Kru Stephen Strotmeyer is the head instructor at Khaay Muay Sit-Kangmongkorn a.k.a. Pittsburgh Muay Thai. With about 27 fights both in Thailand and the US, his fight career was unfortunately cut short by illness. However, a true Muay Thai enthusiast, Stephen continued (and continues) to give back to the sport he loves. Having been on the 2004 U.S. Muay Thai team at the IFMA World Championships in Bangkok, Stephen later helped coach the 2007 U.S. Muay Thai team. Stephen, has also coached standout fighters such as Mark Deluca, Marcus Fisher, Ben Case, and more.
Recently, Stephen was part of an advisory committee that included Samasek Kanthawong, Coban Lookchaomaesaitong, Tony Myers, Siraphop Ratanasuban,Jr., and Kaensak Sor Ploenchit. The committee was setup to assist the New Jersey State Athletic Comission (NJSAC) devise a set of Unified Muay Thai Rules which would hopefully become the standard for Muay Thai scoring in the U.S. Stephen recently took time to speak with Muay Thai is Life about the Unified Muay Thai Rules, Muay Thai scoring in the U.S., and the state of the sport in the U.S. as a whole. This is truly a great interview with one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the U.S. Muay Thai scene.
MTL: Thank you Stephen, for speaking with Muay Thai is Life. You were on the advisory panel put together by the NJSAC to develop a set of Unified Muay Thai Rules. There has been a lot of controversy in the U.S. about Muay Thai fights not being scored correctly, in your opinion what has been the cause of this and what was the ultimate goal of the commission in putting together these Unified Rules?
Stephen: The goal of the commission was to establish a consistent set of Muaythai rules that would be used across North America, ideally. Nick Lembo was a major proponent for this, and was also instrumental in establishing the unified MMA rules. The goal would be that all 50 states, Canada and Mexico would adopt the ABC unified Muaythai rules and anywhere you fight in North America would have a common ruleset.
Regarding Muaythai fights not being scored correctly, it’s simply seating unqualified judges. They lack a fundamental understanding of the true scoring guidelines, or are biased judges, whether for local fighters, or they are biased in interpretation of what scores, and that bias is often blatantly wrong. Many of the athletic commissions and sanctioning bodies lack a clear understanding of scoring Muaythai. This leads to decisions like Cosmo v. Sakmongkol or Howson v. Adanza where the clear winner was absolutely robbed of the proper decision.
MTL: In a few words, what are the key points in the Unified Muay Thai Rules that will differentiate it from the way you feel Muay Thai is currently being scored in the U.S.?
Stephen: The rules themselves, in my opinion, will only establish consistency when fighting. That is a critical step though for fighters to know they will fight in say, NJ and NY under the same rules. Currently, you will fight Muaythai in NJ, then a month later fight a kickboxing, or modified fight in NY and have to adjust training. Fighting Muaythai means using 8 limbs, not 6. Fighting with elbows is a totally different sport.
The scoring is what needs a massive educational overhaul. You see Muaythai in CA and NV being sanctioned by reputable sanctioning bodies, but then having serious deficiencies leading to high profile fight outcomes that are baffling. Having the rules in place is a fantastic, but substandard judging is another animal entirely.
MTL: Now that the Unified Muay Thai rules have been established, some say the next step and perhaps the most difficult is to get commissions and promotions across the U.S. to adapt to the rules. Do you agree?
Stephen: I hope they do, and to be honest, I’m not sure how the voting, or choosing to adopt the rules works as a process, as I was on the advisory committee, but not an ABC member. That would be a great followup series of questions for Nick Lembo who chaired our committee.
MTL: In simple terms, what is the main difference between Muay Thai scoring and the scoring for sports such as K-1 or Kickboxing?
Stephen: I don’t have training in Kickboxing or K-1 scoring so cannot truly attest to the differences. I have a bias when watching K-1 from my Muaythai officiating training. For example, a few years back, Souwer fought Yod, and I thought Yod took it comfortably, but the shocking result was a points win for Souwer. How? K-1 criteria are NOT the same, and I watched the fight with an inherent and intuitive bias. Unless I was trained to score a K-1 bout, I’m applying erroneous criteria.
But, the fundamental points I try to stress at my camp, to many others I have working relationships with is that Muaythai is about position and effect for the entirety of the fight. The fighter that moves and forces his opponent to lose position, be off-balanced as a result of landing effective strikes, while maintainingg balance and composure throughout all 5 rounds is the stronger fighter, hence, winner.
MTL: Being a proponent of preserving traditional Muay Thai, does it bother you that commissions such as the California State Athletic Commission have banned the use of prajouds and Thai liniment, and have had fighters shorten the Wai Kru?
Stephen: As a purist steeped in tradition, YES. However, there are times when shortening from a ram muay to wai kru could be necessary for streaming, TV, etc. I bet you watched that Jamaica show a few years back on PPV…and probably screamed at the telly to get the fashion show over and onto the fights, right? To the general fight fan, you might get a similar response about the music, the ceremony and they want to just see a fight. We could argue we don’t want that element, we want the educated fan, but the sport needs more interest to grow. Limiting it to pure Muaythai as if we were in Thailand with 30+ minutes of ram muay time on a card and alienating a larger, more common audience that expands beyond those who train Muaythai or have a friend or family member who does is not going to provide enough of a base to grow. Regarding liniment, prajiads, and the mongkong, I see nothing there that should be banned and don’t understand the logic behind that.
MTL: Some have argued that fighters should change their styles to “finish fights” as they believe Americans want to see KO’s, do you feel that the traditional Muay Thai and the manner in which Muay Thai is traditionally scored does not appeal to the U.S. fight mentality?
Stephen: That’s a ridiculously simplistic opinion without merit. Traditional Muaythai does appeal to Americans but the reason for it being a fringe combat sport to boxing or MMA isn’t because the KO rate is low, it’s because there are only niche markets for it – NY, NJ, CA, NV have a Muaythai subculture that supports the sport, but again, it’s mostly catering to itself. A heightened awareness and elevated profile is crucial. Shows like the Contender, Challenger, MPL, streaming on GFL, etc. can really help do this. Additionally, aside from educating the officials, the fans that are unfamiliar to scoring would probably benefit from insights into how Muaythai differs from K-1, etc.
MTL: If the way Americans score Muay Thai doesn’t change do you feel the sport will grow here in America? And if it does grow with those rules, do you think we would even be able to label it as “Muay Thai”?
If you consciously decide to change the scoring to meet the putative demands of the supporters how can pandering like this not be considered selling out the sport? If you ignore proper scoring, but adopt proper rules and call it Muaythai, that’s shameful. Either do it right or don’t and call it kickboxing.
MTL: Thank you for taking time to speak with us Stephen and answer a lot of the tough questions the supporters of traditional Muay Thai have wanted answers to
For another very informative interview with Stephen which focuses more on his career as a fighter and coach, take a look at this great interview by Matt Lucas.
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