As I sat ringside this past Friday at Friday Night Fights in NYC watching some great amateur/professional Muay Thai scraps I found myself tripping down memory lane. I started to reminisce about my trips to the ring as both an ammy and a pro, warming up with my coach back stage as we put the final touches on my fight camp, the walk to the ring- the nervousness, the excitement- stepping over the ropes, circling the ring determined to make a statement… performing the Wai Kru, paying respects to my coach for all he did to prepare me over the 8 weeks prior and staring at my opponent from across the ring- focused on what I was about to do to him, not what he had for me. Taking in the fights brought back so many memories and while I don’t drink much I couldn’t help but indulge in a Chang beer…(I mean who can say no to a brand that shares the same passion I have for the sport of Muay Thai- it’s respect, culture and sportsmanship).
From when I first stepped in to the ring in the mid 90’s in NYC for my first Muay Thai fight I knew I had found a sport that satisfied my every being. It didn’t take long for me to envision making a name for myself in this small but budding combat sport in NYC. Muay Thai at the time was virtually unheard of but across the globe in Thailand the sport had been thriving for many years.
For my very first sanctioned fight I had only been training a few months when my coach decided to throw me in the ring and I jumped at the opportunity with no questions asked. Growing up a knuckle head in my Jamaica, Queens Neighborhood (scrapping more than a handful of times) I felt like I needed this step up in competition to see where I stood with my fighting ability. My first ever ring fight would find me matched against a former golden Gloves Champ/Cage fighter of the mid 90’s era when there were a few promotions piggybacking off the early UFC campaign. With the training and mentoring I received from my coach at the time I went forward with a life changing event. I was able to perform the Wai Kru for the first time ever to pay homage to everyone that helped me prepare for the fight. The fight played out in true kicker vs. puncher fashion with my childhood Tae Kwon Do tendencies “kicking” in. I heard and listened to everything my coach taught and advised during the fight, causing plenty of lower body damage to my opposition. Being able to use a specific combo over the duration of the second round I was able to keep my opponent from answering the bell for the last and final round. From that time on I knew ring fighting helped me feel free and totally express myself. It was at this point in my life that Muay Thai became the forefront of every decision I would make and I would not change a thing!
Getting back to what 2 things came to mind last Friday:
#1 What would happen if I dusted off my gloves and jumped back in the ring one last time?? I’m in better shape now than most of my fight camps with my constant drive to train for life.
#2 Is my passion greater now to impact the masses by continuing to teach, coach and spread my love for the sport of Muay Thai?
Seeing how far the sport has come in NYC is extraordinary considering where it all started. As much as I am grateful for MMA becoming legal in NY recently I also believe it has been a blessing that Muay Thai has had the opportunity to grow and shine over the past 20 years. It helped to provide for a rich passion and desire for all the competitors to showcase their stand-up skills. It’s not just the local NYC fighters who have benefitted; NYC has attracted Nak Muay from all over the globe to the “Big City of Dreams” to test themselves under the bright lights.
So as I sit back watching this night of action comfortably from the sidelines, I decide stepping back in to the ring to help the sport grow is not the best option. The younger generation (and their fans) coming up are the future of the sport and it’s their time to shine. My goals, dreams and visions, the strongest desire I have ever had, are to continue to inspire, motivate and educate as many people as possible around the globe to realize the beauty and ferociousness of Muay Thai.
Next time you plan to trek in to the “Empire State”, look up some Muay Thai fights in the big city, get there early (because nowadays the standing room fills quickly), grab yourself a cold Chang and sit back and watch history as it continues to unfold. 10 years from now Muay Thai will be well cemented beyond the underground scene.