Eric Utsch Interview By Matt Lucas
Eric Utsch, a 29 year old, professional muay thai fighter was in San Francisco recently training for an upcoming fight with his trainer Jongsanaan Fairtex. I’d seen Utsch fight before on a previous Fairtex sponsored card and was excited to see him in action. I stopped by the gym to see Eric train. He was exercising his brutal punches and sharp knees. I caught up with the easy going Allentown, Pennsylvania native later for an interview.
Lucas: How did you become involved in fighting?
Utsch:I started Muay Thai in 2003. I was in MMA before that. I became involved in Mixed Martial Arts in 1998. I had a couple fights (Utsch was 3-0 in his MMA career), in my last fight I was against an opponent who was bigger than me, at the time the organizations didn’t have weight brackets. He outweighed me by 50lbs. He had solid striking and by the time I took him to the ground I’d gotten punched and kicked a lot. I had no striking, as I was primarily a jiu jitsu fighter, having trained doing Gracie Jiu Jitsu. I was lumped up real bad. I told my trainer that I thought my jiu jitsu was real solid but that I needed to work on my striking.
Lucas: So you became interested in Muay Thai after that?
Utsch: Yeah, I ordered videos from Melchor Menor from San Diego, he’s a two time world muay thai kickboxing champion. I bought the videos but felt that they left a lot out, so I contacted him personally. At the time I was working as a tattoo artist so I was making a good deal of money. I flew Menor out to my house and he trained me for three days. Menor went over the techniques on the videos and told me to continue to train according to the videos. Three or four weeks later, he contacted me asking if I was still training to the videos. I told him that I was and he asked me for a favor. I asked him if he needed twenty dollars or something. Menor said that there was a Vut productions fight in LA and that he had two fighters on it. Vut told Menor that they needed three fighters or the other two fighters wouldn’t be able to fight. Menor asked if I would come out to train with him for two weeks then go out and fight in LA. I was an MMA fighter at the time and told him that I would try but I couldn’t promise him anything. I went out and trained. Menor thought my cardio was good but that my technique was slacking because I’d only had a couple months of Muay Thai training. We went to LA and the other two fighters bouts were cancelled that night and I was stuck fighting. I went out and fought against Ryan Vanderlinden. We brawled it out; like it was a slug fest and I knocked him out in the first minute of the second round. Afterwards I thought to myself, “Man this shit is great! I really love Muay Thai!”
Lucas: How long did you continue to work with Menor for?
Utsch: I had my first six fights with Mel and then things started slowing down with him. I’d gotten two losses with him and he wasn’t really happy with that. I couldn’t get many fights with Melchor anymore so I started training with Coban Lookchamesaithong. Coban is famous for fighting Ramon Deckers four times. His style is to push forward, eat the attacks and return. I started to fight better and better opponents. As my opponents became more experienced they were able to kick and punch much harder so I started to dislike Coban’s style of fighting. I flew out to see a Dennis Warner Promotions fight in Vegas and Jongsanaan Fairtex was fighting. Jongsanaan fought a Japanese opponent and crushed him. Jongsanaan was really slick using his hands. Warner promotions were having frequent cards so I flew out to see a couple more fights. Jongsanaan fought a couple guys from Holland and he whooped them up. I talked to Coban telling him that I’d really like to train with Jongsanaan. Coban took care of Jongsanaan when Jongsanaan was younger. Songchai, a thai promotor, was sending Thai guys all over the place with Coban and Jongsanaan being in the group. Jongsanaan was the youngest of the group so Coban looked after him. Coban was sad that I wanted to leave the camp but respectfully he called up Jongsanaan and told him that I wanted to come out to San Francisco and train with Jongsanaan for one fight. Training with Jongsanaan was so much different. He’d seen my style and really added to it. He wasn’t one-dimensional thinking there was one way to fight but instead augmented my style of fighting, making it more. I like to be a slick fighter like Naruphon Fairtex, guys who are in control even if they don’t necessarily look like they are in control. I don’t like the “buffalo head” style that I have. I’ll eat it and return even though Jongsanaan really added to my game.
Lucas: When did you start fighting for Fairtex?
Utsch: I began fighting for Fairtex in early 2005. My first bout under them was with Andres Gohl from Orange Sweet Science. It was a rematch as I’d already fought him in the previous year in April. In the first fight I’d had an off night and he’d had an on night, but I pulled it off and won. It was a hard bout and he said that he’d been robbed. So I wanted to fight him again and really give it to him. Jongsanaan and I trained for the night and I just crushed him (Gohl). If he wasn’t a physically tough guy he would have been knocked out. I punched him in the third round and saw his eyes roll into the back of his head. I thought to myself that he was going down. I just waited for him to fall but he just wouldn’t fall. I hit him again and his eyes popped back down. Gohl started throwing combos again and I knew that he was tough. I won it with good knees and good hands; I felt that I looked really slick. I think that was one of my best fights. That was my first fairtex fight.
Lucas: Who is your next fight with?
Utsch: My next fight is with Judha Ciervo, from Fight Factory in Pennsylvania. Then I’ll be fighting Jack Thames in San Francisco on a Fairtex card. Thames is from Two Kicks in Las Vegas. The fight with Jack will be a real tough match. If I can beat him I’m going to feel really solid as a professional American Muay Thai fighter. Jongsanaan said that if I fight and beat Jack that we’ll try for someone a little tougher, then someone a little tougher, and so on.
Lucas: What is your goal with fighting?
Utsch: I’d like to fight at a professional level internationally. Even guys like Ramon Decker said that American Muay Thai fighters weren’t very solid. I actually think that the US can have a good running in Muay Thai world wide. I think that right now with the upsurgence of MMA, Muay Thai is really being left in the shadows. In MMA you need a well rounded game, you need competent jiu jitsu and you need to be adept at Muay Thai so I think that Muay Thai should get bigger in the States.
Step into my office…
Lucas: How do you feel that the Asian Contender series will affect the popularity of Muay Thai in the States?
Utsch: I’m really saddened that the series hasn’t taken off here in the states. I think it was because of a lack of drama between the fighters. The fighters weren’t being spectacular, peeing on each other and breaking glasses. In the Ultimate Fighter (a mma reality TV series) it’s upcoming, talented but new fighters. My coworkers treat these guys like their huge names like; Yodsanklai, John Wayne Parr or Randy Couture. I think the Asian Contender had such experienced guys that the viewing population didn’t really understand what was going on, unless the viewers already had a base knowledge about the complexities of Muay Thai.
Lucas: In my experience there is a different crowd with different sports. A boxing crowd is different than a Muay Thai crowd which is going to be different from a MMA crowd. The Muay Thai crowd seems to be really respectful and mellow.
Utsch: I would agree, Muay Thai crowds are pretty respectful. MMA crowds usually will have rowdier guys in them.
Lucas: Do you and Jongsanaan create a game plan for each bout?
Utsch: We go over techniques that we think that will go well against each opponent but when it comes down to it, it’s a fight. It’s got a good deal of chance to it. You might have seen a video of the guy fighting before but he might have changed. He might have spent the last three or four weeks kicking and in a previous fight he was more of a boxer. You can’t really plan for that. It’s not like in boxing where a guy will use his uppercut all the time or will use the same 6 techniques. In Muay Thai in one bout you might punch a lot while in the next you might want to clench. There are so many different things that could happen. We have a basic game plan that we shoot for but try to adapt it when we get in the ring.
Lucas: Why do you fight?
Utsch: Basically I fight because I can’t sing and dance. How am I going to make money with a face like this? I can’t be a male dancer.
Lucas: (Laugh) But you want to be in the entertainment industry? How long do you think you’ll continue fighting for?
Utsch: Jongsanaan and I were talking today about that. We want to try to get as many fights as I can over the next two years and then when the smoke clears see where we’re at. Then see if we want to push things along, retire, or just fight occasionally for fun.
Utsch went on to fight on the Friday Night Fight card held in New York City against Ciervo. He won by decision. I wish him luck with his upcoming fight against Jack Thames on the Fairtex card Febuary 21st in Santa Clara, California called “War of the Heroes 2!”