James Cook is a busy man. He plays in a band, doing classic rock gigs in San Francisco, works for a law firm, and is preparing to take the bar exam to become a full time lawyer. In the ring, Cook is even busier with over 50 professional Muay Thai fights, twenty amateur boxing fights, five professional boxing fights, and a recent handful of MMA fights. I was able to get a hold of Cook over the telephone to chat in between his work out and a show that he was playing in San Francisco to talk to him about his career, his match with Malapet, and the future of competitive fighting sports.
Lucas:How did you get into Muay Thai?
Cook: I was surrounded by people doing Muay Thai in the late 80s, early 90s. At the time I was going to the Minnapolis Martial arts academy. I was professionally fighting out of there for a while. In 1996 I was involved in the Prince’s cup. I did well, beating a couple of Thai guys. I was the only American to win.
Lucas: You’ve expanded and done some boxing as well as MMA how did you get involved in that?
Cook: I’d had a bunch of amateur boxing fights, about 20, and when I became a professional Muay Thai fighter I started doing professional boxing. I did all my pro boxing bouts under Golden Boy productions. I’ve had 5 or 6 boxing fights. I started doing MMA later on as the money was better. There is more stuff to do in MMA. There is more opportunity to be creative and to develop. The sport is still in its infancy.
Lucas: How did you get involved with Fairtex?
Cook:I had been a professional Muay Thai fighter for some time and met Alex Gong on a card we fought on together. In 1998 he and Ganyao asked me to fight for them. In 1999 or 2000 I moved to San Francisco as I got a job out here. Fairtex didn’t have that many fighters at the time, and they wanted more. Coincidentally I was scheduled to fight George Testsui of Fairtex at one point, but we didn’t end up fighting.
Lucas: How many Muay Thai bouts have you had?
Cook: I’ve had in the mid 50s, which is a fair amount for an American.
Lucas: Where do you feel Muay Thai is at in the states?
Cook: Muay Thai to me is a little outdated. Americans aren’t that good at Muay Thai. Europeans are better. That’s why I’ve mainly fought overseas. Here in the states there aren’t many opportunities to fight, so when the fights do happen they suck. Of course there are a lot of things that go into it. There are more sponsorships in Europe, there are more fans… For pro fighters like me, the fights are few and far between. Europe doesn’t match up to the states.
Lucas: Why do you think that Muay Thai hasn’t caught on more here in the states?
Cook: I think that the people that are into Muay Thai are already inclined towards it. They are into the Muay Thai music that plays already, that gross music that sounds like cats dying. There isn’t enough of a show here in the states. You can’t create the same stadium effect of Lumpini, with its live band, here in the states. Americans aren’t very good at the Wai Khru either, its ugly. Every camp in Thailand has a different wai khru so its interesting. I also think that Muay Thai has sexist overtones. Lumpini, one of the biggest Muay Thai stadiums, bans women from its rings. MMA has more female fighters. Muay Thai is pretty esoteric. Its okay if you’re already into it though.
Lucas: What has traveling internationally to fight been like?
Cook: I’m spoiled, I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve seen a lot of fights in Europe and Asia. I know what good solid Muay Thai is. I’ve seen great styles develop like Dekkers’, or Rob Kaman’s. Dekkers’ style is effective is great against Thais. Americans haven’t come up with an effective style of Muay Thai. We just brawl. Our fights are so ugly.
Lucas: What do you think of K-1?
Cook:K-1 is not violent enough. You can’t elbow, or clinch, and no knees to the head. The big guys are too oafy.
Lucas: What do you feel you got out of your boxing?
Cook: I got better hands. Boxing is a completely different sport. I learned that I liked to fight. I hate fighting outside of rings, in clubs. Yet I like fighting sports and to compete. Its fun.
Lucas: Jongsanaan is your main trainer now, what is he like as a trainer?
Cook: He treats me a little different. He wants shit to be perfect all the time because I’m fighting at a high level and he’s going to make some money every time I fight
Lucas: What was your training like for this fight with Malapet?
Cook: I did the same routines as usual. This time I’m working with Ganyao. I do a lot of conditioning. I know how Malapet fights. Our last fight was close. A lot of people came up to me and said, “Oh you won man,” but I thought he won fair and square.
Lucas: When did you last fight Malapet?
Cook: It was a few years ago. Actually it was a week or week and a half after Alex passed away.
Lucas: How did this fight with Malapet go?
Cook: I lost. The fight was stopped in 4th round. I got broken ribs in the first round when I caught a kick. They tried to stop it in the 2nd and 3rd. By the 4th my rib was sticking out too far. Fun fight though.
Lucas: What did you learn from boxing?
Lucas: How do you prepare yourself mentally for a fight?
Cook: I watch Survivor (laughs). Actually its all in the training.
Lucas: You’ve fought at Lumpini what was that experience like
Cook: I got a standing ovation. I lost a close fight. The Thai judges look for something different than American judges. The Thai judges look for more substance. They want a guy that looks clean, that has really good technique. I saw a lot of fights. A couple of guys from Fairtex were there, they ended up helping corner me, Ryan Roy and Mike Regnier.
Lucas:What is your strongest attribute in your fights?
Cook:It depends on the fight. Usually though conditioning is my thing. I’m always in good shape.
Lucas: What characteristic do you think a great fighter needs?
Cook: You gotta like to fight. You have fun with it. Sometimes people freak out about fighting while others do it and make it look easy. I’m 40 I’m still fighting, and at a high level. If you’re going to fight as long as me, you have to have discipline in other parts of your life. You can’t drink. Your body has to be used to the training.
Lucas: Where would you like your career to go?
Cook: I’ll take any Muay Thai fights. I’d like to keep fighting until I’m 45, so still fight for a while. I want to do a lot more MMA. I think its a great sport. MMA puts on a show. Its more accessible. I like it that women are included. I’d like to coach. I’d like my kids to fight. I’d like to stay involved.