Fighters will stand together like ‘spartans’
The Bermuda Amateur Muay Thai Association will send a team of “seven spartans” to battle for glory at next month's Muay Thai Classic in Des Moines, Iowa.
Popular island fighters Corey Boyce, Jeron Gunness and Deondre Burgess will be joined by Jay Astwood and debutants Keron Lee, Brad Dyck and Nikki Stoudt Maries as part of the BAMA squad at the three-day tournament.
More than 500 competitors are expected to compete in 28 different classes at the event to be held at the Holiday Inn Ballroom and Exhibitors Hall from June 17.
Preparing the fighters is Ajarn Buck Grant, one of the top coaches in the United States, who has returned to Bermuda for a six-month coaching stint at the BAMA headquarters at Beyond Fitness on Par-la-Ville Road.
Grant, who first visited the island in January, has coached some of the top names in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, including Brandon Vera and Frank Mir, and will offer a reassuring voice in the corner for BAMA's fighters in the “Hawkeye State”.
The 40-year-old said the Muay Thai Classic was one of the top tournaments in North America and has backed Bermuda's contingent to “shock a few people”.
“We've got a really good group of people here,” said Grant, who was approached by BAMA more than a year ago about it becoming an affiliate of Grant's Muay Thai University in Norfolk, Virginia.
“Some of them have experience while others are fighting in the novice division and will be getting their first shot at fighting.
“This will be a good test to see where we stand on the Muay Thai map. We will be going there to win and I'd never take a team to lose.
“This is one of the hardest group of people I've worked with and I've worked with professional athletes and amateurs competing at world championships.
“I'm just as excited about coaching these guys as I was about coaching fighters at the UFC level.”
Gunness is the only member of the seven-strong team to have previously fought at the tournament, placing third in division B of the welterweight division at last year's event.
This time around, the 26-year-old will be gunning for a title and believes he will benefit from travelling to Iowa with a support network of team-mates and coaches.
“Having Ajarn Buck, a pro coach, passing on his experience and helping us prepare has been really welcome,” said Gunness, who will be in division B of the super-welterweight division for fighters with four to nine bouts.
“It's not just me going by myself this time as I'll be travelling with a team. We will be going there as a force, like spartans with our shields, We're going there as a solid team and will be protecting each other.”
Boyce has carved out a fearsome reputation, locally at least, inside the boxing ring after four undefeated bouts, and helped Premier Division football side Robin Hood win their first FA Cup final with a 2-0 win over Dandy Town at the National Sports Centre last month.
The 26-year-old, who will compete in the cruiserweight B division, has also represented Bermuda at rugby sevens and said he has no difficulty switching between the different sports.
“Boxing and Muay Thai are pretty similar to me,” Boyce said. “Once you get the stance down, it's kind of easy to switch back and forth. I'm still undefeated and for me to remain undefeated I'd have to win the belt, so that's my goal.
“Working with Ajarn Buck has been gruelling and a lot of hard work. He has a lot of experience and he definitely knows what he's talking about.”
Chuck Morgan, the BAMA president, believes each of the seven fighters is capable of bringing home a title.
“It was really cool to have Jeron representing BAMA at last year's tournament but it will be a lot different this time around with seven athletes competing,” said Morgan, who established BAMA about 18 months ago.
“Having Ajarn Buck here has been a real boost. He knows who is ready and these guys have come on leaps and bounds in the four weeks since he arrived here.
“Bermuda has not had someone of his calibre training fighters before. He has 20 years of coaching at the top level in multiple disciplines and countries.”
BAMA is the only organisation dedicated solely to teaching the sport that is often referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes.
n For more information about BAMA, contact chuck@beyond fitbda.com or visit www.facebook.com/bermudamuaythai.