For those of you not familiar with Mark Beecher, Beecher has been a longtime coach and freelance trainer here in the states who has worked with a number of notable Muay Thai fighters: Kevin Ross, Chaz Mulkey, Bryan Popejoy and a number of MMA fighters as well. He recently went out to Bangkok to help out with IFMA (International Federation of Muay Thai Amateurs). I took some time out with him to talk about what it was like going out to Thailand for the event.
How did you get into Muay Thai?
I moved to LA to fight MMA but the gyms in LA were lazy. I was really good at Jiu jitsu and I wanted to fight but they weren’t serious. I saw Bryan Popejoy fight and told him, “I wanna fight. I don’t care what it is. I want to fight.” He said, “alright.” We sparred a bit and he beat me up and then he said “okay let’s do this.” I started doing just Muay Thai and fought a bunch.
I then went to Las Vegas because they, Xyience training center, which became Syndicate MMA, wanted me to be the coach. I’d never coached before and so if I didn’t think I’d be good at it I wasn’t gonna do it but they liked me. Forest Griffin liked me.
I decided that I was a way better coach than I ever was a fighter. I trained at Master Toddy’s and became friends with Kevin for 10 years. Then Chaz came in and we used to beat him up. Now I don’t beat him up no more.
I’ve trained a lot of really good MMA fighters and a lot of good Muay Thai fighters.
Right now I’m freelancer. I’m just doing seminars. I might do Matt Brown’s camp… Sooner or later I’m gonna open a gym, at some point. I’m not sure where though. Right now I live in Dallas and there’s Sakeson’s place but it’s way up north. I’m trying to get Kirian Fitzgibbons to open a CSA 2. I really love California but it’s hard out there. I’ve proved that I can coach though.
How did you get onto the IFMA team?
It was a combination of things. They asked me several months ago to coach the team but I couldn’t, as they didn’t provide any compensation. I wish they’d had funding. As it stands now the coaches have to pay for their own trip, hotel, flight and all kinds of stuff. It was a bill for $4000 dollars.
Kirian Fitzgibbons promised that he would go. For those of you who don’t know Kirian is a very busy man. He called me and said, “I promised I would do it. I’m a man of my word but I can’t go. I’ll buy your ticket out there if you can go coach the team for me.”
I was like “okay. When is it?”
“Tomorrow,” Kirian said.
“Shit,” I replied but anyways, yeah I went. I coached and everyone did great.
What was it like coaching with Bryan Popejoy? Obviously you’ve worked together in the past…
He’s one of my best friends. I learned a lot from him. We know what each other are gonna say. We work together really well and he’s such a nice guy. It was really easy to work with. He’s one of the nicest guys in the world but you don’t want to be kicked by him.
What were some of the problems of traveling and working with IFMA?
There are so many aspects of difficulties and crazy stuff. For me personally; I’d just moved across the country and the next day I got on a plane and flew to Thailand. A lot of people think we were partying and stuff but we worked. We trained. We tried to come up with game plans as much as we could, after all you don’t know who you’re fighting. Tried to get to know the fighters a little bit. Try to see their style. And with the travel because we weren’t staying in a hotel, we had to commute a lot. It was tiring.
A lot of the difficulty is that these guys are true amateurs from America. I don’t know what the percentage is for most of the other countries but most are professionals. If you look at IFMA rulebook it states that you can be professional, you just can’t be ranked at the top 10 at Lumpinee or Rajadamern. Andre Kublin fought in IFMA. Other countries pay and if their fighters win they get houses and cars. We don’t have that. Our guys don’t have that luxury so it’s hard on them.
I think that we should have tournaments to figure out who gets to go- an 8-man tournament that is two days, Saturday and Sunday just like IFMA. Then the winner get to go to IFMA. While the show needs to make their money back the profit or proceeds should go to the fighters that way it’s not so much of a burden.
I think we should also, I don’t know if they’d do it or not, but get Kevin, Joe Schilling, Artem, the top A guys here in the states to go over there. They aren’t gonna pay to go fight over there so I think there should be a fundraiser or something for our top guys to go to Thailand for a month so they can train and get better. If we could figure something like that out the US would do way better.
What was it like working with completely new athletes? Did you know any of the fighters?
I knew three or four of the guys. I’ve been around for a while so I knew a few of them and I knew a little bit of their style.
I’m not a nice guy in the corner. I told the fighters that and they were very open about my straightforward style.
“Listen you lost that round you better win the next two.” My goal is to motivate and inspire. I tried to talk through them it, that’s my job. I’m a coach.
What did you learn from your experience?
I learned that there is some shady shit. Every organization has some quirks and I think IFMA is doing a great job but they are sort of dogging people for money. They are attempting to present it to the Olympics and I support that. I’m glad they’re doing it. They have to make some kind of money as compared to when I fought in it it’s huge with 2000 fighters. There were dancers, lights, fire and fan faire and so they have to make some money.
Whose performance really stood out to you on the IFMA team?
Of course Troy because he won a gold but all the guys did really great. There were so many fights. Most people won the first round. There was a kid that got dropped in the first round. It was a clean blow and it dropped him. He got up and won that fight. That showed his heart. It was against a guy from Peru. It was Gaston Bolanos’ first coach was the coach of the team.
What was the event like?
It was an outside stadium event with three rings; A,B and C. In Thailand they aren’t smooth so you don’t know what’s coming up next. It’s hard, but for having 2000 people it wasn’t bad. The scoring was iffy. Every day was different with different judges from different countries. One day it was Thai style scoring. The next day it was the guy with all the punches won. There were a bunch of shady refs. Stupid rules. That’s how it goes.
How did the US Team do overall against the other countries?
It’s hard to say. We had 10 guys. Australia had 40 people. There were so many of them. All you could hear was “Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie!! Oi! Oi! Oi!” There were so many people there. It’s hard to say as I could only concentrate on our team.
What were some of your strengths as a coach for the team?
I’ve always been pretty good. I watch to see the flaws in the other guy’s performance, what he does a lot. I can’t really score rounds as I’m busy. I’ve always been pretty good at that. If they decide to listen it works. I’m not saying it always works.
Plus you gotta have fun with this shit. It’s just a fight. I like to crack jokes.
What do you think are some of your weaknesses?
I have no weaknesses. I am made of steel.
As a fighter you have to be selfish. As a coach you have to be selfless. It’s hard to be a fighter and a coach. It was hard for me to switch my mental attitude.
Where did you see areas for improvement for the IFMA team?
I liked when we went Fairtex sponsored us. I stayed there 5 weeks. I trained 7 days a week before the fight. I think all the fighters should have stayed at one camp and trained before they fight. As a team they should have stayed together.
If you had to work with Bryan again what would you do differently?
I would have stayed a little longer. I would have gotten rooms closer that way we could have relaxed a little more. I’d love to coach with Bryan again. I wish the fighters had stayed with 4 weeks at a camp.
Would you coach for IFMA again?
I’d love to. It was a very hard trip. My back was sore. I got sick, Blah blah blah but we had a lot of fun. It was a great bonding experience and a great learning experience. I always tell people “Leave it all in the ring. You go all the way to Thailand and you come out of the ring and you’re not tired…”
I don’t get it if you don’t leave it all in there.