Trying to hone the all-but-deadly skills in his fighters is what Karmel does. And he does it well, although it racks his nerves on fight nights.

"The day of the fight, come noon, don't talk to me," he says. "I'm nervous. I can't eat. Once we get into the ring, I second-guess myself. Did I do everything I could have done [to train the fighters]?"

He met the brothers at Lion's Den, a Scottsdale gym where he led a Muay Thai program for three years. While there, he produced eight national Muay Thai Champions and brought home the National Team Championship at the 2010 Thai Boxing Association's annual Muay Thai tournament in Iowa.

From left, Damien Earley, John Earley, and Nick Chasteen at Best Muay Thai gym in Tempe.
Andrew Pielage
From left, Damien Earley, John Earley, and Nick Chasteen at Best Muay Thai gym in Tempe.
John Earley, center, holds Nick and Damien, 6 and 5.
Courtesy of Talie Jean
John Earley, center, holds Nick and Damien, 6 and 5.

Lion's Den since has closed, but Karmel opened his own gym: Best Muay Thai in Tempe. He works with Valley promoters Bounded Fist and Bad Blood to organize fights, and he manages some fighters.

"There's a lot that goes on with the sport beyond the fighting," he says, recalling many days and nights of traveling across the country to events, everyone piled in one car, stuffed in the same hotel room, spending weeks trying to get his fighters on various cards. "It's just nonstop. And then there's trying to keep them out of trouble. These boys are no angels."

Nick doesn't deny this.

He tangled with the cops when he was a teenager, getting busted for underage drinking, speeding, and disorderly conduct.

"Given the neighborhood I grew up in, I could easily be locked up now," he says. "I was in trouble growing up, but I never abused my fighting skills; it was just rebellious teen stuff."

He says Karmel built him and his brother into the ring competitors they are today.

"It's been a rough road through my years," Nick says. "Master Bob molded me and my brother into unstoppable forces. We've only begun to scratch the surface."

Experts agree that pro Muay Thai fighters Schilling, Ross, and Adanaz are at the top of the sport in the United States — for now.

Fox tells New Times that Buakaw is Thailand's top fighter.

"For Canada, it would be Simon Marcus. For Russia, it would be Levon Artem. And we must not forget the females like Valentina Shevchenko from Peru and Caley Reece from Australia," Fox says. The matches between female fighters are just as potent as the male contenders.'

Each holds various world titles in bouts sanctioned by the World Muaythai Council, the sport's official world governing body, established by the Thai government. They'll be fighting on June 14 in Monaco to defend their titles. Yet several other bodies govern Muay Thai fights and offer contenders titles and championships in the disorganized sport.

"Think about it like high school," Karmel says. "Nick and Damien are the freshmen among U.S. contenders. The older guys are just a generation or so ahead of Nick and Damien."

He predicts that the brothers, who have been on the undercard when fighters like Schilling and Ross are the main event, will take many titles from them in the long run.

"Nick, in one or two years, will end up fighting Kevin Ross," Karmel says. "The next group coming up is better than the group ahead of it."

When today's premier fighters pass the brothers at various shows, "They're friendly enough, they shake hands [with Nick and Damien]," Karmel says, "but they keep a certain distance because they know these kids are going to come up and push them out of their spot."

Lion Fight's Scott Kent also is banking on fighters like Nick Chasteen helping the sport continue to gain momentum.

"It's got a huge upside," the Vegas promoter says. "I could do a lot of different things with my time, but this is something that I'm all in on. I'm very bullish on this sport. I know the fan support we have is amazing, and it's constantly growing. We think the ceiling is unlimited."

The sport's wildly popular in the country where it was invented. There are about 25,000 pro Muay Thai fighters around the world, Fox says. The World Muaythai Council reports that all four Thai television stations broadcast fights free to millions of fans throughout the country — four nights a week.

"In the provinces, villages cluster around any available TV to watch," the council's website reports. "In the city [of Bangkok], people disappear from the streets while Thailand is watching Muaythai. Thai boxing also is becoming increasingly popular outside Thailand. It has its enthusiasts and practitioners in the Americas, Australia, Japan, Europe."

The Bangkok Post reported on September 22 that the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur is lobbying to make the Thai national pastime an Olympic event, like boxing and judo, organization President Sakchye Tapsuwan is quoted as saying.

Because Muay Thai's a growing industry here and so popular in other countries, Chasteen hopes that one day he will make big bucks as a fighter. He wants to buy a large house for his parents and sports cars for him and his dad.

"I'm an old-school muscle-car guy, so it'd have to be a [restored] 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, and I'd make sure that my dad's driving the same car."

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