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When you think of a fighter, the first image that probably comes to mind is someone who was born tough. The kid who grew up fighting on the playground, who loved fighting.
I am not that person.
Growing up as a kid I was always scared of getting into fights. I did a brief stint in Karate for a few years because my dad signed me up, but I never enjoyed it.
I spent most of my childhood/teenage years doing one of two things: playing basketball or playing video games. I was a prototypical nerd, except I didn’t look the part. I was very athletic and played sports, so I was able to blend in pretty well.
I found that both Basketball and video games have elements of strategy that are related to Muay Thai. In basketball, you have two teams, and you need to figure out how to use your team’s skill set, to beat the opposing team.
In Muay Thai, every fighter has their strengths and weaknesses and the fighter who is able to utilize their strengths to their advantage often puts themselves in a position to win the fight.
While some people view Muay Thai competitions as a brutal sport, I view it as two people who are putting their strategy to a test.
One fighter may have a reach advantage, while the other could have more speed, skill, and stamina. All of the factors play a role in determining the winner of the fight.
When you stop thinking about fighting as violence and start seeing it as a chess match, with each strike representing a move on the board, you can start seeing why Muay Thai is such an intriguing sport.
The start of a Journey
My Muay Thai journey started in 2005 at the Greek Cultural Center in Vancouver. That night there was a Muay Thai event being held and my friend Roberto (he would later become North American Champion) invited me to watch his fight.
After watching my friend fight, I remember falling in love with the sport. Muay Thai was a violent sport on the surface, but there was a beauty to that violence that drew me in.
In my second year of University, I ended up signing up to an MMA gym near my school. This is where I would have my first experience with standup striking – I’m hesitant to really call this Muay Thai training given the fact it was an MMA gym that focused on BJJ and boxing.
After my first year of training at the gym, the following summer I would have my first introduction to ‘real’ Muay Thai when I did a university exchange to Bangkok in 2007. While I was in Bangkok I trained at a few gyms around the city and when I traveled. Even though I had to commute an hour to get to the gym in busy Bangkok traffic, I was hooked.
The unfortunate part of getting your first taste of real Muay Thai in Thailand is the withdrawal you experience when you go home. It was impossible to get the same kind of training I had in Thailand, especially in Canada when all of the gyms were mixed with MMA.
I never did find another gym that could replicate the experience I had in Thailand. It was like eating at a world class restaurant and then going to eat at McDonald’s. I trained at a few more MMA gyms in Vancouver, but I always knew that the training was lacking.
In the back of my head, I was waiting for the right moment to return to Thailand. While it would take a few years, that moment finally arrived in 2011.
Arriving in Thailand
When I first arrived in Thailand I fully intended to train at Tiger Muay Thai. At the time I was training BJJ and Muay Thai, so naturally, I thought Tiger would be the best fit for me. These plans would later change when I met my friend Matt in Bangkok, who recommended I train at Sinbi Muay Thai gym – who at the time was home of Saenchai.
Matt ended up taking me to watch a few free fights at Rajadamnern stadium where I would end up having dinner with the legend Saenchai. At the time, I didn’t know much about Sinbi, but I did know that Saenchai was the best fighter on the planet and that was good enough for me.
My first training sessions at Sinbi were not easy. Although I thought I was in shape at the time, the first 3 weeks of training were complete hell. (Thinking back I probably shouldn’t have trained twice a day for 6 days a week, but I was new and wanted to fully immerse myself.) Training in the morning was particularly difficult.
Most morning sessions I could barely get out of bed to even make it to training. Being extremely sore and hurting all over is something you have to get used to when you start training in Thailand.
During those first few months of training I would have to reinvent everything I thought I knew about Muay Thai. Apparently I didn’t know how to kick correctly, my stance was way off, and I had never clinched before. My trainer Run would slowly start to ingrain his own style of Muay Thai into me. Doing a private in the morning and a group training session in the afternoon helped me improve my technique rapidly.
Prior to coming to Thailand I actually thought I was pretty good at Muay Thai, boy was I delusional.
It was only after 6 weeks of training that I would start thinking about having my first fight. When I first came to Thailand I told everybody there was no way in hell I would fight. I didn’t want to get cut and I didn’t want my legs to get hurt from the kicks. However, when you train with fighters and surround yourself with fighters, fighting stops being such a big deal. If everyone around me was doing it, then why couldn’t I do it too?
Finally after 2 months of hard training, my trainer Run would finally get his wish of seeing me in the ring. The fight preparations were extremely tiring, as I wanted to ensure I was 100% prepared for whoever they put in front of me. Even at the early stages of living in Thailand, I was well aware that you better be prepared to fight anyone.
My First Fight
My first fight didn’t quite go according to plan.
I was told that I would fight a guy from France who had 4 fights, but “didn’t have any heart.” After arriving at the stadium, my original opponent pulled out of the fight when he saw me and I was stuck fighting a last minute replacement Thai. I ended up winning the fight with an elbow KO in the second round. Although the Thai had a lot of fights under his belt, I knew that I was the favorite to win the fight – one of the few times this has happened in Thailand.
Following the fight I ended up hurting my right shin that would put me out for another 3 months before I could fight again.
This is the video for my first fight in Thailand:
The build up to my second fight in Thailand was absolute hell. Leading up to the fight I had to pull out of 2 fight cards due to injury and sickness. Right before the fight I got a stomach bug that literally meant I couldn’t hold any food down without using the toilet 10 minutes later. Not good. Given the fact I had withdrawn from two previous fight cards, there was no way I could pull out of this one. I had to suck it up.
Luckily for me, I would end up fighting a smaller Thai guy who had skill, but didn’t have power behind his shots. I would go on to survive 4 rounds of the fight and win by TKO ref stoppage. Even though this wasn’t my hardest fights, it was physically the most draining I’ve ever felt. I have never felt so weak during a fight as I did in this one.
Tsunami Warning and Songkran Fight Day
One of my most memorable fights was when I got into a motorbike accident before the fight. The day of my fight there was a big Tsunami alert for the entire island. All of Phuket was practically shut down. I would only find out the fight was cancelled until an hour before I was supposed to leave for the fights. My fight was rescheduled to Friday, which would happen to be Songkran – the biggest holiday of the year in Thailand.
On Songkran, I ended up fighting a Brazilian fighter named Jack, who had been fighting in Thailand for few years. Fortunately at the time, I wasn’t aware that Jack had represented Brazil in the amateur world championships held in Bangkok and had 30+ fights under his belt.
Since I didn’t know that Jack was supposed to easily beat me, I never entertained the idea of losing the fight.
In the first few rounds of the fight my opponent and I felt each other out with kicks and punches. When I went into the corner of the 3rd round my corner told me to go forward and be aggressive. I had previously been working with Run on going forward in our privates, so I felt comfortable coming into the 3rd round being aggressive. Towards the end of the 3rd round I would drop Jack for the count with a straight right.
Here is the fight against Jack Dragon Muay Thai
I ended up beating Jack in the 4th round with a body shot KO. This would probably be one of my most satisfactory win of my short career, given the fact that the odds were against me from the start. After this fight, my motivation to train and get better only increased as I was determined to become a better fighter.
After a prolonged break from fighting I would soon fight again. This fight would go down to the wire as my Thai opponent would not back down from my assaults during the fight. He wanted to win as badly as I did, and I just squeaked out a decision on the judges’ score cards.
Here is a picture of my face after one of my fights where I was in an elbow war.
Following this fight I would step into the ring against a Thai I like to call “elbows.” I think he sensed that I didn’t like elbows, because the only technique he used on me were elbows. Luckily for me, the elbows didn’t end up cutting me, only damaging my forehead. I won the fight with a 4th round KO as I started to lose my fear and push forward against my opponent. This would be a great learning experience for me.
I remember telling my brother before the fight, “I hope I don’t get a guy who likes elbows.” Am I in the wrong sport or what?
Here is the video for the fight:
My First Loss
My first Muay Thai loss would come in my 6th fight when I faced a young up and coming Thai. This guy was vicious and I could see in his eyes that he wanted to hurt me.
You see, when young Thai’s fight foreigners they have something to prove. If they lose to a “Farang,” they will face ridicule from people at their gym. The is one of the many reasons they will go extra hard to try and win.
After getting rocked bad in the first round and nearly going down for the count, I was able to mount a comeback and turn it into a fight.
Losing this fight hurt. I remember leaving the ring with tears in my eyes. The moment the final bell rang all the adrenaline from the fight turned into tears gushing from my eyes, disappointed at losing and even more disappointed at letting my gym down.
I got my first cut in this fight. 6 stitches over my left eyebrow. Fortunately the doctor did a good job of stitching me up.
Here’s the video of my first Loss:
This loss hurt because I couldn’t believe how I could lose (so young and naive). Learning how to deal with losses is something I would have to learn how to deal with.
The more I fought, the harder the opponents. There really were no more easy fights. Every fight was a battle that would have to be won or lost by narrow margins. If I wanted to win I would have to earn it.
Preparing for my Next Fight
After this fight I ended up going to Nepal to trek to Himalaya mountains for a month. This is something I needed to clear my mind and body of Muay Thai. After training for a solid year and a half at Sinbi, I needed to have a break from everything. And this was what the doctor ordered.
It wouldn’t be until 5 months after my Nepal trip that I would step into the ring for my 7th fight. This fight would showcase a particular weakness of mine, the clinch. While I always thought I had a decent clinch, it wasn’t until I faced a Thai skilled in the clinch that I realized how much work I needed to do.
In the first few rounds of the fight the Thai sat back and let me land combos on him. I felt so confident that I was going to end the fight within the first few rounds. Landing low kicks and punches on him, I could sense it was only a matter of time before he went down. However, things would end up taking a turn for the worst starting in the 3rd round. My opponent turned on a switch and began walking forward and mauling me in the clinch.
I would lose this fight on points, once again, feeling extremely disappointed after the loss.(I would later see this same opponent beat a trainer from Dragon Muay Thai, making realize he did have a great clinch game.)
Following the loss, I didn’t have much time to think about it because I had already agreed to fight on the Dragon Fight Night against a fighter from Tiger.
Going into the fight I didn’t know anything about my opponent. Because his name was spelled Nico on the poster, I wasn’t even able to look him up online to get any details about his fighting style or his size. It was only through the grapevine that I would hear rumors about him being fucking extremely good with his hands and quick. I didn’t pay much attention to this, as I didn’t want to psyche myself out.
Preparation for this fight was extremely hard. I had lost my two previous matches and I was not about to lose a third fight. There was no way this “Nico” from Tiger was going to beat me in a fight. I didn’t care what it took; I was going to get the win.
Dragon Fight Night
When I arrived at the stadium for the Dragon fight night I was very relaxed. As I walked past my opponent I noticed he was smaller than me – 4 kilos (9 lbs) lighter. I didn’t think much about this weight difference, I only thought in my head that I was going to beat anybody they put in front of me.
As I entered the ring before my fight, one of the Sinbi trainers ran over to me and made a jester with his hands yelling, “Keep your hands up!” Little did I realize at the time, Ncedo “Nintendo” Gomba was an amateur Muay Thai world champion and a South African K1 champion. He had been training since the age of 13 and was a well-oiled fighting machine. Ncedo is the type of guy that is a walking highlight reel. He doesn’t just win his fights; he destroys his opponents……
15 stitches and a whole lot of hurt later, I would suffer my 3rd straight loss at the hands of “Nintendo”
Even though I lost a close fight on points, that loss hurt the most because I ended up gassing at the end of the 4th round. I felt like I let myself down because I didn’t train hard enough for the fight. I didn’t have much time to reflect on the loss because I was driven to the hospital to get stitched up.
The hospital bill end up being 6,800 baht ($230), which was more than the actual amount I was paid for the fight. (Luckily the promoter reimbursed me for the bill later on)
You can watch the fight here:
After the event I would later find out that I won ‘Fight of the Night‘ for my performance in the fight. Although I wasn’t present at the stadium to accept the trophy, it is was a minor victory even though I didn’t walk away with the win. Going the distance with “Nintendo” (he is now one of the best foreign fighters in all of Thailand) taught me a lot about myself both mentally and physically. No matter how hard the opponent, I will never give up and surrender. I want to win.
While I enjoyed competing in my first 2 years in Thailand, my money had slowly dwindled as the months went by.
One day, I woke up and realized that my bank account went from being in the positive to being in the negative. Instead of worrying about my next fight, I was worried about finding enough money to make my rent payment.
Suddenly, my mindset shifted from that of a fighter, to someone who needed to make money in order to stay in Thailand. Unfortunately, making a few hundred bucks a fight wasn’t going to even cover my student loan payments I had to make every month.
The choice was either work in Thailand or work back home.
I chose stay and work.
While it is a dream to live, train, and fight all the time, the reality is you need to actually make money to sustain yourself in Thailand. When I first came to Thailand I was able to train twice a day for a almost 2 years, something I do not regret.
The great thing about Living in Thailand is I am still able to train everyday with champions from all over the world on a daily basis.
In addition being able to spar and clinch with ex Lumpinee and Rajadamnern champions means I have an abundant source of knowledge to draw from. Needless to say, I am still improving my skill and technique on a daily basis and continue to grow in the sport I love.
Will I Fight Again?
Absolutely! I have financial goals that I set for myself. Those goals are my priority at the moment. Once I reach those goals I would take time off work and compete again.
I am asked every single day by the trainers when I am going to get back into the ring. I am itching to get back into the ring and revenge some of the losses, but I will only do it when the time is right.
Right now I have been focused on building up Muay Thai Pros to be the best source of Muay Thai content online. I never expected this website to become as popular as it did and I am very thankful for the support from people around the world.
My story is not yet complete. I am striving to absorb as much knowledge from the world class fighters and ex-Lumpinee champions that I train with on a daily basis. I hope that you can gain some of the knowledge that I have learned from my years in Thailand.
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