Photos: Pari Aryafar for USMF
August 20, 2018
This year the USMF youth team struck gold. The federation had its third trip to the IFMA (International Federation of Muay Thai Amateur) Youth World Championship in Bangkok Thailand. The USA joined 83 other countries in the largest Youth World Championship so far. Muay Thai is growing and the USA is leading the way.
This year was the most successful to date. The athletes collected a total of 31 wins with only 8 losses- an impressive 79%-win percentage. Of the 16 member team, 12 fighters got medals, with 8 of them being gold. It was the largest medal count in USA history for any team, both youth and adult. In comparison two of the largest teams, Russia and Thailand, had 42 athletes with 26 medals and 81 athletes with 30 medals respectively.
The USMF’s efforts were recognized by IFMA and the team was awarded the Best Team Trophy Over 14 Years Old.
Getting to Bangkok
The road to victory was long. The athletes, ranging in age from 11 to 17, had to go through a strenuous application process. Their selection was based on three criteria.
“One was achievement in the previous year. This includes performance in national tournaments. The second was recommendations from credible coaches. The third was if the athlete’s chemistry would be good for the team. The boxer needed to be a team player,” Patrick Rivera, Youth Development League director said.
The athletes were selected from all around the country with boxers from coast to coast. This had some fighters travel long distances to get to Bangkok. Some had travel times of over thirty hours - not including layovers.
Some of the athletes, however, had come to the country prior to the meetup, acclimatize and get in additional training. For many of the team, it was their first time out of the country.
The team met at Khongsittha gym in northern Bangkok on July 31st. The large facility in the Lad Prao district accommodated the athletes and helped them begin their pre-bout preparations. It was the team’s second year at the location. While the bouts didn’t start until August 2nd the initial gathering was important.
“Meeting at Khongsittha was an opportunity for the coaches to get to meet the athletes and work with them before the event,” Vice President of the USMF, Marcy Maxwell said.
For many of the athletes, it would be their first time working with the coaches of the team. The additional training at Khongsittha allowed the athletes to gel with the trainers and to develop the skills needed to win their bouts.
The coaches themselves were specifically picked by the USMF to push for the win. Several factors weighed in on coach selection.
“If they had athletes on the team, an active youth program at their respective gym, and if they had the work ethic, personality, and willingness to be a team player,” Rivera said.
Coaches and team managers received background checks performed by the National Center for Safety Initiatives in partnership with the National Council of Youth Sports. This was done to ensure the safety of the young athletes.
The Fights and the Weigh-Ins
Once the competition started it was back to back fights. Those with deep brackets like young Cesar Lazdale from Stockton, fought five days in a row. Normally a rest day is given mid-way through the competition but because of logistical changes, IFMA had the bouts back to back.
“Lazdale sustained a mild injury day one, but he never complained, was always on time for meetings and training and gave his all I every single bout. He brought home a silver medal,” team manager Desiree Brandt said. Lazdale was also awarded MVP of the team.
The toughness of athletes like Lazdale was important as was the support of the team members, like team manager Desiree Brandt. Having participated for the last three years in the competition Brandt knew what the competition and organization would be like.
The athletes all had to maintain their weight with daily morning weigh-ins. Logistically it was important for the boxers to meet regularly to make sure bouts weren't missed, weights were made, and issues were addressed.
Weight played a part in team selection as well. Having to drop more than a pound or two during competition would have been too stressful on many of the athletes’ bodies.
The competition saw several standouts. Bekah Irwin from Heritage Muay Thai in Texas won her third gold medal in as many years. Irwin beat out Portugal, Thailand and then won the gold in the finals via referee stoppage. Irwin has aged out of the competition and will hopefully be appearing on the adult team next year.
Tierra Brandt meanwhile had a tough road for the gold. She faced the previous gold medal winner at 60kg in her first bout. She blasted through her Australian opponent and advanced through Turkey. In the semifinals she faced Hungary which scored her a TKO win- her adversary dislocated her shoulder. In the finals, the brawling Brandt shut down Poland for a unanimous decision win.
Returning athletes Lei Saludares and Maile Eugenio-Caras, both from the greater Bay Area, picked up gold medals. A total of 7 athletes had previous experience with the competition and 6 medaled.
Memories and the Future
After the bouts were finished and the many American athletes received their medals, the participants engaged in cultural activities.
Ultimately it was the memories and the improvement of the American team that stuck.
In the past, other countries were better at scoring but each year the team has improved. Once the USA started to beat large teams like Russia and the Ukraine the team's confidence was boosted. By beating some these countries, the USA showed they were a force to be reckoned with.
Rivera echoed the sentiments of many of the participants. “I’m tremendously excited for the future of American Muay Thai. The momentum is very strong. It’s a thing of beauty.”
Lei Saludares Gold
Maile Eugenio-Caras Gold
Bekah Irwin Gold
Nicole Fernandez Gold
Tierra Brandt Gold
Tigran Duvenjian Gold
Jayden Taylor Gold
Yves Tabarangao Gold
Cesar Lazalde Silver
Marcos Chupin Silver
Inez Perez Bronze
Joey Siplyak Bronze
2018 IFMA YWC Support Team
Vice President Marcy Maxwell
Richard de los Reyes