King Tong of L.A. – An Interview with David Huerta


David Huerta, The Golden Branch of Los Angeles, is a man about town. Having grown up in the city of Angels he’s been a fighter, promoter, and a coach at Robot Fight & Fitness. He’s also trained and fought some of the best featherweight fighters on the west coast, Eric Luna and Jason Andrada, to name a few. He’s taking on Anthony  Perales at the WCK event on December 4th. I got a chance to talk to the east L.A. native about promoting, fighting, and loyalty.

How did you get into Muay Thai?

I was always into boxing when I was a kid. I’d tried karate when I was in junior high and did a couple competitions and fights but I didn’t really like karate that much. I wanted to be a boxer. I got into MMA in high school and soon after I graduated I learned about Pride, the fighting organization. During the events I kept hearing “Muay Thai! Muay!” I ended up moving down the street from a Muay Thai gym in east LA and I had to try it.  The first time I went in I fell in love with it. It had things that I loved, boxing and martial arts. I found a sport where I could kick and punch. I started with Jorge Zarate who I’ve been with since day one.


You’ve been with Team Zarate working out of the East L.A. Youth Center for over 11 years. Why have you chosen to stay with Zarate for so long?

I think I have everything I need with him. I’ve never felt like there’s something I’ve been missing. I’ve worked with a lot of trainers,  going to other gyms sparring there, or taking their classes but with Zarate I feel like he’s the whole package. He has a lot of knowledge and brings something different to the game. He was a boxer himself and trained under Montri Suppanich who acts as an adviser to him.  I train with Zarate four or five days a week with him and train at other gyms as supplement too.

We’ve always had a small team so we’ll go to other gyms to get our sparring in. When you spar with the same people you pretty much know their game, what works against them so we usually go to other gyms especially when we’re getting ready for fights.  I’ve never wanted to switch gyms though.

How do you feel when people chose other gyms, or gym hop? 

That’s a tough question. I’m fortunate enough to have found a trainer that knew the sport. Zarate did Muay Thai when it was under Full Contact Karate rules. He was fortunate enough to train with a Thai guy- Montri. I’ve been lucky to train with someone that knows the game. A lot of people go into the gym not knowing about it and don’t realize that their trainer isn’t a traditional Thai boxing instructor until several years later. It’s a waste of time. I’ve seen it myself. They don’t know how to check or throw a proper kick.  So for some people I think it’s good. They realize they’re not getting the instruction that they need.

I also see it the other way too. If you have a trainer that’s built you up and has helped you out throughout your career and you see another trainer that says they are gonna help you out so you switch… well I don’t really respect that. I think loyalty is important in this game.

What is training with Zarate and Montri like? How have they influenced you?

I’ve been with Coach for a long time. Zarate’s knowledge with the game is impressive and he knows the right words that trigger certain emotions from me. He knows me really well and we have a close relationship. He’s also very technical. He’s a perfectionist. If he sees any flaws he’s gonna correct it. We do a lot of different types of sparring. We spar against professional western boxers, MMA guys, and a lot of other Thai boxers.

As a coach I’ve learned to focus a lot of technique and repetition, which is something, that Zarate taught me. He also understands the game a lot, the mental aspect and how a fighter thinks. He has also taught me how to deal with promoters.

We come from a small gym and everyone in the gym is a fighter but at Robot where I coach I am teaching people that want to learn the sport but may never want to fight. I’ve had to switch styles and do a lot more drilling and cardio based activities. We still do a lot of the same things though; hit thai pads, spar, drill, and clinch. The usual Muay Thai training.

Montri became a huge influence over my fight career. I fought on one of his shows for Songkran and he taught me the wai khru. He took me under his wing and has taught me a lot about promoting. He’s the one that helped being out Sanchai, Kaoklai, Sakkadeo etc. Zarate trained under Montri in 1982. Montri started promoting in the mid 1970s and brought out a bunch of fighters including; Desielnoi, Kaosod, Narongnoi, Detphakong, Kitti Sor thanikul etc.

Montri also gave me my nickname, King Tong, which means “Golden Branch” in Thai. He named me after one of his favorite fighters, King Tong, a Muay Thai boxer in Thailand.69277_576739815680835_2091978147_n

You’ve had some breaks in your career. What is it like having a long gap in between fights? 

My last fight was 9 months ago and the fight before that was about the same amount of time, May of 2013. On December 5th 2010 I was fighting for an amateur title, against Mario Martinez, it was part of the undercard for Chaz Mulkey vs Joe Schilling and Malaipet vs Kevin Ross. For the fight I cut too much weight, I’d dehydrated myself, and I wasn’t able to rehydrate. I collapsed in the ring. It was a good fight and I was doing well. I looked on the scorecards later and I was winning. In the fourth round my body couldn’t take it anymore and I ended up collapsing. I lost the fight of course. My family and friends were scared about what happened. I came back after a couple weeks off and a rematch was supposed to happen but didn’t. I ended up taking a break from fighting. I focused on promoting. We did several MTA shows. I ended up taking about 3 years off and then fought Eric Luna on a M-One Grand show that was May of 2013. In the past 4 years I’ve had 3 fights. December 4th when I fight on the WCK card will be an anniversary from when I had that accident. So I’m excited for this bout.

How does it feel seeing past opponent’s go on to success? Do you feel your career has been slow compared to other fighters such as Luna and Andrada? 

I’m excited for some of my past opponents. I expect them to do well. Luna has had two pro fights and I think he’s gonna have a great pro career. Jason started off his pro career doing really well. I think it’s good. In this sport, or at least for me, I end up being friends with the guys I’ve fought in the past. I think there’s a chance we’ll fight again in the future and I like that they’re doing well. I like that my past opponents are representing the U.S. well. There are a lot of new guys that are coming up though. When I see them I don’t think they really know what some of us have done. Some of these guys turn pro early and don’t know that some of the other pros have had a long amateur career. That bugs me sometimes but then again if they want to turn pro and think it’s their time well more power to them. I’m excited to come back and make a name for myself. Each fight I get closer to what I want to do and where I want to be.

How would you describe your fighting style? 

I have a traditional style. I also have good hands which some Thai boxers lack.

You’ve done a fair amount of promoting working with MTAA and M One. What was that like?

I loved promoting. Being able to bring fighters from other countries and having them fight on our shows was amazing. Helping with the match making, dealing with fighters and trainers was both great experience and negative one. I think there are a lot of things that go on that people don’t know. One of the major things that I saw is that there is no loyalty when it comes to promoting- if you can do something for me than great we are gonna use you but as soon as we get what we want we are gonna move on to the next person. That was something I didn’t like.

Fighting on the same show that I was helping to promote was too much. I was juggling too many things. I was working a full time job, I was training, working part time as a trainer, and helping promoting. It got a little too stressful. I lost focus on what I was trying to do. My time right now is as a fighter. I’ll have the opportunity to promote in the future.

Now that you coach how does coaching influence your fighting and vice versa?

Now that I have students I go back and review the things that I was having a hard time with technique being a major factor. There is also learning. I think teaching itself is an art – how to break down a move, and how to take the proper steps without skipping the fundamentals. A lot of times we want to teach fancy moves or get to the things that are more exciting but you have to learn how to crawl before you can walk. You have to be patient. Explaining moves to students helps me get a better grasp of what exactly we are trying to do.

As far as the fighting… I put pressure on myself. I have to perform well and students help motivate me. If my students and fighters are training hard, eating right, and pushing them I feel like I need to do the same thing or even more.


What do you look for in a fighter?

The number one thing is that they have to have heart. I think that with the drills and the type of teaching that we do they’ll learn the technique but I think the key factor is having heart.

I try to emulate what I look for by being pushing myself. My trainer tests me out as well. We have hard training sessions at the gym and when you feel like quitting my trainer pours it on even more. His job is to make our training sessions way harder than the fight. So when the fight comes around we’re ready for it.

How do you feel about your last bout against Adam Rothweiler?

I’ve grown a lot since my fight with Adam.  I’ve finally got rid of some of the rust from the long lay off, I feel sharp, and back like my old self. Im looking forward to showing that in my next fight.

I think it was a close fight but I think I edged out the victory. He was the aggressor but I landed more clean shots and frustrated him with my movement. I would be more aggressive in our next bout but again I think rust had a lot to play in my performance.

Where do you think the U.S. Muay Thai scene is going? How do you think Muay Thai boxers here in the States compare internationally?

The U.S has a lot of talented fighters and we are able to compete against the best. One of the main differences I see with our fighters and international fighters is the lack of opportunities to fight against world class competition. It’s rare when promoters bring top level fighters to compete in the U.S. The times that they have our fighters have matched up well against them. I think in the next few years America will be in the same conversation as Holland, France, Russia, etc as one of the top countries in Thai Boxing. It seems like our athletes are finally sticking to Muay Thai instead of losing them to other sports like boxing and MMA.

How long would you like to fight?

I want to fight as long as my body allows me to. I feel fresh still. I don’t take a lot of punishment in my fights as I have good defense so as long as my trainers say that I am still at a high level and still able to fight I don’t see myself quitting.

What would you like to accomplish?

I’d like to become a world champion and would like to fight whoever is in my way for that. I’d like to fight internationally and would like to fight any Americans that are in my weight class and move on from there. I want to do as much as I can while I can.


About Author

Born in upstate New York Matt Lucas moved to California in 2004. He eventually settled in the Bay Area and began training at Pacific Ring Sports under Mike Regnier and Ganyao Arunleung where he stayed until 2015. He currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand and recently published his first novel, The Boxer’s Soliloquy.

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