There was one particular line in the interview which resonated with me: “All fighters are friends and everyone respects each other. Nobody trash talks and all fighters are treated equal and are grateful for their opponents.” While the idea of respect is indeed one of martial arts’ greatest gifts, this time, it was the last bit that really stuck with me: grateful for their opponents. Grateful for someone who has trained for weeks and is going to do everything in their power to physically hurt you as much as possible. At first counterintuitive, but to me now, resoundingly true.

Muay Thai has given me more than perhaps anything in this world: my sobriety, physical health, happiness, a real hobby, a social life not at a bar, friendship, a reason to get out of the house every day…and the gift of being able to compete in—to perform—something that both includes and transcends sport. Of all the other terrible places I could be or have been in my life, I’m on the mats with a fit body and a good mood, surrounded by real friends doing something fun and beautiful. When it’s time to fight, my opponent is the one person out of all the people in the whole entire world that is directly allowing me to realize my dream in its ultimate form. What more could I ask for? How much more grateful could I be?

I had heard plenty of times that “the fight is the fun part,” and for the first time, it truly was. Locked in with the shiny red tape around my gloves, the mongkol on my head and my campmates behind me, for the first time, I felt elation. I couldn’t wait to get in there and enjoy myself, to get to do something very few people ever get to do, and something that brings other people joy through its beauty, its martial art. The tape that had been plastic handcuffs imprisoning me in eight eternal minutes of anxiety and violence transformed into colorful ribbons that sealed the wrapping on a rare and beautiful gift, the gift of the fight.

Profiles in Muay Thai: Global Edition – Vol. 1 – Gabriel Varga

– by Eric Rivera –

There is a pretty common saying in sporting circles that states that “champions are not born, they are made.” While this is certainly the case the majority of the time, sometimes you come across athletes that seem to have both talent and a unique trait of being able to motivate themselves to work harder than anyone, training to exhaustion without anyone pushing them. Another saying tells us that, “when no one is watching, live as if someone is.” True champions and world class athletes follow a modified version of that quote which instead reads, “when no one is watching, TRAIN as if someone is.” Very few athletes can push themselves passed their limits without a coach, trainer, friend, or fans egging them on. Fighting is an individual sport. While all fighters need someone to hold pads or mitts for them, fighting is very much a sport where the fighter is required to push himself. Outside of the training sessions on pads, the fighter has to spend countless hours doing road work, running for miles on end, or sprinting up hills and inclines to build his or her conditioning.

There may also be days where a fighters coach or teammates may not be able to hold pads for them. On those days, a fighter has to will himself, no matter how exhausted, to jump rope, shadow box, and hit heavy bags or do their own strength and conditioning to the point of failure. And when they reach failure, they have to pick themselves up, on their own, and do just one more round. The difference between champions and the rest is that most champions will work incredibly hard even when they are not under the watchful eye of their trainers.

Gabriel Varga is exactly that type of champion. Read More