Galen Okazaki

TSC presents “Profiles in American Muay Thai” Vol. 2 – Kevin Ross

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.

 

 

Battle in the Desert 5 Photos by Galen Okazaki + Weigh In Pics from Jeff Dojillo!

MTiL’s very own Galen Okazaki was once again our go to guy to capture all of the action at this past weekend’s Lion fight Promotions “Battle in the Desert 5” event! As always Galen snapped away and captured some great shots of all the action that took place inside the Lion Fight ring. Along with Galen’s pics we have also featured a few pics from the events weigh ins that were captured by our good friend, the very talented Jef Dojillo. Some of you may know Jeff, as he is the mind behind the exceptional “Into the Fight” series. Jeff is another one of our talented friends and also captured some great shots of the action at Lion Fight. In the Gallery below you will see Galen’s pics as well as the pics Jeff snapped at the weigh-ins.

If you wish to see the other images Jeff snapped at “Battle in the Desert 5” please make sure you check out his blog at Jeff Dojillo Photography. Enjoy the pics!

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TSC presents “Profiles in American Muay Thai” Vol. 8 – Tiffany VanSoest

By Galen Okazaki

On February 25, 2012, Tiffany VanSoest will climb into the ring at Lion Fight Promotion’s Battle of the Desert 5 at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. She’ll be looking to improve her professional Muay Thai record to 2-0 as she takes on Vivian Leung who currently owns a 2-0 record.

While fighting is her current vocation, more than anything else Tiffany VanSoest is an athlete and self diagnosed adrenaline junkie. Her athletic career began at the tender age of five when she kicked her first soccer ball. She continued to play soccer for club teams throughout grade school and junior high and for a championship team in high school. While in high school, Tiffany also found time to pole vault. She ended up being a league champion and she set a school record that was only very recently broken. As for soccer, she continued to play for two more years at the college level for a nationally ranked team (Cal State San Marcos). The only reason she stopped playing soccer was so that she could focus on her fight training. Along the way she also played basketball, baseball, golf and she has also been a lifelong surfer.

In light of all of this, how did she become interested in fighting you ask? *Ahem* turtles…as in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Watching the Ninja Turtles as a child, Tiffany knew she had to learn a martial art and was finally able to talk her parents into letting her enroll in a karate class at age eight. So she started to train at the United States Karate Organization in Riverside CA. She enthusiastically took to the sport and within a year she was competing in tournaments. By age 17 she had was a 2nd degree Black Belt (Nidan) and she had won USKA State, National and World titles. While she was highly successful and did well with the point scoring, she found that she really liked the full contact sparring the best. Read More

TSC presents “Profiles in American Muay Thai” Vol. 7 – Jose Palacios

by Galen Okazaki

The first time I saw Jose Palacios fight in person was in March of 2011 when he fought Joey Pagliuso. It was a tough fight that almost went the distance. But with only 15 seconds left in the fight, Jose unleashed a head kick that knocked Joey out cold. A few months later I saw Jose fight in person again at Battle in the Desert 2, when he took on Scotty Leffler. In a blur, he knocked out Scotty with an overhand right 20 seconds into the fight. At this point I really started to take notice of Jose Palacios, how could you not? His next fight with the up and coming Artem Sharoshkin at Stand Up Promotion’s National Muay Thai Championship fight card was highly anticipated. That fight ended up going the distance with Jose winning it by unanimous decision. With three strong wins in a row over well regarded opponents he had improved his professional Muay Thai record to 5-2. Jose had made a career breakthrough and he was on the rise. Next up, was a fight with the re-emergent Kit Cope and his 23-0 pro Muay Thai record at Lion Fight Promotion’s Battle in the Desert 4.

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Jose and his coach Rudi Ott

Jose Palacios was born in Managua, Nicaragua. When he was six, his parents left for the United States with his two older brothers, leaving Jose and his younger brother behind. The feeling of abandonment left Jose with a healthy dose of anger as he ended up getting into many fights as a young boy in Managua. After he turned eight, his parents finally sent for Jose and his younger brother. The reunited family settled in the San Francisco bay area. What Jose remembers of his early childhood was that he wanted to be a fighter. In Nicaragua, boxing is a very popular sport and it was the fighting style that Jose always wanted to pursue. Once here, his family was not able to afford to send him to any kind of formal martial training, so he and his friends formed fight clubs and fought in garages, alley ways and other hidden venues. Read More

Building the American Youth Muay Thai Fight Program

By Galen Okazaki

American Muay Thai has experienced a huge growth in popularity over the past few years. As this has been happening, our stature on the world stage continues to grow as well. American fighters have fought top international talent and held their own. What we continue to see though, especially with the Thai fighters, is the huge disparity in levels of experience. It is not uncommon for an American fighter to take on a Thai fighter who has been fighting since childhood and has ten times the fight experience. The physical talent levels may be equal, but it’s hard for American fighters to compensate for the experience. How do we solve for this? Well in California, Bryan Dobler and others are leading a grass roots movement to develop a program for young Muay Thai practitioners to safely get experience in the ring. It is their hope that this program can be grown and eventually adopted on a national level.

In the case of California, amateur level Muay Thai fights are currently governed by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC). Many would argue that these amateur level Muay Thai fights actually resemble kick-boxing versus real Muay Thai. No elbows, prajioud or mong kol are allowed. However the CSAC’s reach does not go beyond athletes 15 years of age or younger. This leaves an opening for holding fully sanctioned amateur bouts for youths 15 and younger to be done without the involvement of the CSAC. Bryan Dobler believes that if this is done in a highly organized manner, a universally recognized sanctioning organization, and most importantly with the safety of the participants in mind, young American nak muays can have their chance to safely gain experience in the ring. Read More

TSC presents “Profiles in American Muaythai” Vol. 4 – Rami Ibrahim

by Galen Okazaki

On November 19th, 2011 at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas NV, Rami Ibrahim will be stepping into the ring onto the biggest stage of his life as he takes on the formidable Coke Chunawhat for the WBC Muay Thai US National Lightweight title at Lion Fight Promotions “Battle in the Desert 4”. For Rami it has been challenging journey over time and space to get to this point.

Rami Ibrahim was born in Kuwait in May of 1982, but he is originally of Palestinian descent. At age eight, while he was visiting his older brothers here in the United States in 1990, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. Stranded here in the United States with his 5 older brothers and his mother, they anxiously awaited their father’s arrival from the now occupied Kuwait. One week later he made his way to America, but the family had lost everything they owned in the process. They now faced rebuilding their lives from scratch in a new country.

Much to their credit, Rami’s parents and older siblings did as much as they could do to shield him from the stresses of rebuilding their lives. He still suffered though. Being a new kid, from a different country who didn’t speak the language was all the reason classmates and neighbors needed to pick on him. Seeing this, Rami’s oldest brother, Rafat, became very concerned and made Rami an offer. He would send Rami to karate classes for six months but if Rami was confronted after that, if he didn’t break the arm of whomever attacked him his brother promised to break Rami’s arm himself.

Rami took his brother’s threat very seriously and applied himself to the karate training. In a short amount of time he found that he liked the training very much. Within the six months of training he came to the gym so often, he was eventually given his own key. As fate (or luck) would have it, shortly after completing his six months of training, Rami was confronted by six neighborhood boys. Within less than a minute he laid out all six of them. As he did this a wave of panic rushed over him and he ran all the way home. As he made his way to the front lawn, Rafat just happened to be standing there. Seeing Rami running and out of breath Rafat asked him if he had gotten beat up again, Rami was happy to report that he indeed used his training to defend himself. Rami kept his arm intact and he was never picked on again.

Rami continued to train karate under Dosinam Greg Purefoy. As he began competing in karate tournaments, Ibrahim struggled with the controlling the force with which he struck opponents (in competition karate, opponents do not strike each other full force). Seeing this, Purefoy recommended that Rami take up Muay Thai, it was a perfect match. Over the next few years, Rami was able to train with Thai legends Coban Lookchaomaesaitong and Vut Kamnark. Together they were laying the seeds for the growth of Muay Thai on the East coast.

Rami went on to have well over 100 amateur Muay Thai fights. In the late 1990’s he took some non-sanctioned full rules matches as well. In 2000, Rami fought a fighter from Sitan gym in New York who was training under Ajarn Aziz Nabih at his Sitan Gym in New York. After Ibrahim defeated Aziz’s fighter, both the fighter and Aziz approached him and asked him if he would be willing to train under Aziz. Rami said yes and he has been training under Aziz ever since.

Of all of the fights that Ibrahim has had, one stands out the most. In 2001 he fought Shennen Maceo for the WKA US Muay Thai Title. The fight went the distance and was called a draw. Ibrahim however thought he clearly won this fight. He got his chance for a rematch in 2003 again for a belt, this time the USKBA World Title. Again Rami thought he won the fight, but ended up losing a decision. Finally in 2008, when Chuck Norris formed his World Combat League, Ibrahim agreed to fight for the New York team when he realized that it would ensure him a rematch with Maceo who was fighting for the New Jersey team. Minutes before the fight he called Aziz (who couldn’t be there) and told him he would call him back within five minutes to let him know how he did. He kept his promise as he called Aziz within minutes to let him know that he had knocked out Maceo with a head kick just minutes into the first round.

This past season has been an active one for Rami. On January 12th while training in Thailand he fought the much larger Thai, Tiger Sua Kaewsamrit to a draw. In March he had a very tough fight with Matt Embree in the highly regarded Canadian based Journey Series 8 man tournament. He ended up losing the fight in a decision while Embree went on to defeat Coke Chunawhat in the next round and eventually win the tourney after defeating Josh Palmer. In July, Ibrahim took on Mark Deluca at the Warriors Cup XII event in New Jersey. In a fight that went the distance, Rami ended up taking the unanimous decision. Then in September, Rami successfully defended his WKA 132lbs North American title for the fourth time with a decision victory against Tristar Gym’s Philippe Allaire Landreville at Take-On Productions “September Showdown”.

Ibrahim has always been very active as a fighter. While his professional record stands at 16-5-2 his amateur record was 116-13-2. That’s over 150 fights for someone who has yet to turn thirty. Part of this heavy activity comes from his proficiency in many different martial arts. Rami is highly skilled in many other martial arts including freestyle Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing, Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. In addition his World Kickboxing Association (WKA) United States Muay Thai Championship he has won the (USKBA) International Muay Thai Championship, he’s a professional boxer and he was the Philadelphia All-Public Wrestling Champion his senior year in high school. Muay Thai though is his first love.

Not only a fighter, Rami also runs the highly regarded Sitan Gym in Philadelphia which he opened in 2007 and he is a full-time school teacher. A typical day for Rami includes teaching grade school, the normal business of running a large gym plus the teaching many of the classes in his gym (currently four) all before doing his own fight training. Admittedly, this is a far from optimal life for a fighter to have but to Rami Ibrahim, his life is all about giving it back, especially to the kids. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Muay Thai is experiencing an upsurge in popularity throughout the United States and Ibrahim will tell you that Philadelphia is no different. His classes are fuller and students are starting much younger. Rami is committed to helping the sport grow. He knows firsthand what learning martial arts the right way can do for a youngster growing up in Philadelphia… wonder where those six childhood bullies are today?

Author’s Note: As many of you know I run West Coast Muay Thai in addition to my work here at Muay Thai is Life. Being West coast based I know that while a number of fans out here have heard of Rami Ibrahim, few know much about him. I hope that through your reading of this article those of you on the West coast find him to be the wonderfully intriguing person that I have found him to be. If you watch his fights on Youtube, you’ll find him to be a fierce competitor as well and I am looking forward to seeing him fight for the first time in person at Battle in the Desert 4. He is a great representative for the sport of Muay Thai both in and out of the ring. Let’s show him some West Coast love! —Galen