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A look ahead at Muay Thai in North America

By Patrick Christie | Columnist for Knuckle Junkies

While it’s still not as popular as boxing or mixed martial arts (MMA), Muay Thai is enjoying a relatively good run in growth and recognition. Led by names like Kevin Ross, Joe Schilling, Chaz Mulkey, and Tiffany van Soest the American scene has gained a following unseen in years prior. Is it because North America is now promoting more events than at any other point in its Thai boxing history? Or is it because North American fighters are getting better and better and are competing at the highest levels of the sport, in the biggest venues on the planet? Whatever the catalyst Muay Thai is catching on in the US and the fan base is growing quickly, and that’s drawing foreign promotions and fighters to the States for a piece of the pie.

In the next four weeks the US will see some of the best Muay Thai and kickboxing events ever put together on US soil, and will host countless smaller local events all across the county, including the October 11th Rumble Time Promotions show, Pick Your Poison 2, at the Ameristar Casino in St. Louis, which includes several amateur K1-rules matches alongside amateur and professional boxing and MMA. Will St. Charles MMA striker Quentin Loper and teammate Tim Mantle topple their opponents in K1-style matches? Be there Friday night and we’ll find out together (my money’s on “YES”, by the way!).

The height of Muay Thai in the US is Lion Fight Promotions, whose next show – Lion Fight 12 – takes place on November 1st at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. When Thai boxing fans think about stacked cards, this is who they look to and the 11/1 card will not disappoint. On the all-pro show are domestic and international names the likes of Malaipet Sasiprapa, Fabio Pinca, Tiffany van Soest, and up and comers Jason Andrada and Nick Chasteen. Lion Fights routinely has the bigger, if not the biggest, names in the sport on their shows and have featured Yodsenklai Fairtex, Saenchai PKsaenchaimuaythaigym (that’s a mouthful!), Kevin Ross, Cosmo Alexandre, and the man I’ve personally dubbed “the record killer” – Ognjen Topic, or OT for short - whose last two fights were against Thais with close to 200 fights each (two fights Topic won, by the way – one by KO - despite having only 11 pro fights to his name). For many fighters, coaches, and trainers, Lion Fight is “the dream” – the promotion to aim for if you want to really be competing at the highest level. Tune in to AXStv at 800pm on Friday, November 1, to see some of the best get after it! This is a full-rules event (elbows and knees to the head, plus punches and kicks).

A few weeks later in NYC the famed GLORY brand will produce its third show of the year. GLORY is the biggest name in kickboxing promotions and features some of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. The rule set is different than Muay Thai – no clinching or elbows are allowed, though a single knee can be thrown to the head of an opponent assuming there’s no clinch – and offers a faster pace. The November 23rd GLORY 12 event follows two other high-profile GLORY shows in Los Angeles (10/4) and Chicago (10/12) and will feature Robin van Roosmalen, Andy Ristie, and the kickboxing king, Italy’s Giorgio Petrosyan. Spike TV has picked up the broadcast rights to GLORY and fans can tune in to see this event for free.

Another excellent US promotion, though smaller than Lion Fight and GLORY, will have their year-end show in December in NYC. The longest running Muay Thai promotion in the US, Friday Night Fights Muay Thai, has delivered more than 200 shows across 4 states. The crew at FNFMT has helped develop the professional careers of some of the bigger names in North American Muay Thai including the aforementioned Ognjen Topic, Chris Kwiatkowski, Jorge Palacios, and many others including GLORY newcomers Wayne Barrett and Joseph “Bazooka Joe” Valtellini. With full rules Muay Thai now allowed in New York the already stellar events will only get more awesome with the now-legal use of elbows and knees to the head. Personally I’ve had the pleasure of working with this promotion for several years having made nearly a dozen trips to NYC with Art of Eight Muay Thai fighters Quinton O’Brien, Joe Cox, Josh Sampo, and former “Crazy 8” Joe Mueller. This promotion prides itself on making excellent matches and takes outstanding care of the athletes and corners who participate in their events. This crew is the real deal, and their shows are always (more than) worth the price of admission!

I could go on for pages about good promotions that are helping put North American Muay Thai on the map – those mentioned above are merely some of many, though they are among the elite pack at the top of the food chain. As other organizations like Push Kick Promotions and Dennis Warner’s World Championship MuayThai continue to deliver well-matched fights and high production quality the sport will continue to grow in popularity. For now those “in the know” about the awesomeness that is Muay Thai and kickboxing know that they can see quality events, live or televised, with relatively high frequency. As the sport catches on and the fan base grows expect to see bigger events with marquee names and matches, at more venues across the country. Who knows, maybe your local Nak Muay will be on TV in the near future!!

Patrick Christie is the Muay Thai trainer for The Art of Eight Muay Thai, the Muay Thai program of Vaghi Martial Arts and St. Charles Mixed Martial Arts. You can contact Patrick at patrick@knucklejunkies.com. Please visit teamvaghi.com and stcharlesmma.com

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