In the first episode of 2018, we decided we needed to start off the new year of The Striking Corner right! And who better to kick off 2018, then CSA Gym owner and head coach extraordinaire, Kirian Fitzgibbons! “Coach K”, as he is known to his many students and peers, is without a doubt one of the top striking coaches in North America, coaching the likes of Kevin Ross, Gaston Bolaños, Zoila Frausto, Zach Bunnell, Eddie Abasolo, Alexis Davis, Miriam Nakamoto, and the list goes on and on. Coach K has been a huge part of the growth of Muay Thai and Kickboxing in America for quite some time. He knows all the players and has seen it all. He is very passionate about combat sports, his students, and his brand. He pulls no punches when giving his opinions, takes no bullshit, and we love him for it. Yet for some, his take no prisoners attitude rubs them the wrong way however the success of his gym, his fighters, and his system cannot be denied. In this episode, we discuss everything from his background in combat sports and defensive tactics to the state of Muay Thai and Kickboxing in America. We also discuss why many fighters need to stop bitching, understand that in combat sports you have to learn to promote yourself and that there truly is no secret to success, it’s all about hard work, structure, and the occasional usage of the term “motherfucker!” Enjoy!
We have hit the 50 episode mark! And in this 50th episode of The Striking Corner, Eric and Vinny speak with the Pro Muay Thai & MMA Fighter, CSA Gym alum, owner and head coach of Reno City Kickboxing, and IFMA Team USA Bronze Medalist, Zach Bunnel!. The guys met Zach at the recent 2017 Coaches Clinic at CSA Gym in Dublin, California, and needless to say we knew we had to get Zach on the podcast right away.
Zach is a talented fighter, a total character, and without question extremely passionate about combat sports and the proper application of them in order to maximize what he feels is the proficiency, timing, and rhythm of our bodies, or as he likes to call it, “our bio-mechanical robots.”
Get ready to dive into the combat obsessed mind of Zach Bunnell! Open your mind and listen!
Bellator 168, Florence – Kevin Ross: Bellator Kickboxing ‘doing it smart’ and amazed by mainstream exposure
Bellator Kickboxing returns to action on December 10 via Bellator 168, in the historic city of Florence, Italy. Kevin Ross will be taking on Alessio Arduino in what “The Soul Assassin” hopes will be a more technical fight compared to his previous visit to Italy when he defeated, Matteo Taccini via unanimous decision at Bellator 152. Also featuring on the Florence kickboxing card will be: Joe Schilling vs. Victorio Germano and Giorgio Petrosyan vs. Jordan Watson.
2016 has been a resurgent year for both kickboxing and Muay Thai with various global promotions such as: GLORY, Enfusion Live, Bellator Kickboxing, Kunlun Fight, Muay Thai Grand Prix, Yokkao, Thai Fight and Lion Fight, accumulating more mainstream media exposure (in the western world) than ever before for both rule sets of the striking arts.
Kevin Ross had recently guested on the Joe Rogan Experience with Gaston Bolaños following Lion Fight 31, in an excellent podcast that educated a much wider and different audience than both CSA Gym fighters normally have, about the difference in not only Muay Thai and kickboxing but also, the level of real world class striking compared to MMA. Most importantly, such media exposure (and more) is exactly what both sports need, in order to enhance the profile to the same level that pro boxing and MMA benefit from.
“Looking back to the majority of my career I never thought I’d still be fighting while kickboxing and muay thai was getting this kind of exposure. I never thought I’d be fighting on TV, ever! So for it to be happening and for it to be happening while I’m still active and a high level is amazing to me. You know I think back to not that long ago there was like, I don’t know if this was ever gonna happen.”
Ross was also optimistic about the long term direction in which Bellator Kickboxing were headed in and credited the promotion for not rushing too soon without first developing their brand of kickboxing and most importantly, their own kickboxing superstars that will generate a bigger fanbase into the future and safeguard the promotion’s viability too.
“This show is going to be amazing you know like I was saying before, its a little frustrating how slow it seems to be going but thats the way you have to do things correctly in order to build them up.”
“Thats the mistake a lot of promoters make and have made is that they try to go too big too early. They didn’t take the time to build up their talent, local talent, their exposure and then they do this giant show and then nobody shows up and they lose all their money and they’re gone forever. So, Bellator’s been really doing it smart, taking their time, you know, pulling in the big stars when they can and kinda slowly building their resume, its great to be a part of.”
Bellator 168 – Bellator Kickboxing, Florence:
Lightweight: Giorgio Petrosyan (82-2-2, 1 NC) vs. Jordan Watson (48-11-2)
Flyweight: Denise Kielholtz (45-3) vs. Gloria Peritore (11-1-1)
Lightweight: Kevin Ross (31-9) vs. Alessio Arduini (26-14-2)
Middleweight: Joe Schilling (19-9) vs. Victorio Lermano (30-7)
Welterweight: Karim Ghajji (96-13-1) vs. Luca Novello (22-4-2)
Ognjen Topic recently fought Muay Thai legend, Saenchai, last month at Yokkao 22 in Honk Kong and unfortunately, lost by decision. There aren’t many Farangs that are given much of a chance in the minds of Thai boxing fans when matched-up against the +400 fight veteran but then again, Topic is regarded as ‘one of the best technically gifted Thai fighters’ of the current crop (by none other than Damien Trainor who, was coaching at CSA Gym during November).
However, Topic himself was the first to admit that the fight didn’t unfold anywhere as what he would’ve liked or had planned:
“I’m not happy at all about the fight but we’re talking about a guy that’s been doing it for a very long time and he has quite a bit more experience than I do so, I’m trying to stay positive. It’s difficult especially when you’re competitive individual.”
“Before the fight and during the fight I felt great mentally, physically you know. I didn’t look at him as some, some god of Muay Thai. I just looked at him as an opponent and I prepared myself as I always do. I went into the fight with the mentality of winning and even when I was in the fight, you know it was difficult, I still wanted to beat him so, that’s that.”
It’s interesting that Topic mentioned the ‘mentality of fighting’ because not only is it fair to say that fighting is 99% in the mind but so is having the self-belief and aptitude in achieving our life goals and dreams too. Self doubt can really cripple fighters mentality; a good example of this would be the way how pro boxer, Nicholas Walters surrendered after six rounds against Vasyl Lomachenko, over the weekend in Las Vegas. Topic explained what he does away from the gym in his spare time to help him mentally with moving forward in his fighting career.
“Another thing I like to do is sometime if I have some downtime is I go on YouTube and look up documentaries on any businessman. You know I like I’m into cars so I’ll go look up the guy that started the company Koenigsegg, you know an exotic car company or Pagani. So, you kinda just listen to how they talk and how they began these things, their story and their dreams and how everything came to fruition. Then it kinda you know puts things into perspective you can follow this steps as well from other people and then you can learn from them.”
“So it really doesn’t matter what profession it is, you can always take something away from any I guess, elite person, on that high level that has that mentality to be persistent and dedicated to their craft.”
Muay Thai is one of the oldest forms of fighting and as a professional sport, doesn’t gain the high levels of mainstream media coverage compared to pro boxing. The likes of Joe Schilling and Kevin Ross have both previously voiced the difficulties that they’ve faced in their careers before the emergence of GLORY, Lion Fight, Bellator Kickboxing and Muay Thai Grand Prix in recent years. Even kickboxing has struggled especially since the “Golden era” of the ‘old skool’ K-1 days in Japan.
However the tide would seem to be turning for both Muay Thai and kickboxing especially now that the UFC have, for the first time ever, partnered with another sporting promotion i.e. GLORY Kickboxing to be their PPV online media partner via UFC Fight Pass for streaming, GLORY Collision: Rico Verhoeven vs Badr Hari.
Even UFC colour commentator, Joe Rogan has been voicing his support and love for K1/Thai rules and recently had Kevin Ross, Gaston Bolanos and their coach (CSA Gym owner), Kieran Fitzpatrick on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast which, Topic was delighted about for the long term benefit of the sport.
“It was great. I really hope that a lot of people tuned in. Kevin Ross really gave a really good explanation on you know, Muay Thai and the difference between the striking between Muay Thai and MMA and it pretty much how all of us Muay Thai fighters feel you know but we never really have a stage to say that; and I think he kinda opened up Joe Rogan’s eyes as well, you know with clinch and things like that because it doesn’t seem like a lot of those guys understand and know the difference between the two, the two sports. So its great that they were on the show and they were able to kind of give that differentiation.”
There’s a particular story that tends to reincarnate itself at different gyms all over the world. It almost always starts with a ridiculous description of a guy who thinks he’s the next Bruce Lee. It’s a relatively close-minded individual that has a distinct idea that he already knows everything he needs to know. The ego on this fellow is huge, he’s usually belted in some sort of traditional martial art, and he’s typically impossible to teach. These guys come in on sparring days with big unrealistic dreams of their current selves as being the prodigal son of martial arts without ever having actually learned anything about realistic fighting. As they start to spar it becomes quickly apparent that they have something to prove and don’t understand the etiquette of combat sports. They spar too hard and they swiftly become a negative presence in the learning process for everyone else. At this point, most gyms either just kick the person out, or they have a particular member of the fight team they like to call on in these circumstances to teach some humility.
This is how a 16-year old, Gastón Bolaños earned the nickname he still carries today at 23, “The Dream Killer”
The Dream Killer started training at the F-14 School of Champions in Lima, Peru when he was around 10 years old. Immediately feeling his own talent, he jumped into full training and took a couple junior amateur fights in his home country. At 13, he and his and father moved to California and surrounded themselves with extended family and found by coincidence, that Fairtex Mountain View was right around the corner. Gastón immediately started back with his training under the experienced eyes of trainers Jongsanan Fairtex and Kirian Fitzgibbons. Fitzgibbons, who would later become the full-time trainer of Gastón, had only been in the same room with The Dream Killer a couple of times at this point. It wasn’t until the 2008 IFMA World Championships in Busan, South Korea, that he actually got a chance to witness the heart and grit of the young fighter and decided to take him on as his student full time.
After the IFMA’s, Gastón decided his best chance to make something out of his love for Muay Thai was to move to Dublin and become a full time fighter at Combat Sports Academy under Kirian. However, he was a minor and needed a legal guardian to finish high school and his father was set on moving back to Peru. That’s when Kirian took him in as one of his own. Fitzgibbons became his legal guardian so Gastón could finish out high school and started the extraordinary trainer/fighter relationship they still share today.
One day this young man will be a World Champion in the pros like he was in the amateurs … @dreamkiller_bolanos has the potential to be one of the best in the world … And he’s only 23 SMH 😂. Without question the most exciting prospect in American Muaythai 7-0 as a Pro 7 KO/TKO’s. And more importantly he has become my “rock” on this team. I can not thank him enough for all he’s done for his teammates and me this past year. I love you Gastón ❤️ #dreamkiller #csaarmy #csafamily #csagym #spin2win #gymtricks101 #ateam #csagrownwithperuvianroots #muaythaimecca #wmcchampion #houseofchampions #csavstheworld
As an amateur, Gastón had almost 30 sanctioned fights going 23-3 with 1 draw and various smoker fights that he doesn’t include in his record. When he was still just 15, they had run through all of the juniors in the area. They had to lie about his age so he could continue to get experience until he turned 18. He was fighting grown men before he even hit his second growth spurt. On one occasion, as Gastón recalled on the phone, he was fighting in an amateur modified rules Muay Thai fight at the 6-Flags theme park in California with a 30-something year old man who apparently trained predominantly in MMA. The man, who was losing at the time, picked Gastón up in his frustration and slammed him down as if they were in the cage in an illegal throw that badly injured The Dream Killer’s arm. Gastón thought he’d broken his collarbone. When he returned to the corner he told Kirian that he couldn’t move his left arm and Kirian responded, “Shut up, you’re going to get DQ’d, just knock him out with your right”. Gastón responded promptly by knocking out the 30-something year old MMA man with a straight right cross and a smile. My jaw dropped even further when he told me he had a fight scheduled for two weeks later and he didn’t drop out. Instead, he trained in a sling and just focused on using the right side of his body. Right there in that moment it became apparent to me what Kirian saw in him at the IFMA’s in 2008. He went on to fight two weeks later to a badly decided draw in his opponent’s hometown and found out after that he had a grade II separation in his shoulder.
After he ran out of opponents again, it became clear it was time to go pro.
Bolaños met Brian Del Rosario at Lion Fight 14 for his pro debut and proved he was ready for the big leagues in dramatic fashion. The fight ended with a huge spinning back elbow that landed on the face of Del Rosario, opening a cut that stopped the fight by TKO. Bolaños thanked his trainer and his team and took his win with a huge smile and a humble attitude as he moved onto his next training camp.
Since then he’s had 7 professional bouts and some incredible patterns have already started to emerge. The first one and probably the most obvious is what Kevin Ross and rest of the team at CSA like to call the “Hellbow” or the spinning back elbow.
A video posted by @csagym on
The spinning back-elbow is an impressive strike to land in any way, but it’s also a technique that less experienced fighters are inclined to be excited about because it’s flashy. This leads most of these inexperienced fighters to have no set-ups or intelligent uses for the strike at all, they really just wing it and hope it lands.
What makes Gastón’s spinning back-elbow so impressive is that it’s used cerebrally. It’s professional, it’s used technically and he makes this obvious by how many different situations he can use it in. Coming forward, he uses the overhand to set up the spin for the elbow. He interlaces the two strikes together so his opponents never know if the overhand is coming to the face or its being used to peel the defense away, which makes them ripe for the elbow. If the elbow misses he can simply keep spinning with another overhand or straight right and use the momentum he’s created for an impressive display of dominance in combination. With the powerful forward momentum, sometimes he lands inside the clinch. As we can see when he KO’d Caleb Archer, he quickly gets inside, frames the clinch with bicep control and immediately explodes into a vicious spinning elbow that ends the fight.
He can also use it moving backward as a counter. This is probably the most impressive use of the strike because it requires expert level timing and composure when an opponent is being the aggressor. In his fifth professional fight he met the veteran, Ben Yelle, who had over 8 times the experience. The Spinning-Elbowlaños caught Ben as he came in with his 1-2 combination in perfect timing right over the top of his straight right hand. The elbow made Ben Yelle do the stanky leg and opened up a huge cut that stopped the fight by TKO.
The spinning back elbow isn’t the only pattern that’s emerged. If I had to classify The Dream Killer in any category of fighter I would place him among the great fighters who fight with a rhythm. As he pushes forward on his opponents, there are stretches of time within his offense that he almost appears to be dancing. As if you placed a single bass beat on each of his shots that land in sequence, they would sound like a DJ mixing a beat. In his zone, he appears to be fully connected to everything around him. His fakes and feints are sewn-in seamlessly with the punching combinations and the powerful leg kicks that make up his arsenal and without which, wouldn’t make the spinning back elbow so dangerous. He mixes up his offense so often that it seems impossible to find a stretch of video where he throws the same string of combos in the same round. He’s unpredictable, fast, creative and technical and he always seems to leave his opponent’s blood on the canvas.
Gastón Bolaños AKA The Dream Killer, AKA The Spinning- Elbowlaños is a WMC South American Champion as a professional, and as an amateur he was a 2x US champion and a Junior World Champion.
His current record is 7-1 as a professional after a terribly decided split decision loss against Khronpet Phetrachapet at Lion Fight 27. He credits his team and his sponsors for his accomplishments so far in the sport. He made it a point to tell me how grateful he is for his coach, Kirian Fitzgibbons, and his training partners like Kevin Ross, Ky Hollenbeck, Gina Carano, Diego Llamas and the rest of the fight team at CSA in Dublin, California for creating such a family atmosphere.
The sponsors that give us the great pleasure of seeing an athlete like Gastón perform are Action Pro Gear, Out Of The Cave for his meal prep, Nutrishop in Dublin, and for the best shorts in the game, Muay Thai Addict.
He also asked me to add a big thank you to Lion Fight for facilitating so many of his fights and giving him the platform he needs to excel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the writing of this article the IKF has officially overturned Gaston Bolaños split decision loss versus Khronphet Phetrachapet. Therefore, Gaston still retains a perfect record of 8-0. Also, we must add that Gaston did not ask for the bout to be overturned and had nothing to do with that decision as he took the loss with class and never complained about the outcome of the fight. It was the IKF that independently decided to look into the judging of the fight and decided to overturn the decision. )
In this episode of The Striking Corner, Vinny & Eric speak with rising Muay Thai star Gaston Bolaños. Originally from Lima, Peru and now living in California, Gaston is currently on a hot streak since turning pro and currently holds a perfect 4-0 record under the Lion Fight Promotions banner with all wins coming by KO or TKO. We discuss Gaston’s career since he started Muay Thai at the age of 10, his move to the U.S., his ascent in the sport, and we also talk about fight sports always being full of haters. Great convo with a very down-to-earth, focused young man with a very bright future in the sport. Check it out!