One of my goals when I opened Jax Muay Thai five years ago was to take a team to the Thai Boxing Association’s Muay Thai World Expo. It’s North America’s longest running and largest amateur Muay Thai tournament, with 800-plus fighters representing more than 200 clubs from across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, and even Europe. I knew that in order to raise the level of the entire club, our fight team would need to compete against the best in the country. We were fortunate to come away with one National Championship belt at our first visit three years ago, but the experience taught me what we needed to improve to hang with the best in the country.
This year we were more than ready. We took seven fighters – our largest team yet – to the tournament in Des Moines on the third weekend of June:
Diesel McConville – 12 years old novice junior middleweight
Maryann Mina – adult female welterweight novice
Landon Amesbury – adult male lightweight novice
Ricardo Cortes – adult male novice heavyweight
Katie Alford – B class female welterweight
Austin Amell – B class male bantamweight
Omar Lee – A class mens middleweight
The tournament is divided into kid and adult categories, determined by weight and fight experience. Three or less fights is Novice Class, four to nine fights is B class, and 10-plus fights is A class. Coaches were myself, Kru Giles Wiley, owner and head trainer of Jax Muay Thai, and coach Nate Campbell, 3x World Boxing Champion, who missed an event at the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame to help us in a very exciting, very full weekend.
DAY ONE, THURSDAY
Upon landing in Des Moines around midday, the team headed straight for the hotel to get ready for weigh-ins. I was very proud of how they had handled their pre-fight preparation, and they all weighed in on point. Then it was time to rehydrate, eat and get some rest while I attended the Rules Meeting. It was a refreshing change to fight Muay Thai rules in Iowa at an event where everyone in attendance had a full understanding of those rules. Event organizer and senior Muay Thai official Pete Peterson made a point of saying, “…as the U.S. Muay Thai community we need to do better! This is a martial art before a sport. I expect discipline and respect to be shown by all teams this weekend.”
After the Rules Meeting, I attended an extra seminar to become a certified Class C Muay Thai Official. It was a very informative, well-run seminar, and I look forward to getting more involved with that side of the sport in the future.
DAY TWO, FRIDAY
Up very early to check on the day’s fighters brackets for who was fighting and when. We chose a spot in the warm up area for the team to set up, and Nate and I got to work readying Ricardo, Landon and Diesel. Nate handled the wrapping while I took care of Thai liniment rub down and warm up. Ricardo was up for our first fight of the tournament. He looked calm and ready from the first bell, and he won convincingly with a stoppage in round 2. Next up was Landon with another convincing win. Then came the youngest member of the team, 12-year-old Diesel, who proceeded to stop his opponent in the first round with knees to the body.
After a short break Katie was up – she showed a lot of heart but ultimately lost. Next came Austin, who displayed some of the best Muay Thai of the weekend and dominated with a stoppage in round 3. Last for the day was Omar, facing a former U.S. National Team member with almost three times the number of fights. Omar controlled from the first bell and won with a smart display of technical Muay Thai. We celebrated our first day with a victory dinner before retiring for some much-needed rest.
DAY 3, SATURDAY
Maryann had gotten a bye the first round, so six of our fighters competed in the second round of completion. First up was Austin, who again displayed his strong southpaw Muay Thai to win convincingly. Next was Landon, who won with a third round stoppage over a very strong fighter. Landon’s was one our favorite performances of the tournament – two rounds down going into the third and final, I told him I needed something special from him. He more than gave me that, dropping his opponent twice, then finishing with a teep, or front kick, to the face.
Maryann’s fight was only her second ever. She fought hard but lost a decision to a strong opponent who went on to win the belt. Our youngest member Diesel was up next with one of the craziest fights of the weekend. He kept up an insane pace for three rounds to win by decision and get through to the finals. Last of the day was Omar, facing a strong and motivated opponent – Omar had beaten him five weeks earlier for his North American Title. Unfortunately, Omar had some headgear issues, and his opponent was just a little stronger on this particular day, causing Omar to lose by decision.
Those not competing in the finals on Sunday got to treat themselves to dinner again. The four competing in Sunday’s finals had to forego any weight gain in anticipation of Sunday’s weigh-ins before the championship bouts.
DAY 4, SUNDAY
The beauty of a tournament as large as the TBA Expo is the opportunity to meet and work with top level fighters. After weigh-ins, we went to watch Nate work with one of the top up-and-coming pro fighters in the country, Asa Ten Pow. Asa is fighting on Glory Kickboxing Madison Square Garden in four weeks, so I’d asked him if he wanted to get in some pad work with 3x World Boxing champ Nate while we were in Des Moines. It was really inspiring to watch Nate coach and see how quickly Asa improved in just a few pad rounds together.
By 9 a.m. the fights had resumed, and the tension in the air had multiplied exponentially for the championship belts. Landon was up first against a much taller opponent. He fought a smart and spirited fight but lost a close decision that could have easily gone either way. After a short break Diesel took his first shot at winning a belt. He fought with a lot of heart but was outsmarted by his opponent. He lost a decision but is thoroughly stoked to fight again next year.
Next up was Austin, who dominated yet again and won convincingly to become 2018 Bantamweight Champion. We rushed straight from Austin’s ring to Ricardo’s, and after some quick final prep he was ready. He dominated all three rounds against another strong opponent to win and become 2018 Heavyweight Champion. Ricardo and Austin were presented with their Championship Belts by the Grandmaster of American Muay Thai, Ajarn Chai Sirisute, who brought Muay Thai to American 50 years ago.
After the celebratory team photos, we were off to Zombie Burger to indulge in a well-deserved meal. Thanks to everyone at home who contributed in any way, shape or form, and especially to our amazing sponsors who made it possible for us to take such a strong team all the way to Iowa to compete with the best of the best!
Afterthoughts: The 4 days at the tournament were mentally and physically exhausting, as coaches we get a lot of the adrenal responses of the fighters but with none of the releases, next year I’m going to make sure I get in more daily exercise to release the stress hormones in a healthy way. I can’t express how appreciative I am of Coach Nate Campbell’s help over the tournament, and I loved seeing how much an ‘old’ boxer enjoys and appreciates good Muay Thai. As a team and as a club we’ve come so far and it’s exciting to think what we could achieve over the next 5 years. When asked why I’m so passionate about teaching Muay Thai the answer is simple, ‘ to help people get rid of their limiting beliefs, excuses, and self sabotage, in order to finally realize their true potential!’
Kru Giles Wiley
We’d like to thank all of our amazing sponsors who made it possible for us to take such a strong team all the way to Iowa.
The Law Offices of Donald Metcalfe
Solutions Heating & Air
Jax Thai Massage
A1A Overhead Doors
Intelligent Office Solutions
Title Boxing San Pablo
Ruiz Law Firm
Buddha Thai Bistro
Wellspring Health & Sports Performance