USMF Top Talent
Words by Matt Lucas for the USMF
The United States Muay Thai Federation, USMF, has been growing tremendously in the last few years. The organization is leading the way in pushing Muay Thai into the Olympics. Now large promotions like Glory are looking at IFMA athletes to fill in its top slots.
The American team is stepping up to the new challenges offered by the kickboxing and Muay Thai world. Troy Jones, Janet Todd, Asa Ten Pow, Bekah Irwin, Eric Luna, Nicole Fernandez, and Jacob Rodriguez have all been dominating the international scene. All have participated in USMF events and are putting their shine on stage.
Troy “Trouble” Jones
Photo: Glory Kickboxing
Troy Jones recently had a career highlight knock out over Casey Greene on Glory. Barely one minute into the first round of action Jones head kicked his opponent at Glory 58. The bout was part of a four-man tournament that saw Jones take the win. Jones has had four successful fights this year, including a points decision over fellow American Paul Banasiak.
Part of Jones success was his participation in the USMF. He has competed in multiple tournaments with the organization. In 2015, he was the B Class winner for the IFMA adult championship. In 2016, he participated in the Adult IFMA championship in Sweden. In December of the same year he was at the Pan American games and in 2017 he fought in Warsaw Poland. The four trips had him gain much needed experience to vault his career.
“I know what it takes to be a high-level fighter now,” he said of his participation at IFMA events. “It gives me an advantage. Knowing that I am at the caliber of all the other fighters. It gave me confidence.”
Photo: Jeff Dojillo
The most experienced member of the USMF fight team is without a doubt the sensational Janet Todd. Known for her slick skills in the ring and technical style, Todd has joined the USMF for 6 events. Beginning in 2015, Todd has participated in the IFMA World Games four times and the Pan Americans twice. She’s had a total of fourteen fights with IFMA.
“Having to make weight every time I fight, it’s challenging,” she said. “No matter who you fight it’s not going to be easy. I’ll have to dig deep. I really like that though. Each time I grow a bit more.”
She has grown tremendously over the last few years. After having a tough entry into the IFMA circuit against Australia, Todd and her coach, Bryan Popejoy, adjusted. While they’ve seen more success, it doesn’t stop them from still experiencing highs and lows. The morale of the team can skyrocket and plummet with each win or loss. It is an emotional roll coaster.
The ride has been taking Todd to the top though. She recently bested Amy Reid from Oama gym in Canada at She Fights II, an all female card. Todd is slated to appear again on Triumphant 5 on October 13th in California.
Asa Ten Pow
Photo: Glory Kickboxing
Fighting and training out of Florida Kickboxing Academy, Ten Pow is another budding international star. He’s participated in three IFMA events around the world.
“When I first got to see the level in 2015 it opened my eyes,” Ten Pow said. “It showed what I was missing, the experience and the levels. I got to see how much we don’t know over here.”
Since 2015 Ten Pow has been making up for lost time. He’s been on a successful run winning bouts at All Star Fight, Lumpinee stadium in Thailand, and he had a stunning knockout against American ring Veteran Justin Greskiewicz. His most recent bout was a successful outing at Glory 57 in China where he took a split decision win over Yuhang Xie. Ten Pow is due to return to the ring at Hammerstein Ballroom in early November.
Photo Pari Aryafar for USMF
America’s golden child, Bekah Irwin, has been slaying it on the international scene. She has fought three times at the IFMA youth games and hasn’t lost a single round in the organization. She has captured three gold medals. In 2017, she captured the medal with two successive head kick Kos. This year she won the final fight by referee stoppage.
Not known for mincing words she said it simply. “I think I’ve grown a lot,” she said.
Irwin and her team are known for “training like dogs.” The tough training is needed as Irwin is going to fight on one of the biggest cards in Thailand to date. She will be the only female bout for the Muay Thai Expo which is headlined by Samart Payakaroon and Somluck Khamsing. Irwin will be defending her WPMF belt against Kaenkaew Kor.Klomkliem from Thailand at 122lbs.
This last year was an emotional tournament for Irwin. She has now aged out of the competition and will move up to the adult leagues. Her journey to the top has had her made long term friendships as well. She spent an extended period of this summer training with fellow USMF stand out Tierra Brandt. Brandt also seized the gold this year at the youth IFMA in Bangkok.
Photo: Pari Aryafar
Eric Luna has made his return in spectacular fashion. He had to take a long layoff of fighting after a tear to his Achilles tendon. That didn’t stop the 2010 A Class IFMA fighter from fighting though. He was out for all of 2016 then made a return in 2017. His most recent fight was at the famed Friday Night Fights in New York City. The long running promotion hosted Luna against local favorite Ahmad Ibrahim.
His early years with the IFMA team were formative in creating the fighter he is today. “It helped me grow a lot as a fighter,” he said. “I just wanted to learn as much as I could. I would try to watch the powerhouse countries; Thailand, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Australia. There was a huge gap in experience between us and them.”
Luna has been making up the gap. He stopped Ibrahim in the break between the third and fourth round. The bout was scheduled for five but Luna was in the zone.
Luna had an extensive career as an amateur with 25 fights in total and now has a solid pro record of 7-1.
Photo: Jeff Dojillo
One of the youngest shining stars to the USMF team comes from Southern California. Fighting out of Double Dose Muay Thai, young Nicole Fernandez, stomped all over her competition at the youth IFMA tournament this year. She beat out Peru, Australia and Russia to win the gold at the competition and has gone undefeated in her amateur career.
The high school junior is only 15 years old but has had valuable international experience. Fernandez recently fought on the She Fights card alongside of Janet Todd. She took on Jasmine Parr of Boonchu Gym in Australia. She gave the tough Parr two 8 counts in the first and third round.
The Fontana native was part of the most successful American IFMA team to date. The 16 member team had a 79% percentage and twelve of the fighters medaled. Fernandez was one of eight that got the gold.
Lifted by high morale and an experienced support team Fernandez glowed about the event. “It was the best experience I’ve ever had. The whole team was there for each other,” she said.
Photo: Glory Kickboxing
Fighting out of Heritage Muay Thai, Jacob Rodriguez, is another USMF star in the making. Rodriguez snatched the win over Joe Taylor at Glory 55 in New York City in July.
He’s participated in two IFMA events, the adult tournament in Belarus in 2017 and the 2017 Pan American games.
“You will draw with people that are taller and more experienced than you,” Rodriguez said about fighting for the USMF. “It’s hard to get worse after the event. It makes you mentally stronger.”
His first draw in Belarus was against an opponent who was 6’5” and had well over 80 fights. Rodriguez didn’t hold back but was outclassed. That hasn’t stopped him from continuing to fight though.
The competition at IFMA is tough but as Rodriguez said, “Athletes respond a certain way. They either get better or they go a different way.”
Matt Baker, an 85kg fighter, has found success since his IFMA appearances. In 2012 and 2014 he won IFMA Bronze. Now he’s gone onto the Glory Circuit and has defeated two opponents, one by decision, one by KO in the third Round. Baker is currently ranked #7 in the Glory Middleweights showing the power of IFMA experience.
Other Upcoming Fighters and bouts
This list of upcoming talent is by no means complete. There is a host of other talent rising. USMF fighter Selina Flores will take on Joyce Hernandez on Triumphant 5. Two other USMF veterans, Jamie Pheap and Gabe David will be battling it out. The same card will feature Malcolm Hill versus Jordan Weiland. The two will be competing for a spot on the team this year.
On October 20th Samontha Stephenson will be fighting at the TBA Rev Gear Tournament. Stephenson is a veteran of the youth IFMA team.
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