Meet the "Golden Boy" of Asian Combat Sport Muay Thai

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"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."

In a column on FightSportAsia.com, writer C.C. Anderson says it will take much hard work by promoters to build Muay Thai into a fan favorite in the United States.

"There aren't enough fighters or promotions to create an appropriate weeding system," he wrote. "Muay Thai in America still is in its relative infancy."

He credits Kent and Lion Fight for "receiving lots of international attention, as has M-ONE [an Amsterdam promoter] for putting on good fights."

The combat style's challenged in America, he wrote, because Muay Thai gyms mostly were abandoned when MMA's popularity skyrocketed. This,while Thai-style boxers in other countries — Japan and the Netherlands, for example — continued to hone skills and refine techniques.

As for Kent, he's confident that intense matchups at shows will draw bigger crowds.

"The nice thing about Muay Thai is there are no easy fights," he says. "In boxing, they would take a guy like Nick and say ,'We're going to build him up.' Then, they'd put 15 or 20 guys in front of him who aren't going to be able to knock him out [so he looks better]. We've never been about that. We put in very tough guys against Nick."

Arjan Carlos Moreno, who formed the Texas-based American Muay Thai Association, laments that Muay Thai isn't getting anywhere near the recognition of the UFC.

His point is that Muay Thai's the soccer of the combat-sports industry — it's fiercely popular in countries around the world, but it doesn't resonate with U.S. fans as much as other ring sports.

In America, there are just too many martial-arts choices, he says. But he, too, credits Lion Fight for bringing unprecedented attention to the sport.

"[Lion Fight has] one of a few different Muay Thai events that are televised," Moreno says. "And Scott Kent puts on a really good show . . . He's really pushing to make it national. Promoters like him are only going to spark interest."

After his professional debut in Vegas, Nick Chasteen holds a bag of ice to his ankle for a few minutes, then moves it to his knee. His face is flushed and blood has pooled beneath the skin on his nose.

Blood's spattered on his white silk shorts.

He didn't knock out his opponent, but he outscored him, giving Chasteen a victory in the pro bout aired live on cable TV to combat-sports enthusiasts.

Karmel controlled the bleeding on Nick's face during the fight with cotton swabs dipped in epinephrine drawn from a vial. Now, after the fight, he dabs a medication on the laceration with gauze.

Chasteen winces.

"You gotta keep going for it," the young man says through the pain. Disoriented after the beating he took on the way to the win, Nick remains defiant: "Yeah, I got kicked in the face, but in the end, he was more banged up than I was."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo