Career Advice From GLORY Talent Agent, Eric Haycraft
UFC has been around since the late nineties (VHS, anyone?) but I think most nak muay would agree the promotion only started to gather attention during its rise to prominence in 2008. By then, UFC and the fighting styles it promoted—not the least of which, Muay Thai—had become global phenomena.
Today, there is a growing market of online resources and “how-to” books to guide nak muay through their fighting careers. But—like almost everything the Internet touches—the buzz Muay Thai attracted in 2008 has amplified into a disorienting static (the irony of which is not lost on this writer).
But, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Below are excerpts from a 2014 Muay Thai Guy interview with one of three GLORY US talent agents. I am talking about none other than Eric Haycraft. By design or coincidence, Haycraft lays out exactly what a nak muay needs to become a career fighter. (Or, at the very least, he drops some knowledge bombs that will impress your coworkers around the water cooler.)
Haycraft developed his bloodhound skills early in his fighting career. In 1994, and with only one amateur fight under his belt, he set out to meet his favorite fighter, Ramon Dekkers. Equipped with a Kinko fax machine Dekkers sleuthed out fight managers, a villain from Enter the Dragon, and a Frenchman. His detective work landed him a personal correspondence with Dekker’s trainer, Cor Hemmers, and the two have been working together ever since. Haycraft trained in Holland, Dekkers fought in the US, and Haycraft brought Americans to train in Holland.
In 2012, Hemmers contacted Haycraft about the “next big thing in Muay Thai kickboxing.” According to Haycraft, what would become GLORY began as investors’ interest in purchasing K1. Investors wanted Americans to compete in their international promotion, and needed a point man in the States. Enter, Haycraft.
In what follows Haycraft gives a quick lesson in GLORY history, then pivots to the qualities he looks for in a fighter (note: the two are related). Finally, Haycraft deals some serious career advice that any nak muay can learn from. Naturally, these excerpts don’t cover everything. So subscribe to the Muay Thai Guy Podcast on Itunes, or wherever you get your podcasts, to get the full story. (The Haycraft interview was originally published on March 3, 2014.)
[10:10] “It can be very confusing even if you are in the game, because kickboxing, over the years, has become a catchall phrase for a lot of different sports that are kickboxing-oriented sports. And if you were alive in the 80s and you said kickboxing, it meant something completely different than what it means now.
“Modern kickboxing, as we know it, is really based off the Japanese-created kickboxing that the Dutch took back to Holland and perfected. And that then really took hold with the formation of K1 in the early 90s.
“1993 was the first ever K1 Grand Prix, and that type of kickboxing has evolved, over time, into a much faster sport. And some of the things you have to do to speed up a sport and make it more boxing oriented, is, one: you have to take elbows out of the equation. Because you have to respect an elbow because of cuts, you have to be a little more conscious with your boxing combinations. So if you want to speed up a game, or you don’t want it to end on cuts, you remove the elbows. So kickboxing took the elbows out.
“The other thing you have to do is you have to either eliminate or limit the clinch. And the clinch rule has changed drastically over the years from. When K1 first started you were allowed to use both hands on the head, you were allowed to make multiple knees. Then it kind of changed to only one knee, then it transitioned to where you can only use one hand on the head, and then you had to release. The latest rendition, of course, with GLORY, is a little bit more of a compromise back to the middle.
“So the biggest difference between K1 and GLORY with the rules, you are allowed to use two hands in the clinch, you are allowed to use more than one knee, you are allowed to turn the person and make knees. And as long as you are staying active you can have up to five seconds in that clinch. Still the goal is not to have the referee keep breaking people every five seconds. The goal is, if you are on the attack then you can take advantage of that and then you release, and continue on the attack.”[19:00] “Well obviously we want people that can fight that style. There are lots of really good traditional Muay Thai fighters that do not make successful transitions to kick boxing rules. It makes them no less than an amazing fighter, its just that’s not their rule set. So there’s been plenty of traditional Muay Thai fighters that you kind of have to—you realize they have a great name, have a great resume, but are they going to make the right transition?
“Because it takes two to tango, and if you’ve got one guy that can’t handle the pace and he is going to clinch and hold, then they have to be broken. Clinch, hold, they have to be broken, clinch, hold, they have to be broken. Or to get out of the pressure he is going to do illegal throws, which are illegal in kickboxing, not illegal in Muay Thai.
“So you kind of got to find fighters that can fight kickboxing rules, first of all. And there are a lot of nak muay that have that style. They have a punch-first type of style that can make it a successful transition.
“When we are talking about the United States, the big catch is this: there’s not a lot of great Muay Thai fighters or kick boxers in America right now. It’s a very young scene. There are a lot of amateur fighters that have dreams of getting to that stage, but they are not there yet. So the challenge has been to find guys that either already have this level that allows them to jump really fast into the big leagues, or to find somebody that’s got some experience. Maybe they had a substantial amateur career or something else.
“And that’s the biggest challenge. GLORY is on TV, now. So we are trying to get as many Americans that are at the level that TV time is possible. And you can see, we have been really lucky, we have guys like Dustin Jacoby who came from MMA. He was a last minute replacement in our Road to GLORY in Tulsa Oklahoma.
“I remember the night when I sat own with Dale Cook, we had lost one of the guys who didn’t get on his
plane and he said, look I have this guy who, if you approve him, he will drive overnight to be here. And I said, we don’t have much of a choice. On paper he looks like he would do OK, and none of us ever dreamed he would walk in and win every fight and walk away with it all. And he’s a stud athlete, and he’s the kind of guy that I think there are probably a lot of them floating around out there and we don’t know about, yet, and that we are going to find—that maybe they are in MMA or maybe they are in Muay Thai or maybe they are even younger kick boxer that are coming up that can jump quick.
“Another guy is Wayne Barrett. You look at Wayne Barrett and he’s got relatively few fights and he’s already made one of these big jumps. He’s now one of the names everybody is talking about in the US scene.
“Guys like Joe Valtalini out of Canada. Joe has got a handful of fights, and he went to war with Nieky Holzken and this first generation of guys we are looking for those exceptional guys that can step up and carry the weight of GLORY in North America against the international guys that have 50, 60, 70 fights under their belt. And I think if we can find those guys that can help us in those first couple of years, and it gets everything established, then we’ll be able to develop younger guys more efficiently. We will say, ‘OK, it’s not such a big rush. Its not going to be everyone has to have ten fights and fight Nieky Holzken.'”[34:05] “First and foremost, GLORY is the best kickboxing league in the world. So if you don’t have any fights you’re probably not going to get a call back right now—if you send in your resume. If you have four amateur fights, you’re probably not going to get a call back right now. If you are an MMA fighter without a substantial career and experience, you are probably not going to get a call back right now.
“And that’s not to dissuade people from dreaming, but it’s the best league in the world. So if you were a pick up basketball player, you are probably not going to send an email to the NBA and ask, ‘Hey, somebody, take a look at me.’ It’s not going to happen.
“There’s routes to go through. The first is, get experience. Get as much experience as you can. Catalogue that experience. You need to have videos. If a fighter emails me and says, ‘I am really interested, I’m awesome,’ everybody that calls me tells me that they are awesome. I want to believe them all, but I can’t take them at their word, I need to see it. If you don’t have any videos of your fights, there is nothing I can do for you. I’ve got to see the fights.
“It’s got to be recent. If all your fights were from ten years ago, that doesn’t really apply anymore. Those are kind of used up. So what I tell guys is, get busy, fight as often as you can. If you can’t find kickboxing fights right now, do Muay Thai. Stay as active as possible. One of the ways you can do that in the US is stay amateur as long as you can. The moment you turn professional, the brakes are going to hit on your career.”
*Eric Haycraft is also the owner and head coach of Real Fighters Gym in Louisville, Kentucky