Lion Fight’s Foxwoods edition takes Muay Thai in America in a whole new direction. We’ve assembled until now on local terrains to play out rivalries between mostly alpha males. There are some females also contending for box office popularity – though let’s be clear about this – the audience demographic remains mostly male. (See “Fan data shows bright future for the UFC, combat sports” by Mookie Alexander on Bloody Elbow)
A Vicious Circle
Where alpha males or females battle for dominance within local populations, there’s just not going to be a whole lot of national – never mind global – media purchase that’d produce meaningful advertising revenues to break out of what amounts to a vicious commercial circle. So Muay Thai in America has been a cottage industry, which makes its money from local patronage and sometimes plies the neighborhood trade with exotic fashions in its window dressing.
Dennis Warner tried to break out of this vicious circle in Las Vegas off its comp’d arenas and site fees for working capital to pay pro purses. With the WBC’s branding, he managed to keyword some Americans into Google Earth and matched them locally (in Las Vegas) with world ranked headliners.
What did in Dennis, ultimately, there was no tv kicker in his business model. So he never got past working the box office through local pay-to-play, where the I-15 connects SoCal to the local Las Vegas terrain and where the casino that hosted his shows wanted foot traffic rather than screen views. When Chinese tv came along, he went for it. There went his shows.
Although Scott Kent’s Lion Fight brings an AXS-TV cable jumper to the local Las Vegas terrain, only the world beaters at Glory Sports International (GSI) seem to think that they can survive in this business without the live gate. In their campaign for world domination, they’ve locked in pretty much all North American headliners.
So the Las Vegas edition of Lion Fight relies heavily for its box office on two local fan favorites in Kevin Ross and Tiffany Van Soest, with an occasional guest appearance by Cosmo Alexandre. Aiming for the national tv audience, Scott also treats us to the star power of Yodsænklai Fairtex and Rungravee Banchæmek Sasiprapa.
Star power is where Muay Thai in America has to go, if we’re going to break out of the vicious (cottage industry) circle. We the fans will have to tune into it, though, which will require us to take some time out from our selfies and from our confusing Facebook “likes” with bit coins. (See “Generation Like” on PBS Frontline)
The Foxwoods edition of Lion Fight is a fundamentally different business model than any tried before it in the U.S. That’s because there just aren’t enough homies for either a blockbuster show or a resort casino like this to make a go of it from local trade. Remember the voice in “Field of Dreams”? It said “if you build it, he will come”. Well they’ll have to come from metro NYC and greater Boston for travel & tourism to make it in Foxwoods’ pastoral location.
From what I’ve personally seen at Foxwoods, a lot of its patronage comes from elderly New Englanders. So hosting a show like this has to extrapolate from Obamacare, by getting ‘young immortals’ to (willingly) diversify what appears to be a skewed population mix.
Given the arduous Northeast Corridor commute from both Beantown and the Big Apple, such a youth movement should be an obvious strategic imperative for Foxwoods with or without Lion Fight’s show. Foxwoods is looking either at a prospect for indeterminate gains against the corresponding risk of growth pains, thus, or the virtual certainty of nothing ventured, nothing gained. Even though Scott Kent himself is gambling on Foxwoods – let’s be clear about this too – his territorial imperative is inherently much more flexible.
Probably feeling about Glory Sports International like Apple® does about Samsung – meaning that he’s back to R&D in product engineering – Scott seems also to be diversifying demographically up and down the entire East Coast. If a picture can tell the story, I made one for you to see where the heavy hitters came from for Lion Fight XVII at Foxwoods on August 1, 2014.
Misalignment of the Stars
Nothing rattles show producers more than late cancellations. Fans come to see their favorites, whether blasting out tunes or someone else’s face. If the headliners don’t show, odds are neither will the fans. This show was supposed to feature Lumpini sensation Thepnimit Sitmonchai vs. Rungravee’s conqueror Dean James from the U.K.
It would’ve been parity for East Coast fans – compared to patrons of Lion Fight’s Las Vegas edition – and a move in the right direction for Muay Thai in America. Turns out the stars just weren’t in alignment. The Thai Thepnimit Sitmonchai couldn’t get a U.S. visa and the Brit Dean James hurt himself in training.
Ever the magician, Kent pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Cosmo Alexandre came through for him on 10 days’ notice to fight a worthy Jo Nattawut, whom Khunpon Dechkampu happened serendipitously to be hosting in Atlanta. That’s what it means for a show producer to be on top of his game. There is nothing shabby whatsoever about WBC’s #1 ranked super middleweight in the world.
Cosmo Alexandre (Blackzillians in Boca Raton, Florida) vs.
Jo Nattawut (Bangkok Boxing in Atlanta, Georgia)
Professional Super Middleweights, 5×3
Having taken the fight on such short notice, this is necessarily an exhibition for Cosmo. Whatever separates the best from the rest, you don’t make it through Death Valley without a full tank of gas. Unless Mike Bloomberg buys himself another power trip and contracts the desert to CitiBike, so his own limo never has to share a road anywhere.
Pacing himself is a matter for the Brazilian of episodic artistry – like his national soccer team – only Alexandre plays a lot better defense. No criticism intended about the judging. This crew does it so much better, that Nick Lembo ought to be the one contracting traffic patrols in the desert.
Even with the kind of freeze frames I get about a week later, they wouldn’t and shouldn’t make a difference in judging the fights. Offense scores points in the ring, no matter how lock-down the defense. It’s left for never-one-to-leave-well-enough-alone to observe how the preponderance of purchase in martial arts is for self-defense.
So Jo Nattawut makes the most of his ‘Rocky’ moment. He puts on the kind of performance to make me wonder exactly what it’s going to take for us to get past pay-to-play with local rivals [see Brett Hlavacek vs. Cyrus Washington below] and challenge ourselves to break out of the vicious (cottage industry) circle. If we’re so sophisticated here in our insularity, how come no local match maker invited Jo Nattawut – or for that matter Francois Ambang – to exhibit his performance art in our culture capitol’s galleries? That’s why Muay Thai in America needs a disruptive innovator like Scott Kent.
When Cosmo switches from discretion to the better part of valor, episodically, we see in his artistry what actually separates the best from the rest. For all the time so many train in the gym, skipping this kind of master’s live demonstration is like getting in the ring without a mouth piece. When you get your teeth knocked out, tell the dentist what else it was that you were so busy doing. You know who I’m talking about. There is more to career development than just going through the motions.
Cosmo Alexandre comes to rescue the show, and he does. Jo Nattawut comes to make a name for himself, and he does. Since both get what they’ve come for, the evidence supports a win-win verdict, except for those who bought tickets to see Thepnimit Sitmonchai vs. Dean James. Late cancellations always force compromises. Either we make the best of them or concede free will to fate. If you always get what you want, bottle it. I’ll be your first customer.
Winner: Jo Nattawut by Split Decision: 48-47, 47-48, and 48-47. [As so often happens, I side with the minority, because bada bing bada boom matters.]
We’ve got such a proliferation of Krus, Arjarns, Masters and even Grand Masters patrolling the selfi-scape. In the meantime – back down on planet Earth – males of our species graduate from ‘master’ to ‘mister’ solely by virtue of aging out of adolescence.
Whether there’s something clinically developmental in this fetish, forgive me for wondering exactly what objectively measurable standards apply to the martial arts statusphere. Separate and apart from who gets to be the Wizard of Oz in our Emerald City, does it puzzle you like me how to reconcile the contours of this phenomenon with the tangible authenticity of Cosmo Alexandre and Malaipet “The Diamond” Sasiprarpa? If nothing else, such stuff as dreams are made on transitions us to what a late cancellation made into the show’s the main event.
There is nothing even remotely episodic about Malaipet’s artistry. It’s like somehow grabbing hold of lightening in a bottle, asking for some tricks, and getting all of them on a five round automatic rewind play list. You will never see anyone more eager to show off his mastery for the fans, as though Donnie Carolei’s Geppetto has finally managed to conjure us a real live Pinocchio with no strings attached.
Malaipet Sasiprapa (Sasiprapa USA in Fresno, California) vs.
Justin Greskiewicz (Stay Fly Muay Thai in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Professional Welterweights, 5×3
This match has “anti-climax” written all over it from Reveille. Off first bell, Greskiewicz walks into a jaw crusher. He goes down hard, gets up slow and looks like a goner. Mike Fischetti would’ve have finished this right then and there. The lightening in Malaipet’s bottle, though, is on a five round automatic rewind play list.
While Mapaipet guns his Indy 500 motor, “the Polish guy” – as a Connecticut beat reporter next to me refers to him – takes a licking but keeps on ticking. There’s a determination in him that just won’t quit.
I think back across the milestones of Justin’s career: from the early rivalry with Mark Deluca; to the pro debut in Jacksonville vs. Mukai Maromo; through the exhaustive permutations for local bragging rights against Turan Hasanov and Eddie Martinez; eventually making his way up the rankings for a title shot with Kevin Ross. I think back also to Brando’s “I could’ve been a contender” lament in “On the Waterfront”. Well guess what? Justin Greskiewicz will never have to lament for Destiny’s Child about could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.
Having punched himself out, Malaipet’s gears begin to grind in the final frame. Greskiewicz mounts a miraculous come-back. By final bell, it’s “the Polish guy” on the hunt. Justin Greskiewicz has learned to dance with the Devil and keep his dignity intact. That’s what this fashion statement of a Purple People Eater has been so busy doing.
Winner: Malaipet Sasiprapa by Unanimous Decision: 49-45, 49-45 and 50-44.
In his pro debut at Mayhem on Mulberry Street – shout out to Simon Burgess – Shawn Yarborough tko’d one of my own crew in Terence “Big T” Connor, breaking his jaw on February 9, 2007. It happened also to be the first story I ever covered as a Muay Thai beat reporter. Hello conflict of interest. Just so you know that I’m not shooting blanks about having to make the best of compromise in the exercise of free will.
Ambling down memory lane, here comes déjà vu in Andy Singh from the prequel to this story’s sequel. It was Andy more than anyone else, who preached me the gospel of ‘defense’. This turns out to be a story about the Devil in the details.
Victor Saravia (Muay Thai America Gym in North Hollywood, California)
vs. Andy Singh (Ultimate MMA Academy in New York City)
Professional Super Bantamweights, 5×3
There’s an even better reason I wouldn’t want to score this fire in the hole on the ‘10-Point Must’ system. Metrics default to a caricature in the dynamics of full scale annihilation. You can score points in case of a default, but the burn quotient is indeterminate within this kind of combustion chamber.
Where a game changer seems to go Andy’s way, he manages to cut Saravia in Round 4 near the right eye. This is the potential kill zone for him to work. He goes for it with another elbow. In the chain reaction sequence between these two plutonium hot rods, Victor shoots a right cross into the gap. It lands flush on target. Singh goes down for a count.
On the score cards, you’ve got to put a number on this. You probably also have to give Saravia the round, if Singh makes it to the bell. There’s just no way to put a number, though, on something wicked this way comes. So put away the score cards. Victor Saravia is one Destiny’s Child – like Shawn Yarborough in the prequel – who doesn’t leave it to the judges.
Winner: Victor Saravia by TKO at 1:42 of Round 4.
The contrarian in me sees a success story in the sequel to Andy Singh’s prequel, exactly because it happens in front of so many loyal fans. It looks to me like more have come to Foxwoods for Andy than from The WAT and Sitan New York combined, despite the Brett Hlavacek vs. Cyrus Washington rematch with Sitan affiliated Rami Ibrahim and Tim Amorin also featured in the show.
Ambling down memory lane, I can remember when Andy was only getting someone else’s crumbs for the bitter taste of humble pie. Although he leaves here also with a bitter taste in his mouth, Andy now operates his own gym that looks – from the attendance – to be commercially successful where there’s sometimes more intense competition for business than in the ring.
So I’m inferring that Andy has been taking care of business, which also takes away precious time and focus from his own career development for the sake of his students. There’s a contrarian case to be made, in other words, that their gain is his pain tonight.
Knowing also that Andy is an immigrant to this country – who had to wait on his Green Card before going out on his own – say hello to the American Dream. None of us earns it, even the natives, without paying our dues. So I’d call Andy’s story a success and will keep an eye open for the next beat generation that he’ll be bringing us. I’d also call what happened here tonight swallowing a bitter pill for the greater good. Survival of the Fittest might appear to be simple, but the Devil is in the details.
OTHER FEATURED FIGHTS:
Brett Hlavacek (The WAT in New York City) def. Cyrus Washington (Sitan Gym in New York City) by Majority Decision: 48-46, 47-47, and 48-45. Professional Light Heavyweights, 5×3.
Carlos Lopez (Discipline MMA in Sterling, Virginia) def. Rami Ibrahim (Rami Elite in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) by Unanimous Decision: 49-46,49-45 and 50-44. Professional Lightweights, 5×3.
Pedro Gonzalez (Redline Fight Sports in Gloucester, Massachusetts) def. Tim Amorin (Rami Elite in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) by TKO at 1:43 of Round 4. Professional Welterweights, 5×3.
AMATEUR UNDER CARD:
Patrick Rivera (Level Up Boxing in Bowie, Maryland) def. Nathaniel King (Bladefist Muay Thai in New Hyde Park, New York) by Unanimous Decision: 29-28 x 3. Amateur Super Middleweights, 3×2.
Nicole Sclmeme (Strike First Fitness in Smithtown, New York) def. Jessica Palencar (Coalition Fight Team in Inwood, West Virginia) by Unanimous Decision: 30-27,29-28 and 29-28. Amateur Women Featherweights, 3×2.
Bryce Lawrence (Nak Muay Striking in Naples, Florida) def. Stephane Smarth (C3 Athletics in Stamford, Connecticut) by Unanimous Decision: 29-27, 30-26 and 29-27. Amateur Lightweights, 3×2.
Billy Keenan (Redline Fight Sports in Gloucester, Massachusetts) def. Chanon Kuldaree (C3 Athletics in Stamford, Connecticut) by Split Decision: 29-28,27-30 and 29-28. Amateur Super Welterweights, 3×2)
Jared Tipton (Level Up Boxing in Bowie, Maryland) def. Jose Rivera (Hard Knocks Muay Thai in Boston, Massachusetts) by Unanimous Decision: 30-26, 30-25 and 30-27. Amateur Featherweights, 3×2.
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You Get What You Pay For
Match making can be artless as ordering entrées from a Chinese restaurant’s menu: one from column ‘A’ and one from column ‘B’. It can also be inspired as discovering a hidden treasure in Jo Nattawut. The flip sides of Cosmo Alexandre and Malaipet are undeveloped careers throughout this country that’ll sell into their local gym memberships, until it gets old. Then they’ll fade into obscurity, without ever being able to say truthfully “I could’ve been a contender”.
Because they’re in business to make money, match makers are motivated by the incentive to earn the patronage of fans in order to sell them tickets. This might seem like a no brainer, but it comes back to whether we the fans prefer Little League to MLB. If our local match maker builds it, would we come?