A streaking talent, a rising star – sidelined by injury. This is the story of British nak muay ying Lisa Brierley. . .
LISA BRIERLEY: FROM THE BRINK OF DEFEAT
Lisa Brierley is a hidden gem in Muay Thai today whose rise has been anything but uneventful.
The 27-year-old Brit hailing from Hertfordshire began practicing Muay Thai under the tutelage of the late and great Liam Robinson at Superpetch in Northampton. Liam’s passing was felt by the whole Muay Thai community, but none more so then his students and friends.
After taking a hiatus from Muay Thai, Lisa visited Thailand and ended up at Santai Muay Thai training under Thailand Pinsinchai, one of the greatest champions of the Golden Era who, in his career, became Lumpinee, Rajadamern and Thailand champion. Lisa was quickly offered a position as a sponsored fighter at the much-revered gym Santai Muay Thai, returning to commence her rollercoaster career in Thailand in January 2017. A tough start in Thailand led Lisa to have her training undertaken by the infamous Manasak Pinsinchai, Rajadamern and WMC World Champion.
What followed was truly a trial by fire. Often considered the underdog, Lisa went on to fight and defeat a host of champion fighters – indeed, some of the toughest names on the Thai circuit today, including Zaza Zor Aree, Nong Benz, and Fani Peloumpi. Following her winning streak, Lisa defeated the Northern Thailand champion Nong On to become Thapae Stadium Champion at 51 kg and subsequently becoming a 2x world champion, defeating Fanny Ramos at MTGP in France.
Suddenly, in the midst of her incredible hot streak, disaster struck for Lisa. In her following fight against 10x world champion Thanonchanok Kaewsamrit for the WPMF World Championship, Lisa sustained a ruptured ACL and torn MCL (see video at the bottom, beginning at 8:00). The injuries have posed incredible roadblocks for the young nak muay. Still, Lisa remains an embodiment of the Muay Thai spirit: humble, respectful, compassionate, and ferocious. Lisa has become and will continue to be a driving force behind raising the notoriety of the nak muay ying (or, “female fighters”) in Thailand.
While she awaits treatment for her career-threatening injuries, we caught up with Lisa for an exclusive interview.
“It’s easier for boys to get the recognition on the global stage whereas girls often remain hidden.”
MTG: What made you want to train in Thailand?
LB: I first visited Thailand in 2011 where I spent time travelling around the country learning about the culture and Country but only spent a little time at a small family run gym in Ayutthaya (Si-Palang Gym). I fought twice in one week and fell in love with the sabai sabai attitude the Thais had towards fighting and promised myself I would return for a longer stint in the future.
MTG: How did you come to train under Manasak Pinsinchai?
LB: I started training with Manasak in July 2017. I had been on a losing streak and fractured my right shin, so the gym decided change my trainer to Manasak. I had worked with three different trainers prior to the swap to Manasak and I really felt this was my last opportunity to show I had what it takes to be a good foreign fighter in Thailand.
He stripped me of everything I knew and took me completely back to basics, training me in southpaw. He focused firstly on my technique, timing and distancing of my striking. He created a training schedule for me that I knew I had to perform daily before even think of leaving the gym to make my body less “soft.” He would even run with me so I wasn’t alone on dark mornings or he’d use my old bicycle to follow while I ran. I noticed I became the first one in the gym and last one to leave, [because he was] watching over me until I was done, even though his duty of work was finished.
Once my body was up to scratch and I became comfortable in southpaw, he began teaching me more and more every day. Ring control, scoring, gamblers control, “faking the referee”… During this whole period, outside of training he would help me with my diet and recovery, such as ice baths, massage, supplements, and rest.
He is the most dedicated trainer to his students inside training and out. He will critique you until what he sees is perfection and nothing less. The effort he puts in, he expects back (rightly so) and if you don’t [return it], believe me – he is not shy to tell you.
MTG: For you, what have been the highlights of your fighting career in Thailand?
LB: It’s tough to pick a few, but I suppose January started with a stadium title win at Thapae against Nong On at 51 kg. I had fought her twice before and won both and took the win for the third time by unanimous decision. This was a huge high for me and one of the first big hurdles on my path.
February 6th, I fought in Bangkok against multiple world champion Zaza Zor Aree at a heavier weight class. I fight between 48-51 kg and fought her at 53 kg, weighing in at 51.6 kg. In the first round, I could really notice the weight difference. But I fought on and found in the second round that she got tired quickly, which gave me the confidence to go forward into the clinch. I scored a lot in the second round and went into the third ahead on points, enabling me to control the last round femur style. I won by unanimous decision. Definitely one of the highs of my year as I was told daily by everyone I would lose by KO.
Then in March, I went onto compete in an eight-woman tournament at 51 kg in Ayutthaya. Three fights in one day (3 rounds x 2 minutes). I fought my way to the final but came up short on points to Thanonchanok Kaewsamrit. A highlight of this tournament was beating Fani Peloumpi on points in the semi-final. She had been training in Thailand for nearly ten years and is a multiple-time world champion in my weight division. This was a mixture of highs and lows as I was so happy I made the final and who I fought to get there, but was sad that I got so far but just didn’t do enough to take the win.
MTG: Talk about becoming a two-time world champ.
LB: I ended up taking the world title fight on four days’ notice just after competing two days before. Fanny Ramos was originally scheduled to fight Crystal Lawson from America, but she pulled out last minute. The fight was offered to me which of course I accepted and flew out alone from Thailand to France on Wednesday morning. Manasak wasn’t able to come as there was no time to apply for a visa, so I met my gym managers on the Thursday afternoon for weigh-in on Friday.
I didn’t have time to prepare for the fight or even do any homework on Fanny and fought without my eyes (Manasak) so I was truly overwhelmed I won under such circumstances. Manasak has been by my side for around a year now, instructing me in every fight and fight camp, but he was always there before the fight helping with making weight, rest, and re-hydration. It really was a test to do the whole event alone with him just video messaging when we could. I was so happy I could finally showcase to Europe who I am and the level of my skill on such a big stage. I had been fighting in Thailand a while now and no one outside Thailand really knew me.
It’s easier for boys to get the recognition on the global stage whereas girls often remain hidden. A lot of the UK only know me for moving to Thailand and losing a lot in the first months I was here, but not many people realized what level of girls I was fighting, WMC world champions with over quadruple fight experience I had, but this fight gave me the chance to show everyone how far I had come, especially when fighting someone who had roughly same fight experience if not more than me and winning unanimously.
MTG: Take us through that pivotal fight where you had sustained your injuries.
LB: So I had previously lost to Thanonchanok in the final of the eight-woman tournament. It was a very close fight and the WPMF promoter promised me the rematch. I had a strict game plan from Manasak: kicking her front leg, teeping with my back leg, and moving into the clinch once she tired throughout the fight. There was a side bet of 50,000 baht which was not organized until the night of the fight. I felt confident as I had fought her before, knew of her style and had come off a few big wins that year.
I began to feel my opponent out. I started to get comfortable and threw a left kick but when Thanchanok stepped backwards, I missed. I tried to control myself so I wouldn’t swing around, giving her my back, and that’s when I felt a pop in my knee. I instantly knew my knee was unstable. The bell rang and I went back to my corner trying to hide the limp. It wasn’t painful as such, but very unstable and gave way each time I put weight on. I made my trainer aware and he instructed me to go orthodox to take the weight off my front right leg.
I had trouble hiding the injury. I forgot my instructions to switch to right guard and I stayed in southpaw, which showed my instability. My opponent acted quickly on this and began throwing huge low kicks. I tried to block and throw kicks back, but my leg gave way and I collapsed to the floor. When the next round began, I was completely in panic mode. I couldn’t believe this had happened and I was trying everything to get close to my opponent so I wouldn’t receive any more low kicks. I took a big elbow and I instantly thought, “fuck it, this can’t get any worse.” I forgot everything and kind of went into over drive mode of no pain and fear. I came back to take the fourth round big and scored points in the fifth, but didn’t do enough to grab the win due to the eight count in the second round. I knew deep down that to win, I would have to knock her out, and Thanonchanok, being the clever and amazing fighter she is, knew she only had to stay away from me in the fifth to win. I tried to chase her as much as I could, but with my knee I was just that little bit to slow to pin her down. Unfortunately, I lost the fight 48-47 on points.
My trainer Manasak jumped in the ring and carried me out to the warm-up area, where I tried to hold my tears back in front of all the spectators. After, I was taken to a government hospital where they x-rayed my nose and knee. I returned to Chiang Mai the next morning and the following couple of days, I went to a private hospital for an MRI scan and the specialist looked at me. The results showed I had a slight fracture on my nose, which seemed to pale in comparison to the news that not only had I ruptured my ACL, but I had also endured bucket handle tear in my MCL.
MTG: What’s next for Lisa Brierley?
I am currently waiting for surgery, but waiting lists in the UK are very long. My good friends who I met at Santai this year kindly set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the surgery that I need. In the meantime, I have been doing pre-op rehab, which will hopefully help with recovery after the op.
After the accident, I could barely put any weight on my leg, but now I am able to stand, walk, and bike at a slow pace. Improvement has been made, but I still lack full motion and agility in my knee. It’s heartbreaking to know all the progress I have made in the last month or so will be stripped of me, and I will be back on crutches again after the op and have to start over. However, I am prepared to do what it takes to get back to full recovery.
I am now in Thailand, helping my gym with anything I can: social media, office work, new students. I want to help in any way possible. The Thai community has been really supportive of me since the accident, so during this time I have free, I want to give back as much as I can to anyone and everyone.
Lisa is almost three-quarters of the way to being able to afford surgery for the injuries she sustained fighting. If you’d like to help, please visit her GoFundMe page here. If you’d like to keep up with Lisa, visit her on Facebook.
- Josh has been Thai boxing for more than 10 years in the UK and Thailand. Currently recovering from injury, he is the head coach at Phraya Pichai in Belfast, Northern Ireland.