Many thanks to John Wolcott for submitting this
As I sit here 10,000 meters above sea level I could not help but think about the latest articles I have read regarding the current state of Muaythai in America and the continuous debate on the whole East Coast versus West Coast matter. There have been some recent discussions whether the fighters on the East Coast can call what they do Muaythai or should it be referred to as kickboxing. The most recent article I read while siting at JFK Airport en route to Thailand featured some comments by professional Muaythai fighter Chaz Mulkey. Mulkey, who holds a passionate stance on the matter, openly invited East Coast fighters to step up and take the challenge of competing against a few of the West Coast fighters. He also stated that East Coast fighters are amateur at best, amongst other things. What better way to kill a handful of this fifteen and a half hour plane ride than to explore some ideas on the situation at hand?
Although I do agree with some of the statements made by Mulkey regarding the no elbows rule, I still think this should not fall into the hands of the fighters. On the East Coast, just like any where else in America, the fighters have to play by the rules. They did not create the rule book, nor do they agree with it, but they are forced to follow it. Mind you, many of the top fighters from the East Coast have fought under full Thai rules in Thailand and abroad and are willing to do so at any given chance they get. Muaythai is in their hearts and in their minds and although they cannot compete under full Thai rules as often as they would like they still have a passion for the sport. In addition, just like on the West Coast, there are plenty of fighters on the East Coast who have a very clean, very technical skill set – fighters who embody what Muaythai is and what Muaythai should look like. On the same note, there have been fighters from the West Coast who are allowed to use elbows but technically they do not have that traditional Thai style. This may not be true of every fighter on either side, or in between, but to say that elbows are the dividing factor between the skill set of the two coasts is illogical.
Out of respect for certain fighters I will spare the name dropping but the East Coast has many fighters seeking to break out of the New York City fight scene to make names for themselves. Having said that, in order for this to happen promoters need to put the politics aside and give the fans the fights they want to see, and give the fighters the opponents they want to fight. There have been more than a few instances where a fighter from the East Coast has defeated a highly regarded fighter from the West Coast and the outcome has never been talked about. The East Coast is like the Dark Horse of Muaythai. We have many great fighters with technical aptitude but very few people or media outlets willing to shed some light on the situation. If East Coast fighters are so bad how is it that an East Coast fighter can beat an undefeated West Coast representative for Team USA, but is then denied a spot on that very team? Or why the scheduled rematch, which is set to take place on the West Coast, is somehow silently swept under the rug? With situations like this frequently happening how are East Coast fighters supposed to make names for themselves or become relevant in the sport?
Similarly, problems have arisen where West Coast fighters are finding it harder and harder to secure fights outside of their region. When you have one of the best fighters in America willing to come to New York to compete and his manager’s phone is not ringing, there is an issue. It is understood that politics are always going to be part of the sport but there comes a time when the elephant in the room cannot be ignored. Mulkey’s statements might just be that elephant. His comments have already roused fighters and promoters alike, as well as the educated fan base. We can only hope that something constructive comes of this. We can only wish that the sanctioning bodies and the athletic commissions(the real powers that be) are listening. However, I wonder what an event promoted as an East Coast versus West Coast venue would bring to an already divided sport here in America.
Although Muaythai in America is still in its infancy, fighters like Kevin Ross, Ky Hollenbeck, and Miriam Nakamoto, just to name a few, are now making names for themselves and for the sport internationally. However, coming from a place where our Muaythai is often frowned upon by other parts of the world, we need more of our top level fighters competing against each other. Additionally, we need the rules unified. It is going to be one of the only ways to help raise the standards of Muaythai in America, as well as helping to get the American fan base familiar with fighters from each coast. I do agree at times you will find a fighter content with fighting B or C level opponents and unwilling to break out of his or her comfort zone. Despite that, you do have fighters, more often than not, that are willing to travel and compete against tougher competition. To label an entire coast as irrelevant in Muaythai based off of a few rudimentary observations would be a disservice to those who dedicate their lives to the sport they love.
Yes, Chaz Mulkey may be right. The no elbows rule will be a setback that the East Coast will have to deal with until an agreement can be reached. However, to refer to East Coast Muaythai as kickboxing would be watering down a flavorful sport. The elbows may not be there but the culture is. I have seen some beautiful Wai Kru’s being performed in New York and talking to almost any top fighter on the East Coast will remind a person that humility and respect are all an integral part of the game – qualities similar to those found amongst the fighters in Thailand. Additionally, in the East, the knowledge of those who are deeply rooted in the sport can be comparable to those who are involved in the West. Stripping away the “Muaythai” would be stripping away the passion that comes with it. Referring to the sport as kickboxing would take away from the promoters, the fighters, the trainers, and the members of the community who have spent countless hours, days, weeks, and years trying to help develop the sport they love. On the other hand, from the outside looking in, the lack of elbows may be viewed as a dishonor to the art of Muaythai. Those who have been fighting under full Thai rules may find it uncultured to refer to the East Coast’s version of the sport as such. To appease the masses and save face maybe the East Coast should bill their venues as “Modified Muaythai,” at least until the elbow rules change.
In closing, I think these debates are great for Muaythai here in America. For once people are finally talking and it looks as if a few promoters are willing to grant the fighters their request. Whether you agree or disagree with Mulkey and his comments, he has possibly woken up the sleeping potential that America has to become a major contributor of great fighters to the world of Muaythai. Maybe we will finally get a chance to see who the best fighters are. Not just on the East Coast and not just on the West Coast, but the best fighters in America, period.
About John Wolcott
John began practicing Muaythai in 2005. In 2007 he took his first trip to Thailand to train at Kaewsamrit Gym. It was during that trip when he developed a strong attraction for the Thai culture and a deep passion to further expand his understanding of the sport. Since that time, John has returned to Thailand every year to train at notable gyms such as Eminent Air and Sangmorakot. In 2009, John started coaching Muaythai at North Jersey Muay Thai under the guidance Joe Bumanlag and Ray Cruz. In addition to coaching, John acted as US Correspondent for the World Muaythai Magazine from 2007-2009. John is also the chair of the muay thai preservation project. When not involved with Muaythai, John enjoys reading, writing, photography, and studying the Thai language.