It’s Super Bowl Sunday. The biggest game of your life. Your team is down by two points. If you kick a field goal, your name goes down in history books. If you miss, a long walk back to the locker room awaits you.
You and your team cross the turf and take field goal position. The ball is shot backward and wedged on the ground in front of you. You line up your shot. Your leg swings backward and then forward like a pendulum, driving the ball just over the hands of a defensive lineman. Your eyes follow the tumbling leather ellipse as it gets smaller. Noise fades to silence. The football arches up and drops back down through the goal post. The stadium erupts and your breath returns. You’ve just won the Super Bowl. Or have you?
After kicking the game-wining field goal the officials don’t award you three points. Your team loses. You grow confused. No penalties were called on the play. When you question the officials, they tell you field goals don’t count. You argue that field goals are a part of the scoring rules in football. And you argue that your team has trained for and played today’s game to win under those rules. But your words are met with confusion. As you look closer, you notice the patches on the officials’ uniforms don’t say NFL. They read MLB. They’re baseball umpires, unversed in the game of football.
Muay Thai in America faces problems just as senseless. Educated coaches and fighters prepare to win under the scoring system and rules of Muay Thai. But officials who judge the fights aren’t always versed in the scoring methods. They bring scoring tactics from other arts like kickboxing or boxing to the ring. And when that’s not enough, they use subjectivity or simply look for the aggressor.
But aggression is a small piece of Muay Thai. Those deft in the art balance both brain and brawn, knowing when and how to use each. There have been fighters who’ve made legacies as exciting aggressors. There have also been fighters who’ve made careers by intelligently fighting off their back leg. Each is an art form in and of itself, and it takes a trained eye to see both.
The newly formed United States branch of the International Board of Muay Thai Officials wants to train officials to see the score in the art of Muay Thai. They want all coaches and fighters who compete in Muay Thai to prepare for fights with a solid idea of how to win. By educating officials, coaches, and fighters on proper scoring methods in Muay Thai, the IBMTO hopes to raise the skill level of fighters who compete at home and abroad.
The US branch of the IBMTO was founded by Dr. Stephen Strotmeyer of Pittsburgh Muaythai in 2015. He has tried to fix Muay Thai scoring in America since the K1 Forum days, but had worn out most options. He worked with sanctioning bodies in the United States but saw few gains in the training of officials. “Most of those groups were rooted in kickboxing, or added Muay Thai as a style of kickboxing for sanctioning,” said Dr. Strotmeyer. “Muay Thai is a unique combat sport with a specific rule set and judging paradigm that to this day still eludes many sanctioning bodies, trainers, and fighters.”
Dr. Strotmeyer had also tried to educate the Muay Thai community by posting scoring commentary with fight videos on social media. But being too critical of wronged fighters brought scoring issues only so far. He realized criticism might’ve cut off the officials he was trying to help. So Dr. Strotmeyer turned despair into drive.
After years of talks with Dr. Tony Myers and Shaun Boland of the IBMTO United Kingdom, Dr. Strotmeyer, along with Mark DeLuca, went to the UK to work as shadow judges under IBMTO officials. They passed all the assessments and were given the blessings to start the IBMTO in America.
Dr. Strotmeyer returned home and gathered a group of experienced veterans from the Muay Thai community to become the first members of the IBMTO US Board: Ben Case, Emily Bearden, Mark DeLuca, Natalie Fuz, Justin Greskiewicz, Steve Milles, Liam Tarrant, and Christian Tran. These women and men are long-time promoters, coaches, and retired and active fighters. But before the team can carry out the IBMTO’s mission the board must unify itself under common standards.
In January of 2016 the IBMTO will host its first official summit. Dr. Strotmeyer, under the guidance of Dr. Myers and Boland, will assess each US board member’s knowledge of Muay Thai scoring. Once each member passes the assessment the IBTMO can begin its work.
The plan is to start out small, working from within the regions where each board member lives. “The immediate goal,” said Dr. Strotmeyer, “is to provide an educational resource for understanding and interpreting solid Muaythai officiating.”
How does the IBMTO plan on doing this? Through in-person presentations and a private website. Members of the board will present to sanctioning bodies and promotions who want to work with the IBMTO. A private website will offer assessment videos for prospective officials. The names of the officials who’ve passed will be released to the public. And each year IBMTO officials will be reassessed to maintain standards.
The IBMTO’s ultimate goal, though, is to expand from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Dr. Strotmeyer sees the IBMTO as a national organization that can provide sanctioning bodies and promotions with skilled officials for amateur and professional events at all levels and in all regions.
Despite still being under formation, there has been interest from promoters and sanctioning bodies to work with the IBMTO in 2016. This is a good sign. Because if Muay Thai scoring methods in America don’t change, not only will the sport suffer, but the Muay Thai community will remain at the mercy of officials who judge Muay Thai by the standards of different sports.