A bastion of university nightlife, The Assembly, was for one day been repurposed to house world-class Muay Thai athletes from as close as Coventry and as far as Sweden and Spain. At Thai Warriors 6, Dan McGowan, a Muay Thai Grand Prix World Bantamweight champion can be spotted in the crowd, and Tony Myers, who pioneered Muay Thai judging in the UK is the referee in the ring. This was no small affair.
Muay Thai’s popularity has exploded due in part to the UFC’s meteoric rise in the sporting world
Muay Thai, known to some as the “art of eight limbs” is a stand-up fighting art from Thailand, and their national sport. From its humble origins, Muay Thai’s popularity has exploded due in part to the UFC’s meteoric rise in the sporting world. Incorporating fists, elbows, knees and shins, the basis of many MMA fighters’ striking is Muay Thai. Watching the plethora of techniques spin jaws, split brows and stun an audience, one can see why this art is the weapon of choice for fighters that are searching for completion.
Macauley Coyle, who organised Thai Warriors is from Warwick, a university student, and a UK champion in Muay Thai. He agrees that the rise in popularity can be attributed in part to MMA. “The demand for martial arts as a whole has increased – since starting Thai Warriors in 2014 we have had loads of people join our classes at Singkhao Muay Thai in Leamington & the university classes by the Warwick Thai Boxing society. It is good for people already training to see the fights live in action and to have the opportunity to fight in their hometown.”
Thai Warriors is taking Muay Thai a step out of MMA’s shadow in Leamington Spa
There are fears however that whilst MMA is enjoying its popularity increase, Muay Thai “is still fairly unknown to the local public.” Thai Warriors is taking Muay Thai a step out of MMA’s shadow in Leamington Spa, hoping that more events will boost the sport even further.
At Warwick University, the Thai Boxing Society travel all over the UK each year to compete, and in turn invite Muay Thai talent from other universities to compete in the Copper Rooms. Rad Naria, says that Muay Thai “has been one of the biggest parts” of his experience at university. “I had always wanted to get into combat sports and finally did here and even managed to have 2 fights which were some of my favourite memories. They’re so exciting and really get the adrenaline pumping. Mac has been an excellent coach and leads a really good club here, the environment is always competitive but also friendly and warm at the same time.”
A noticeable difference between Muay Thai and the UFC is that there is an unassailable commitment to respect
Sim Dulay, a local to Leamington has watched the profile of Muay Thai change. “I feel the art of Muay Thai is growing within Leamington and that’s highly due to the work put in by Macauley Coyle. The work he’s put into his own fight career as well as setting up his own promotion, Thai Warriors, and his own fight camp, Singkhao. He’s helped bring what is a very exciting sport to the masses and that is only beneficial to the community.” Some of the local community have expressed their distaste for such events online and label them barbaric. However, from the turnout at the event, it’s clear that irrespective of gender, age or ethnicity, there’s a common agreement with Sim that Thai Warriors is a celebration of sporting excellence, culture and brings a positive contribution to the community.
A noticeable difference between Muay Thai and the UFC is that there is an unassailable commitment to respect and to the culture. No fighter showed disregard for their opponent. This is in stark contrast to the ritualistic trash talking that occurs before many boxing or UFC bouts. It seems that whilst Muay Thai is part of the rising popularity of combat sports, it stays true to its roots as an art with a deep cultural heritage.
Screeching flutes and crisp cymbals are a staple of Muay Thai all over the world
Before bouts fighters perform a ram muay, a dance to show respect to your teachers. Dancing in combat sports is normally reserved for showboaters and fools, often one and the same. The ram muay is packed full of symbolic movements. The point that Muay Thai is a combat sport which has maintained tradition is best made by the bizarre spectacle, of fighters prostrating themselves to each other, bloodied gum shield in hand, when mere moments ago the venue was loud with the dull crack of bone striking bone.
The walk-out music is an opportunity for a fighter to show some individuality apart from their fighting style, some choose rap, others heavy metal. No fighter is exempt from the traditional Thai music playing whilst they fight. The screeching flutes and crisp cymbals are a staple of Muay Thai all over the world and the crowd knows that this means that the action has started. This, alongside the pungent Thai oil, is a reminder that despite Vialli’s being a stone’s throw away, a part of Thailand has come to Leamington Spa for a day.
All in all, this event was an exercise in juxtaposition; Muay Thai is riding the wave of a new fascination for bloodspot, taking along with it the tradition of its heritage.