The World’s Best Muay Thai

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International Kickboxer Magazine, Jan/Feb 2013

Kickboxing, as a sport, as been evolving since the early eighties. Its roots in Muay Thai have remained constant, however; Muay Thai continues to exist despite fashion and rule changes and springs up like a hardy flower in the most unlikely of places, taking root amongst passionate practitioners and audiences alike. JARROD BOYLE takes you on a whirlwind tour of the best fighters defining and promoting the art worldwide.

Thailand:

Saenchai – 60kg

Saenchai’s natural weight is sixty kilos, but he has made an indelible mark across four different weight divisions, winning Lumpinee titles in each as well as holding the WBC and WMC lightweight world titles.

Like most Thais, his career began while he was eight years old and by the age of fourteen, he found himself fighting in Bangkok. He won his first Lumpinee title the following year at super flyweight and by eighteen, had also won the Lumpinee Bantamweight title.

Saenchai’s fame began to carry him to international prominence and he fought in Japan a number of times, winning all of his contests. He even fought a demonstration match against two fighters during the one fight at Lumpinee stadium in 2009. One opponent fought the first three rounds, while another finished the last two. Both were defeated.

Saenchai has also successfully transferred his exceptional eye into professional boxing, winning all five of his professional boxing fights.

Yodsanklai Fairtex – 72kg

Yodsanklai Fairtex, nicknamed ‘The Boxing Computer’ by the Thai sports press, also built a stellar career at Lumpinee stadium. He won his first title there at flyweight at the age of sixteen. Since joining the Fairtex camp in 2005, Yod has come to international attention. He captured the WMC world title belt when he fought ‘John’ Wayne Parr in December 2005 on the Gold Coast, and rounded out that very successful year by winning the ‘Champion of Thailand’ title at 154 pounds.

He held the WBC world welterweight title from 2005 until 2009, and the WMC world middleweight title from 2008 onwards, a title he holds to this day. He was also the first Contender Asia champion.

UK

Steve Wakeling – 72kg

Steve Wakeling stands at six foot one, making him one of the tallest middleweights in his class. He has used his height and reach to great advantage, having held the UK, European and international middleweight titles. He has also held the WBC, WMC, WKA and S1 world titles. He fights out of Scorpion’s Gym in Beckenham, England, and is trained by his father, Mark Wakeling. His brother, Michael, is the European middleweight champion. Both men are instructors under their father’s supervision at Scorpion’s gym.

Julie Kitchen – 67kg

Julie Kitchen is a veritable force of nature. Standing at 5’10”, she holds world titles across five divisions for a total of 23 belts. Julie has fought around the world and secured 44 wins from 52 fights. Thirteen of those wins were for world titles, including both the WMC and WBC belts among them.

Trained by her husband Nathan at the Touch Gloves gym in Cornwall, Julie is mother to twins girls, Amber and Allaya, who are also training and following in their mother’s footsteps.

Liam Harrison – 63kg

Liam ‘The Hitman’ Harrison fights at light-welterweight. He began training at the age of thirteen at the Bad Company gym in Leeds. He had his first fight at fourteen and, after winning that, made his professional debut little more than a year later. By the age of nineteen, he had established himself as a professional of considerable standing, having defeated opponents all across Europe. He won his first world title in the W.A.K.O. organisation against Emanuel Di Profetis at the tender age of nineteen.

He remained undefeated until 2005, when he made his debut in Thailand at Rajamadern stadium. He lost that fight by split decision. After losing for the second time to another highly rated Thai, that time on British soil, he made the move to Thailand. Fighting out of the Jitti gym in Bangkok, Harrison managed to win the WMC lightweight title. He was also named Muay Thai Magazine’s foreign fighter of the year. He currently holds the WMC world lightweight title.

US

Kevin Ross – 63.5kg

Kevin ‘The Soul Assassin’ Ross is currently ranked #10 in the super-lightweight division by the WBC. Born in Pennsylvania in 1980, Ross moved to Las Vegas in 1994, where he began training under Master Toddy. He has held the super lightweight WMC world title and recently made the pilgrimage to Thailand, where he fought on the Toyota Cup 8-man tournament. He currently trains and fights out of the Throwdown Training Center in Las Vegas.

Shane Campbell – 72kg

Shane Campbell trains and fights out of the Iron Tiger Muay Thai gym in Ontario, Canada. He began training at sixteen and had his first professional fight two years later. Campbell quickly dominated the Canadian circuit and had to pursue stiffer competition across the border, in the United States. He won the W.K.A North American title in 2006 and then moved on to greater challenges in Asia and Europe.

He was invited to participate in the W.M.F world championships in 2007 in Bangkok, Thailand. Campbell made it all the way to the finals, eventually losing to Belarussian Vitaly Gurkov. Unperturbed, Campbell fought Congolese national Chris Ngimbie for the vacant W.K.A. world title and took it via majority decision, although Ngimbie returned to Canada to contest the belt again and took it back. Campbell is moving into MMA now, using his successful Thai boxing career as the platform for doing so.

Netherlands

Nieky Holtzken – 75kg

Holtzken is one of the most complete fighters competing outside of Thailand. Scraping six feet tall, Holtzken puts his reach advantage to great use courtesy of a sophisticated, technical style. In 2006, just as his professional career was taking off, Holzken moved to Breda, Holland, to train under the undisputed icon of European Muay Thai, Ramon Dekkers.

Dekkers made his name courtesy of a hyper-aggressive, hammer-and-tongs approach. Holzken, taller and slighter, tends to stand away and pick his opponent apart with precise, considered striking. Holzken has great hands, and while he has no plans to change disciplines, has had eight professional boxing fights, winning them all. He has held a number of European middleweight titles and currently holds the WFCA super-middleweight K1-rules word title.

Faldir Chabari – 70kg

‘Fast’ Faldir Chabari is a Dutch-Moroccan kickboxer fighting out of Brummen, in Holland. He began Thai boxing in 1994 at the age of fifteen. Despite losing one eye as a child, he soon racked up an impressive collection of wins, culminating in gold medals at the WMF amateur world championships in Thailand in both 2004 and 2005, where he placed first in both the 67kg and 70kg weight divisions.

In 2006 he entered the K1 Max Netherlands in a bid to gain a place at the K1 Max in Japan. His campaign was looking good until he met Rayen Simpson in the finals, who he lost to by decision. He has continued to hold his ground at the forefront of his weight division, putting in solid showings against the very best in the sport, including Giorgio Petrosyan and Buakaw.

Japan

Tetsuya Yamato – 63kg

Yamato, carries the fight name ‘Strong Armed House Painter’ into the ring, given his day job as a painter. He was born in 1987 and studied traditional martial arts as a child. He made his professional kickboxing debut in 2005 in the R.I.S.E organisation, winning his first fight by first round KO. He soon began fighting in the NJKF and was awarded their ‘Rookie of the Year’ award at the end of that year.

In 2008 he won the vacant NJKF Lightweight title, and went on to secure the WBC-sanctioned Japanese lightweight title. From there, Yamato fought for the K1 Lightweight All-Japan title and won it, along with the tournament. This year, he claimed the ultimate honour when he won the WBC super-lightweight world title by defeating Paul Karpowicz by unanimous decision.

Erika Kamimura – 47kg

Erika Kamimura began kickboxing in 2006 at the age of fourteen, after receiving her initial instruction in karate. Dubbed ‘The strongest female high school student’ by the Japanese fight press, Kamimura made her kickboxing debut in stunning style, racking up an undefeated record until 2009, when she met Motoe Abe and lost by unanimous decision. Undeterred, Kamimura continued fighting and avenged the loss six months later with a decision win. She has continued to assert her dominance courtesy of a hard, aggressive style, defeating a broad range of international opponents, including a number of experienced Thais. In 2011, she claimed the WBC world women’s mini-flyweight title.

Russia

Dzabar Askerov – 70kg

Askerov is of Dagestani descent, being born into a nation which was a member of the former USSR group of states. He began his training in the martial arts at seven years of age when his father took him to a Judo gym. The family moved to Derbent, the southernmost state in Russia, when he was nine. Dzabar was again taken to a Muay Thai gym by his father and soon became a devotee of the sport.

Askerov won gold medals at both the 1999 and 2000 Junior world championships in Thailand, and in 2005 distinguished himself as the WMC ‘Muay Thai Against Drugs’ world champion. He made his K1 debut against none other than Buakaw in 2007, losing by majority decision. He also took part in The Contender Asia, where he was defeated by ‘John’ Wayne Parr. Askerov’s stocks continue to rise, however, as he continues to take on many of the world’s best.

Andrei Kulebin – 67kg

Kulebin was born in Germany in 1984, the son of a Soviet soldier. His family eventually settled in Minsk, Belarus, where Andrei lives and trains to this day. He has been a Muay Thai and kickboxing world champion a total of eighteen times across five weight divisions, ranging from fifty one to sixty seven kilos.

He began his instruction in martial arts at age eight when he began Tae Kwon Do, before switching to Muay Thai at twelve. He competed in a number of amateur competitions in Belarus, becoming national champion at 38 kilos. In 2003, he came third in the Amateur Muay Thai World championships in Bangkok. He held two professional WKN world titles by the time he had suffered his first defeat to Rudolph Durica in 2005. Since then, he has gone on to cement his international reputation with a slew of victories worldwide.

France

Yohan Lidon – 75kg

Yohan Lidon is French Muay Thai’s favorite son. Training out of the Gym Boxing St. Fons gym under Nasser Kacem, Lidon had his first fight aged fifteen. By the age of eighteen, he had become the French Thai Boxing champion in his weight class. Recognised with a young talent award in his home-town of Saint Priest, Lidon used the proceeds to travel to the home of his passion, Thailand. Upon returning to Europe, he continued to distinguish himself with a number of outstanding performances against some of the world’s best, including Steve Wakeling. They weren’t always successful, but they demonstrated the growth of a talented, capable fighter. Lidon’s perseverance was rewarded first in 2009 when he was crowned the WBC world super-middleweight champion, and then the It’s Showtime 73Max tournament champion, when he dominated the best fighters the competition had to offer.

Slovakia

Rudolf Durica – 67kg

Durica grew up in Solvakia in the town of Helpa, a small town roughly 28 km from Brezno. Muay Thai was not available to the young Durica, so he gained his early martial arts instruction in karate. He discovered Muay Thai at the age of sixteen, when he moved to the city of Banksa Bystrica to study. He was undefeated in Slovakia after fifteen fights and from then on began to range into other European nations, looking for suitable challengers. He fought in Switzerland and Germany before moving to Thailand in 2001. He says the hardest fight of his career was his first in Thailand, given the demands of having to fight five three-minute rounds for the first time!

Durica claims not only titles but victories over the world’s best – he has met Kulebin three times, beating him the first time in defence of his WPMF world title at the King’s Birthday celebrations in Thailand in 2005.

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