Pivotal Points for Muay Thai in America

August 14, 2017

Changpuek Kiatsongrit VS Rick Roufus is broken down brilliantly by Lawrence Kenshin (subscribe to his YouTube channel here and you won't regret it). Taken place in Las Vegas, NV in 1988 this fight laid the foundation for Muay Thai to be built in America.  Kiatsongrit at 70kg found it hard to find fights in Thailand where fights were typically matched at lighter weights. He had to travel to find fights and he found one in K.I.C.K. champion Rick Roufus for a non-title "experimental fight" meaning the rules were tweaked.


Despite having his jaw broken in the first round Kiatsongrit would end up devastating Roufus in a hail of low-kicks. Low-kicks hadn't been adopted by Western martial artists yet and is still a bit frowned upon by some old-school martial arts teachers in America. Kiatsongrit would win in the fourth round as Roufus had to be taken out on a stretcher. "I don't think it takes much talent to kick somebody in the leg" Jeff Roufus, Rick's brother would go on to say. He eventually changed his opinion and ended up training in Thailand. 


















In the !970's there was an American kick-boxer by the name of Dale Kvalheim that made headlines in Thailand by knocking out a tough Thai fighter by the name of Gabi Lerkdecha in the fifth round on a card that featured a World Championship bout in Chartchai (Thailand) VS Hangata (Japan) for the vacant WBA Flyweight boxing title.


Kvalheim would earn his respect for the knockout but he really earned the respect of the audience (that was not welcoming to Americans at the time)  by not just performing the Wai Kru ceremonial dance to honor his teachers before the fight he also did the Rammuay to appease the spirits. Rammuay is one of the most difficult rituals in Muay Thai and where many a champions had stumbled in certain places, Kvalheim executed it almost perfectly winning him a standing ovation before the fight. Eventually the Army Specialist would go on to become the first American Muay Thai champion at an extremely difficult time. There was a story in      Black Belt Magazine about an American Diplomat causing riots right before Kvalheim got his standing ovation.


These are two revolutionary events that paved the way for this great sport in our country. Each of these events caused a turning point for people that didn't understand the efficacy and respect that would come along with what seemed alien to them. 


The  Kiatsongrit VS Roufus bout happened in 1988. In 1989 the Jean-Claude Van-Dam movie Kickboxer hit theaters. It wasn't a coincidence and what also brought with it is a misunderstanding. Now with the help of certain legit Muay Thai gyms that actually study the traditional art of it it's bringing with it a growth in popularity. 


If your more curious about the local Muay Thai fight scene check out Lion Fights on AXS tv, No Boundary Fights and WarTime Muay Thai (their event is this Saturday August 19th)  just to name a few. If you train at a legit Muay Thai gym then definitely ask the Kru about their experience of how they came to the sport, I guarantee it will be interesting.







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