Every June, Des Moines, Iowa plays host to one of the biggest Muay Thai tournaments in the world. The Thai Boxing Association (TBA) World Expo is a four day tournament that features some of the best Muay Thai athletes from the US, Canada, and surrounding countries. In all, 1000+ competitors travel to Iowa to compete for division titles. This year, we had nine athletes from Easton travel to the TBAs.
Competition is broken into categories by gender, age, weight, and class: C class is for fighters with 0-4 fights, B class is between 5-12 fights, and A class is 13+ fights. Athletes fight 1-2 times a day from Thursday through Sunday, with winners advancing to the next round and losers dropping from the tournament. Every day the brackets get tougher and competition more fierce, all while injuries and fatigue compound. By Sunday, only the toughest, most skilled, and, sometimes, luckiest fighters remain.
To add to the immense difficulty of a competition like TBAs, fights start between 9-10am each day and go until 5pm or later. Although fighters can estimate when they’ll be competing throughout the day with a reasonable amount of accuracy, things can change quickly as other fighters drop out and the bout order gets shuffled. This uncertainty makes another opponent fighters must overcome throughout the week.
Easton at TBAs
The Muay Thai competition team places a lot of emphasis on TBAs each year. Fight camp starts eight weeks out, but the fighters who get selected to represent Easton are constantly in the training room, improving consistently.
A lot goes into selecting who will travel to TBAs, including who has the time and financial resources to travel, who’s been active and consistent in training, and whose bracket offers the most potential matchups. With this criteria in mind, Easton Muay Thai took 9 athletes to this year’s TBAs.
Easton’s team consisted of 1 C-class, 6 B-class, and 2 A-class competitors spanning weight classes from 127 lbs all the way up to 195 lbs.
A Week of Fighting
The team arrived in Iowa in intervals through Tuesday. Some flew in while others chose to make the ten hour trek on the road, almost everyone traveling on restricted calories from the weight cut.
Upon arriving and getting settled in, the most prevalent thought for the fighters was food. Although restricted from eating much of anything before weigh-ins on Wednesday, shopping for post-weigh-in supplies — including easy carbohydrates and lots and lots of electrolytes to replenish their depleted bodies — became the first priority.
Weigh-ins go all afternoon to early evening on Wednesday. Competitors sign up for time slots, spending the day cutting and making weight and then, thankfully, rehydrating and refueling.
The day of weigh-ins always brings a lesson in “hurry up and wait,” a central theme in tournament fighting. The fighters wait for their food and water throughout the weight cut. After cutting weight, they must wait for their weigh-in slot, which, if the cut is timed well, hopefully comes soon after the athlete is at fighting weight. Then there’s the waiting for teammates to finish their cuts and weigh-ins. At the end of the day, after everyone has weighed in, the wait for the 7:30pm fighter’s rules meeting begins. Wednesday ends with a team meeting in the warm up room and then the fighters head back to their rooms to rest before fighting kicks off on Thursday.
When the fighters go to sleep on Wednesday evening, they have no idea when or if they’ll fight on Thursday. Again, they wait some more before the brackets are published early Thursday morning. The morning ritual on Thursday is to wake up and look at the brackets to see who gets to fight and when. This year, only two of Easton’s nine fighters had Thursday matches, both which ended in victory and advancement to the next day of competition.
On Friday, all but three competitors had matches, a busy day with six fights throughout. Again, the Easton athletes showed their competition mettle as five of the six fighters won their match and advanced to the semi-finals on Saturday.
The semi-finals are a noticeable step up in the level of competition and skill shown in the fights. Brackets that started with eight, 12, on up to 20+ fighters dwindled down to the four best fighters. Of the six matches on the day, Easton competitors won four and lost two closely contested fights. The winners get awarded with a trip to the finals on Sunday, and another weight cut the morning before the championship bouts.
TBAs require fighters to make weight on Wednesday and then again before the finals on Sunday morning. This meant that some of the Easton competitors were up at 4am sweating out the pounds to make championship weight. In all, each of Easton’s six finals athletes made weight, and the refueling process started up again immediately after.
Sunday at TBAs has a different vibe. Fighters, who just three days prior believed they would win the championship belt, sport black eyes and noticeable limps as they shuffle dejectedly through the venue. Many have already left for home as they have no more reason to stay. Still, the energy is palpable, the ballroom with its four rings is packed full and almost all of the seats are taken.
No matter if it’s A, B, or C-Class, the finalists at TBAs are among the best of the best in those divisions. With six athletes in the finals, Easton proved to be amongst the best academies in the country.
Still, the team dropped its first two fights of the day with Julian Preston and D.J. Delger losing hard-fought decisions. Next up, Dmitri Ramos won an exciting and violent fight to become Easton’s first champion on the day. Danny Amaro followed immediately after and showed skill, grit, and determination in a beautiful victory. Easton lost one more as A-Class competitor Lisa Mucci battled a strong opponent to a decision. The team’s final championship came from Coach Allie Readmond, continuing her inspiring run as one of the best athletes in the USA this year.
Easton Muay Thai’s head coach, Sean Madden, measures success in experience earned and skill shown over wins and losses. Yet, over the course of the tournament, Easton Muay Thai fought to a record of 14-6 overall and crowned three new champions. The team’s only losses came at that hands of bracket champions, showing that even in tough losses the team matches up well with the best around. This was a great result for Easton and shows the Muay Thai program’s growth due to the hard work of the coaches and students.
With TBAs in the books, look for Easton’s Muay Thai athletes to continue to represent the community in competitions around the country. Many of the athletes from TBAs are looking for their next fight, while other competition team members are doing the same.