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A fighter at a USMTO event warms up. Muay Thai has been gaining more recognition in the U.S.
A fighter at a USMTO event warms up. Muay Thai has been gaining more recognition in the U.S.
Courtesy Varun Nair / instagram.com/roddie95

Southwest Regional Muay Thai Tournament Jabs at National Recognition

On December 15 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Arizona will host the first-ever Southwest Regional Muay Thai tournament, the first in a series of regional competitions presented by the United States Muay Thai Open (USMTO). The event, which will take place at Mesa’s Broadway Recreation Center, will showcase some of the country’s top athletes from Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Hawaii as they compete in the brutal, captivating sport of Thai boxing.

This isn’t the first event to put Phoenix on the map for Thai boxing. The Valley has a history of promoting Muay Thai, or the Thai stand-up striking sport that also includes various clinching techniques, as well as the use of fists, knees, elbows, and shins. Among the most well-known promotions are the longstanding show Bad Blood, as well as the more recently founded Siam Fight Productions, the company behind the USMTO.

“We started Siam Fight Productions because there weren´t enough local options,” said Thiago Azeredo, the promotion’s CEO. “We were training both adults and kids at a high level, but in order to truly be able to compete internationally, you have to test yourself against the best. We wanted more kids, especially, to have that experience without needing to travel halfway across the world.”

Azeredo has been coaching in the Valley since the early 2000s. He received his early training at Sitan Gym New York, in Astoria, Queens, under head coach Aziz Nabih. After moving to Arizona to attend Arizona State University, Azeredo opened Sitan Gym Arizona in a quiet, suburban strip mall, not far from the 101 and Elliot Road in Chandler. Since then, that unassuming space has produced multiple champion fighters, including Travis Clay, a current World Boxing Council (WBC) champion who, since going pro in 2016, has headlined cards everywhere from Vegas to New York, appeared on UFC Fight Pass, and won international fights in Mexico and Thailand.

Azeredo opened Siam Fight Productions in 2012 with partners Ryon Burnett and Brandon Jones. The group began producing two to three shows annually, giving Phoenix and U.S.-based fighters the opportunity to compete against opponents from Mexico, Korea, Portugal, and other countries. Recognized for the high-level matches, the Siam events were also notable for their production quality. With a shared background in theater production —Azeredo and Burnett met as students at New York’s famous LaGuardia High School — the group was the first to bring Muay Thai to the Tempe Center for the Arts, transforming the Arizona Muay Thai scene in the process.

Fighters exchange knees at a 2016 Muay Thai tournament in Phoenix.EXPAND
Fighters exchange knees at a 2016 Muay Thai tournament in Phoenix.
Kianna Brandt

By 2015, Siam Fight Productions set their sights on something bigger: hosting the first national tournament whose winners would advance to the International Federation of Muay Thai Amateurs (IFMA)’s annual competition. IFMA is a Bangkok-based organization whose sole mission is to help Muay Thai one day become an Olympic sport. The existence of a national U.S. tournament is important, Azeredo explains, because it shows the international community — IFMA in particular — that the US is serious about Muay Thai. The U.S.’s backing is nonnegotiable if Muay Thai is to be seriously considered as Olympic material.

The Southwest Regional fits into the larger plan of strengthening the U.S.’s international presence. Muay Thai has always been somewhat underground in the U.S., Azeredo says, for multiple reasons, one of which is that it’s never had the same standardization as mixed martial arts (MMA) or other mainstream sports. But that’s what the promoters at Siam Fight Productions are trying to change. Participation in the Southwest Regional will count towards athletes' national ranking, an initiative of the USMTO to further standardize the sport, give athletes a clearer view of where they stand nationally, and make U.S. Muay Thai more legitimate in the eyes of international authorities.

As an added treat for fight fans, the Southwest Regional will invite a select group of pro and amateur athletes to participate in a super-fight event with traditional Thai stadium rules — that means no additional safety gear for  fighters 18 and older — near the end of the event, at 8 pm.

It’s still a long road ahead, but for promoters like Azeredo, events like this make the effort worthwhile. For people who enjoy boxing or MMA but have never seen Muay Thai, this is the perfect opportunity to get to know the sport, he says. “What I like to tell people new to the sport is that Muay Thai is the exciting part of MMA — the striking part — without any of the time on the ground. It’s pure striking and full contact.” Attendees will also be able to see well over 100 fights in a day: “It’s a lot of bang for your buck.”

The Southwest Regional will take place at the Broadway Recreation Center, 59 East Broadway Road, Mesa, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, December 15. Attendees will be able to see nearly 150 amateur competitors from diverse states of all ages (kids’ division start at 8, while the senior division will feature 40 and up competitors) and multiple skill levels (A, B, and C classes). Tickets are $35 at the door.

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