Last week, I wrote an article about my experience at the Church Street Gym, just hours before Friday Night Fights, the Muay Thai promotion that has slowly taken the nation by storm. Aside from Kickboxer with Jean Claude Van-Damme, Muay Thai hasn’t gotten nearly as much exposure in the United States as it deserves, but with the rise to fame of the UFC and fighters like Anderson Silva, the nation is now primed for Thailand’s National Sport to make a big and lasting splash.
At the fight, I got to see Alex Ma, a fighter with only 3 fights under his belt come out to the biggest ovation of any other fighter competing, and dominate an opponent who Alex tells me he hand-picked because of his veteran experience. I should mention that Alex is from Great Neck, Long Island, has a full time job, no real aspirations of being a professional, yet has still managed to destroy all 4 opponents that have stood in his path, all very good reasons why he is such a fan favorite. He also loves a great steak and a glass of Scotch, which in our eyes makes him a Socialite to the fullest. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alex for an exclusive interview about what makes him who he is, his passion for Muay Thai, and how he’s been able to become such a force in a sport that begun as a hobby.
* Photos courtesy of VALENTIN MIRABILE
The Campus Socialite: A lot of people are unfamiliar with the significance of a fighter’s record. What does a 4-0 record mean in your world?
Alex Ma: Record is important in Muay Thai though maybe not as much as MMA. In international Muay Thai it is not uncommon for fighters to have over 100 fights, so having a few losses doesn’t seem so bad in the grand scheme of things. I’ve only had a handful of fights, but I’ve been around the fight game for some time now. We have high expectations for ourselves, and Justin Blair (President of Friday Night Fights) keeps putting more and more experienced fighters in font of us and we keep winning.
TCS: Did it always come easy to you or were there struggles along the way? What qualities does it take to make it in fight sports and which do you think are your strongest?
AM:I’m new to this division and my career has just begun. Right now I’m nobody, but I’m hungry and I have something to prove. I think being a good fighter is like most other contact sports: A tiny bit of natural talent, the willingness to push yourself in training to your max, and then push a little bit more. You gotta work hard. Fights are won and lost far from the ring on fight night. The other piece that is essential to being a good fighter is that extra little bit of grit. That little bit of sadism inside someone, and when it gets hit hard, it will bite down on his mouth guard and he’ll think in his head “Oh it’s on!” and press the action forward.
I think my strongest quality for fighting is that I like to be professional in what I do. Whether I’m in the office or throwing a party at my apartment, I wanna do it professional. Even though I may only be an amateur fighter with 4 official fights, I approach this game with total professionalism. My diet is regimented, I have a work out schedule, a strength and conditioning coach and I hope to add a nutritionist soon. If I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do it right. I’m not gonna half-ass it. This game is too serious and the consequences too grave to not give it 100%.
TCS: Muay Thai has been around for years and years but it has just recently gotten popular in the states, thanks to UFC. Why do you think UFC has been so much more successful than the sports it has merged together? Is UFC the ultimate goal for you? Does it bother you that you would have to change the way you fight to compete?
AM: Muay thai has been around for thousands of years and has proved to be the most brutal and effective form of stand up fighting. I am a fan of MMA and I do try to practice my grappling when I’m not in fight camp. You are right in that the UFC’s (MMA’S) success has trumped Muay Thai’s stateside, and I think this for a couple reasons. 1- MMA IS the natural progression of fighting. Fights will for the most part end up on the ground and grappling skills are essential to that. 2- the shock factor of the UFC when it first came on TV was monumental. No rules, no weight classes, no regulations, hair pulling, eye gauging, crotch shots. In the beginning it was more like watching a bloody freak show than the sport it is today. I think the success of MMA has helped Muay Thai in that UFC fight fans are now discovering Muay Thai and the stand up aspect of their sport that everyone likes so much. Muay Thai is the exciting, punching, kicking, kneeing, elbowing, stand up brutal fighting portion of MMA that everyone wants to see.
But with such a fast rise in popularity, MMA is sort of a soulless sport, at least when compared to the long history and culture that is Muay Thai. You can see it yourself. What comes to mind when you envision a UFC fan? Answer: A muscle bound bully in an Affliction or Tapout shirt, and the Local Muay Thai fight scene here at Friday Night Fights is just the opposite. At my Gym, EVOLUTION in the City and at Friday Night Fights, there are people from across the spectrum. You have the wealthy financial types, to regular Joes watching their kids fight, to the Downtown Socialites. Even Bushwick hipsters. The UFC is not my ultimate goal, and most people that are fighting Muay Thai here are not trying to go to the UFC and are not in it for the money. It’s like this underground subculture with a high level of respect among fighters because we’re all in it for the love of the sport. I like to think of us as the cooler, younger cousin of MMA. Like that dope Indie Rock band that you’re trying to preserve and not tell anyone about.
TCS: How did you get into Muay Thai? Why not Karate, or Boxing or another fighting style?
AM: I don’t think that I would be categorized as the typical fighter type. I work in renewable energy, my whole family is very fashion oriented, I like a good glass of wine and a properly cooked dry-aged steak. I didn’t come from a rough neighborhood, I didn’t come from a broken home, and I didn’t get picked on in high school. Not to say I don’t have any inner demons or skeletons in the closet. You have to be a little angry, maybe a little crazy to be a fighter.
I did my thing in grade school, well enough to get me into a Private University in New York City, but as kids growing up in the suburbs of NYC, my friends and I had a knack for throwing a good party and getting into some trouble. I mean what else are you supposed to do when you’re 19 years old and all of a sudden you have an apartment in the city, all the freedom in the world, and absolutely no other responsibility than to show up to class with your sunglasses on? So we got into some trouble but when you’re young, the consequences aren’t so bad. As we got older, things changed, so I walked into what is now American Top Team, Franklin Square. After that, I followed my coach and dear friend to where he taught a few times week, a new gym called Evolution Muay Thai. I’ve been here ever since and I consider it my home now. I love Muay Thai. I’m definitely a showman and a fighter. You can see it in the way that I fight, win or lose. Muay Thai is brutal, it’s flashy, it’s fast, and most importantly, it’s exciting, to be a part of and to watch. I am a big fan of Anderson, BJ, Kenflow, GSP, and Dosantos to name a few… but my heart lies in Muay Thai.
TCS: Have you been to Thailand?
AM: No, but I am trying to get a vacation from work so I can train there for at least a month.
TCS: How accurate is The Kickboxer? Is it true that Thai Boxers kick trees and punch walls while training?
AM: Hahaha I’ve seen Thai’s kick banana trees, and do some shin conditioning but that’s all. Their training methods for producing world champions are tried and true and haven’t changed much in 100 years.
TCS: We also hear that a fighter doesn’t have sex for weeks leading up to a fight. Is that true? Is it because it will make you wanna rip someone’s head off?
AM: Ummmmm, I had sex on…. Tuesday.
TCS: I imagine you come across a lot of the same people in the circuit. When you’re up against someone you know, are they a friend you’re simply competing against or your sworn enemy for as long as you’re fighting? Was Friday’s opponent a friend of yours?
AM: Yeah in the local fight scene you definitely see a lot of the same people all the time. Going back to the difference between Muay Thai and MMA, we all for the most part have a lot of respect for one another. We all sacrifice a lot and train really hard to be here and are definitely not in it for the money. That being said, once we’re in that ring, I’m trying to knock you out! For that fight and beyond we have high expectations, we work really hard and expect to see results. I asked for that fight, I asked to fight the more expereienced fighter so that I could showcase my talent and prove that I am a contender in this division!
Again, people here have day jobs, whether it be in finance or as a personal trainer. You have to put bread on the table. I think myself lucky to have found my escape in life. In college, that was drinking and partying but in real life that sometimes effects your work. Let’s get it straight, college was awesome, and sometimes it can be hard to cope with the separation anxiety, but fighting has become my escape. Whatever’s bothering me that day gets tossed out of my mind for the 2-3 hours I’m in the gym each night. For that time I am truly happy with a smile on my face, even if the workout is grueling.
One last thing: In a city where dudes talk a lot of trash, and a lot of times pretend to be someone that they’re not, when you step into that ring, you can’t lie, you can’t cheat, you can’t hide behind some false bravado and you can’t tell me you’re someone that you’re not. When you’re in that ring, you are 100% honest – to your opponent and to yourself.