Jason Tramsek: The Next Big Thing?

 

International Kickboxer, Vol.18, No.1

‘He just fought New Zealand’s Chris Johnston and completely dominated him. Got an early TKO. He’s tall, awkward and strong. Wins in that devastating fashion you expect from a champion. It really was an impressive performance… you don’t often see such domination of a proven fighter, and of course he’s only young…’

If you google Jason Tramsek, quotations like this abound. He is the much-hyped protégé of John Scida, the trainer responsible for champions such as Chris Chrisopoulides, Anthony Vella and Jenk Behic. Jason grew up around these guys, starting to train casually at ten years old. “I started off playing soccer,” Jason says, “but I was a bit ‘rough’. So my Dad thought he better take me to do something a little more suitable.”

This was how Jason’s father, Karl, found his way into John Scida’s stable. At that time it operated as a police-sponsored boxing club in Sunshine, a tough suburb of inner Melbourne. “John gave me the basics,” Jason remembers, “And the rest was watch-and-steal”. Jenk Behic, as older fans will remember, was a beautiful stylist and principal among Jason’s role models. “Watching him, it’s as if you’re watching an identical copy of Jenk,” says John. “They’re very similar. Both real ‘all round’ fighters. Strong hands, good balance; they can kick from anywhere. Excellent footwork.” Jason is very much the embodiment of the John Scida approach; hands first, legs later.

Jason’s expertise soon outstripped his experience, but he was unable to fight kickboxing rules under Victorian law. “Back in those days, you couldn’t fight kickboxing until you were 18,” says John. “So Jason started off in the amateurs.” This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as amateur boxing was the place where he really forged his hands.

Most serious kickboxers, having learned their craft in ‘traditional’ martial arts, make a belated detour into amateur boxing to develop the skills they crucially lack. They soon discover boxing isn’t simply a matter of punching. It opens up a new world of possibilities in terms of the use of angles, not to mention evasion skills and a heightened awareness of that most vulnerable of targets, the head. Most martial artists have a torrid time of it. Not so where Jason was concerned, however. The Victorian Amateur Boxing League was the place that Jason began to establish his trademark superiority. He amassed a record of 19 fights for 17 wins, with 14 of them coming via KO. He distinguished himself so clearly that he came very close to representing Australia in the 2005 Commonwealth Games.

“I was underage,” says Jason. “I entered the try-outs and won all my fights, but I couldn’t get selected because I was under eighteen.”

Jason specialises in what are often referred to as ‘old time’ kickboxing rules. They are bare bones; all kicks and punches are allowed, but there are no knees, elbows or grappling. Furthermore, there are finer points to the rules that often depend on the referee himself, as Chad Walker will attest.

Chad Walker is the number 1-ranked light heavyweight in Australia, and currently holds a WMC Intercontinental Title. For those who don’t know, this is the last rung on the ladder before a fighter can challenge for a world title, an opportunity Chad currently awaits. When I asked how he went when he fought Jason, his reply was “not too good”. Having not seen the fight myself, I expected Chad to tell a story about how he fallen victim to the Tramsek KO kiss-of-death. Interestingly, he began to talk about the awkwardness of the rules.

“The ref told me I couldn’t check kicks with my hands,” he says, “and I wasn’t allowed to parry, either. I didn’t know any of that, mind you, until I was being warned for doing it [in the ring].” Chad went on to say that he has been training in Thai boxing for at least a decade, and once you start training certain weapons, it’s hard not to resort to them under pressure.

Kickboxing is still an underground sport in Australia, and once you start splitting its constituents up in terms of the various rules and skill-sets, the competition narrows sharply. Most of Australia, particularly the premier kickboxing state, Queensland, understand kickboxing to mean full Muay Thai rules. Eliminating knees, elbows and grappling essentially creates a vastly different sport, both for the combatants and the spectators.

Any discussion of the cruiserweight division has to take place under the very long shadow of Nathan ‘Carnage’ Corbett, who, after smashing Tyrone Spong, may fairly lay claim to being the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter. I edge Jason towards the question, but he stops me short when I ask about any potential forays into Thai rules.

“I don’t train it,” he responds. “I’ve been training all my life in these rules, and it’s what I’m good at. Why should I?” John Scida has a more philosophical answer that pretty much adds up to the same thing. “[Thai rules are] not his strength. People know his strengths and weaknesses. They won’t box; they’re gonna grab on and try to knee the $#@! out of him. But who knows? We might have to go that way because it’s the way the sport is going.” At the end of the day, cash often seems to be the thing that makes the world go around, and may be what unites the various sub-sets of rules under one standardized banner. It is uncertain given how this would work, however, given the international popularity of K1 rules. K1 draws on the same set of techniques, but without elbow strikes or grappling, it’s a very different spectacle to watch, let alone fight. 

No one can say Jason had ducked anyone; he fought Charles August last year. August is a gutsy fighter not afraid to push himself to the limits, going up to heavyweight to fight Andre Meunier that year and losing on decision. This wasn’t an attempt outside the parameters of August’s talent; he has been blessed with genuine knockout power in both his hands. Again, while Jason has fought everyone in his division, and bested them, he has done it in Victoria. It is certainly not the intention of this keyboard jockey to imply that Jason isn’t capable; his knockout ratio resists manipulation of its figures. Of 24 wins, 18 of them were achieved via KO. Interestingly, he has only suffered two losses, both of which were under K1 rules.  

Jason is, at present, very much a Melbournian phenomenon. Melbourne has an entrenched kickboxing tradition, and has obstinately clung to its heroes and its rules as the definition of the sport. When I asked Jason if he would consider moving overseas, perhaps to Holland to pursue his craft at a higher, more financially rewarding level, he said that, “If someone offers it, we’d consider it. We’re happy with Johnny. If he thinks it’s a good idea, we’ll look at it.”

While Jason is the one with the skills, it seems that John is the man with the ideas. He has reinvented himself after being a successful trainer into a successful promoter and the size of his shows, given their complete lack of mainstream media coverage, have to be seen to be believed. They are a great antidote for anyone who doubts the strength of kickboxing in Victoria. Is Jason really one of Australia’s best cruiserweights? Only time – and money – will tell, but his numbers give us every indication.

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