To the casual observer or fan of kickboxing or Muay Thai fighting, the best of the best in those genres of combat sports are competitors from places other than America.
Obviously Muay Thai is rooted in Thailand, and some of the most devastating knockout artists have come out of that area of the world, and to this day many fighters still travel there to find the best stand-up and striking training for kickboxing or MMA.
Kickboxing has been a sport that flourished throughout Europe with the popular K-1 series of shows, and of course the K-1 Grand Prix taking place in Japan.
While both sports have been in the United States for some time, only now are promotions starting to really pop up, putting the emphasis on not only creating high level Muay Thai and kickboxing shows for American audiences, but home grown American fighters are starting to be seen as some of the best in the world.
“I think we’re getting more respected. I think as a whole the level for Muay Thai on an international stage for the U.S. is still not at the top, but there are 6 or 8 of us that are at that level,” said Lion Fights Joe Schilling, who next competes this weekend.
“I think it’s about promoters getting the right guys to represent the U.S., I’ve said that for years.”
Schilling is part of the new breed of fighters popping up in the U.S., trained extensively and exclusively in Muay Thai and kickboxing. While Americans competing in the sport is nothing new, Schilling says part of the problem in the past is the wrong guys getting the attention when the real fighters were searching for the spotlight.
“I think that’s where a lot of the lack of respect comes from unfortunately, some of the guys that get the opportunity in the past have been not the best guys to represent the U.S. I take it as an honor and something that is really important, and if you’re going to be representing the country, you better represent the country,” said Schilling.
Obviously some of the fighters living in the shadows waiting for the chance to get on the big stage were elated when Lion Fights started producing shows exclusively focusing on the Muay Thai scene.
Now many American fighters get the chance to stand side-by-side with the best talent from around the world, but they compete at home so a new U.S. audience can appreciate what high level Muay Thai is all about.
“As a stand alone sport, it speaks for itself. Our job is to get people out to see it, and once they see it, they’re converted. That’s not the issue. The advantage that we have now versus several years ago is the mainstream MMA media that we can tap into since all of the MMA fighters train in Muay Thai, they get it, they appreciate it and many of them come to our fights,” said Lion Fights CEO Scott Kent.
“We really want to make this a national sport with the caveat that we’re always going to try to bring in the top international talent.”
The popularity of Lion Fights continues to prove that American audiences are open to the sport, and as the crowds flock to their show the future looks very bright for Muay Thai in the United States.
To quote popular comedian Denis Leary, “I think you hear me knocking and I think I’m coming in”. Schilling believes that same philosophy applies to the growth of his sport in America and it can’t be denied any longer.
“For years people sat around and complained about how the sport doesn’t grow here in the U.S., it’s not this and it’s not that, and they’re waiting for somebody else to do it. Lion Fights has made a big step forward, and the guys from Can’t Stop Crazy have been pushing that for ourselves, and that’s what it takes,” said Schilling.
“There’s something going in, and you can’t ignore it.”