By Ray Stern
By New Times
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By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
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By Chris Parker
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There's no doubt that the risk of serious injury or even death heightens interest in Muay Thai — a national sport in Thailand.
Kent has grown the Muay Thai fan base in the United States by snapping up top-tier fighters from Thailand and around the world to add to his stable of American up-and-comers.
"I'd always had my eye on him," Kent says of Chasteen. "I just felt he was extremely marketable. I thought he was a great fighter, a great kid."
There's no doubt that a good measure of Chasteen's potential is based on his looks.
Hosting shows in Las Vegas, the fight capital of the world, and airing them (sometimes live) on AXS TV, a cable network with 43 million viewers, is part of Kent's strategy.
Lion Fight's main event at the Hard Rock includes Malaipet Sasiprapa, a Thai national with a record 144 wins — 53 of them by knockout. Although he's the fan favorite, it's Fabio Pinca of Lyon, France, who defeats Sasiprapa in a unanimous decision.
Though Vegas is the main draw for fighters from overseas (including Europe and Asia) — where the sport easily overshadows mixed martial arts and boxing — Kent's talking to Karmel about hosting a few pro-fight cards in Arizona.
In the past decade, only amateur Muay Thai fights have been staged here, such as the one scheduled by Bounded Fist promotions earlier this month at Arizona Event Center in Mesa.
It's a budding industry, says Karmel, who started promoting Muay Thai in Arizona in 1992. He estimates that he's organized 40 amateur shows since then, but more than half, 27, have taken place in the past seven years.
By comparison, there have been 53 mixed martial arts events and 25 boxing matches in the state over the past three years.
In a four-part documentary Inside the Fight: USA vs. Thailand, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Jeff Dojillo features some of the top Muay Thai fighters from both countries (including Joe Schilling, Kevin Ross, and Romie Adanaz) going head to head.
In it, trainers and fighters discuss reasons MMA has overshadowed boxing and other combat sports (including Muay Thai) in the States.
"There's a lot of talent that could come to pro Muay Thai if there was just money for it," says Schilling, who's fought on a couple of Lion Fight cards. "You can't really argue with guys going into MMA when they can make $50,000, $60,000 for a fight."
Kent says a beginning Muay Thai professional can earn about $1,000 per fight in the United States and a seasoned fighter can make six figures in a year in this country. By comparison, Stephan Fox, a spokesman in Bangkok for International Federation of Muaythai Amateur, tells New Times that there are opportunities for contenders on television shows, such as Contender Asia or Challenger Muaythai, to make as much as $150,000 for a single bout. One Thai fighter, Buakaw, earns a minimum of $60,000 per fight. Fox says there's even more money for fighters who land endorsement deals with advertisers.
Despite the potential for maiming and serious injury (they've seen many of their comrades go down), Muay Thai fighters are passionate about the ancient sport.
Chasteen and his brother, Damien, are following in the footsteps of their father, John Earley, a second-degree black belt in Kempo Karate, who also was a kickboxer and a Muay Thai fighter.
John and his wife, Teresa Chasteen, raised a family of fighters. Nick ended up with his mother's last name on his birth certificate, and his parents never got around to changing it before he established a reputation as a fighter.
Damien was the first in the family to go pro as a fighter in a combat sport, kickboxing. Their older sister earned a state kickboxing championship.
"It's been a beautiful run [for the family]," says John, drenched in sweat after a workout at Karmel's Best Muay Thai gym in Tempe. "I never expected they'd come this far."
Nick Chasteen and his family often were seen pedaling bicycles through Central Phoenix in the early 1990s, heading to a gym near 16th Street and Thomas Road.
John Earley was loaded down with fighting gear and trailed by his four kids, the youngest 5 years old at the time.
"When we were old enough, he'd drag us to the gym," Nick says. "He'd get us on our bikes. We'd ride through all the bad neighborhoods in Phoenix getting chased by pit bulls. All just to get to go work out."
Nick, like his siblings, started his martial-arts career in karate. When he turned 9, he was ready for kickboxing. By the time he was 12, he had a record of 12 wins and one loss in that sport.
Their reputation as a family of fighters made life easier at home and at school, Nick says.
"We never got physical with each other," he says. "You're so beat-up from the gym that you don't have time to fist-fight at home. And we never had problems at school because everyone knew my older sister. She hit like a dude."
That is, bullies at school could only imagine how the boys must hit.
Desiree was a state kickboxing champion at 16. Eventually, Nick's older siblings moved away from combat sports, and even he and his brother, Damien, took a break. After seven years of nonstop training in martial arts, it was time for something different.