THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND OLYMPIC MUAY THAI
If you haven’t already heard, there are big things in store for the sport of Muay Thai.
Muay Thai has been granted provisional status in the Olympics, which could very well mean the sport is approaching a much larger international stage than the one it currently occupies.
One of the main forces at work behind the scenes to make the art of eight limbs an Olympic sport is Thiago Azeredo.
A recent guest on The Muay Thai Guys Podcast, Thiago has been on the Muay Thai scene since he was a kid. In Thiago’s own words, let’s hear more about the possibilities for Muay Thai in the near future.
AN INTERVIEW WITH MUAY THAI’S AMBASSADOR
Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
AZEREDO: My name is Thiago Azeredo. I have been in the Muay Thai scene for 20+ years. Started with Taekwondo and transitioned to Muay Thai when I was 13 and trained under Aziz Nabih in Queens.
I currently own and operate Sitan Gym Arizona [and have] for 13 years now. I’m also the founder of Siam Fight Productions, United States Muay Thai Open, Plant Powered Prep and USMF’s Youth Development League.
What is USMTO and USMF?
AZEREDO: The United States Muay Thai Open (USMTO) is a tournament that I founded with my partners Brandon Jones and Ryon Burnett when I came back from 2013 IFMA World Championships in Malaysia. I was sad to see how little support the US team had.
The United States Muay Thai Federation is the American national federation that represents the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur (IFMA). IFMA and all their national bodies are recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
How did your experiences as a fighter shape the way you coach and the way you run your promotions? What sets what you do apart from everyone else?
AZEREDO: As an athlete and as a coach 10-15 years ago, fight opportunities were scarce. An athlete 15 years ago was lucky to get one fight a year, and that’s for adults. It was even worse for teens and non-existent for preteens.
My gym in Arizona had a large pool of experienced youth that had run out of local athletes to compete against. Parents could not afford to travel and these kids were hungry to compete. That’s the reason Siam Fight Productions came to be. We started bringing in athletes from over seas for our local athletes to compete against. We were the only show of it’s kind.
In your opinion, what are the main obstacles in the way of Muay Thai getting bigger in the US?
AZEREDO: The main obstacles are, in my opinion, is the understanding of Muay Thai scoring. There are many people in the commission setting that have no Muay Thai experience that are writing the rules for Muay Thai.
The solution is to unify the ruleset and make sure the leadership has extensive Muay Thai experience and training before creating rulesets. A lot of people talk about politics being an issue when it comes to getting selected from the national team, as well as on a smaller scale for match-ups on the scene.
What is your opinion on this?
AZEREDO: I understand why people may have that feeling. For many years, the USMF leadership was not the best at including the entire Muay Thai community in team selection. It was very political.
Within the last year, there has been a major overhaul of the USMF and systems have been put in place to avoid any kind of favoritism. The Siam Fight Productions team have been working hard to create a ranking system, based on merit, of team selection. The process is meant to be transparent and will clearly distinguish the true leaders in the US Muay Thai community.
Why does Muay Thai deserve to be in the Olympics? How will it change Muay Thai in the US and internationally if it does make it in?
AZEREDO: There are many reasons why Muay Thai should be in the Olympics.
First is its rich history. Muay Thai is an old sport with a rich history. Second, it’s practiced all over the world. It is a true international sport. The IFMA World Championships have over 100 countries represented at its games. Third, Muay Thai is now very well organized. IFMA has been working for many years to unify the world under their well organized umbrella. I believe that have achieved that.
I can tell you historically what happened with Taekwondo when it became [an Olympic sport]: it became one of the most practiced martial arts in the world. I believe this is what will happen with Muay Thai… This popularity will result in a growth of fans, promotions, gyms and opportunities/funding for all Muay Thai athletes.
Do you think sacrifices to authenticity have to be made in order to make the sport more “palatable” to the general population?
AZEREDO: Sacrifices have been made for the longest time. Muaythai used to be practiced with no gloves. 100 years ago A Japanese nak muay decided he didn’t want to hurt his hands so he wore gloves which may have resulted in the international growth of Muaythai. I believe that as long as all the 8 limbs are used, clinching is allowed, effectiveness and technique is priority in scoring bouts and the ram muay is performed before each bout that it’s considered to be Muaythai.
As a fighter, trainer, and promoter, what are your 3 main goals for the sport right now?
AZEREDO: As as fighter: Athletes need to compete. Period. This is the best time ever to be an American nak muay. There are tournaments almost every other month, shows every weekend. There’s no excuse. Athletes need to register for the USMF to get ranked on the USMF and IFMA database.
As a trainer: Make sure you always are working on yourself. The sport is always evolving. There is always something new to be learned. Expose yourself to the international competition. Attend an IFMA World Championships. Take a USMF judge and ref course. Learn the ins and outs of every aspect of the sport.
As a promoter: Promoters are responsible for developing athletes experience in the US. Make fair matches in order for the fans to see what good Muay Thai is. Allow athletes to perform ram muay., or at least seal the ring to preserve the heritage.
The Muay Thai community thanks you, Thiago, for all that you’ve done and all that you’re doing. We know the work is nowhere near done, and we all wish to see it all pay off!
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.