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Muay Thai group comes of age

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Flying the flag: Bermuda's fighters returned from Des Moines with three championship belts. From left: Lee, Astwood, Boyce, Stoudt-Maries, Dyck, Gunness. Pictured front are Morgan, the BAMA president, and coach Grant

The Bermuda Amateur Muay Thai Association hatched from its embryonic stage in triumphant style at the Muay Thai Classic in Des Moines, Iowa.

A trio of the six-strong team fought their way to championship belts at the three-day competition, where more than 500 athletes competed in 28 different classes.

Corey Boyce won the men’s B division light cruiserweight title via decision against Eren Bashford, of Illinois, to become the island’s first champion at a Muay Thai tournament.

Also taking title glory was Brad Dyck who applied superb pressure to outscore James Streiller, of Missouri, in a decision victory in the senior men’s novice light heavyweight division.

The BAMA’s third title-winner was Nikki Stoudt-Maries who dominated against a more experienced opponent in Heather Hudson, of Manitoba, to win the senior women’s novice atomweight.

Considering he had just one Muay Thai bout under his belt, Boyce admits he had to rely on his boxing skills to secure victory in the “Hawkeye State”.

“It was a successful trip and I achieved the goals I set for myself,” said Boyce, a footballer with Premier Division side Robin Hood.

“I’m more experienced in boxing and I probably relied on that a bit to get through.”

Boyce hopes to return to the boxing ring in the near future after calling out Reyel Bowen, of the Bermuda Sanshou Association. Bowen, who is also well-known to local boxing enthusiasts, has returned to training after recovering from a shoulder injury.

“A lot of people want me to fight Reyel, so we’re going to have to get together at some point,” Boyce added. “I think that will be a real slugfest!”

Dyck has more reason than most to feel proud of his impressive display in Des Moines. He only took up the sport as part of a “lifestyle change” after being diagnosed with diabetes.

“I did a bit of research of the local gyms after I was told I had diabetes and this was the obvious choice for me,” he said.

“Muay Thai has been great for me and I try not to miss a class. It’s just so addictive and it’s the people here that keep me coming back.”

The 40-year-old from Winnipeg, Manitoba, admits survival had been his initial mandate but grew with confidence after his clinical win in his maiden bout.

“[The tournament] was a very special experience for me, especially being part of the camaraderie with my team-mates,” he said. “Winning the belt was just the icing on the cake.

“I didn’t know what to expect as I’d never done anything like this before. I had no expectations and just tried to do what my coaches told me and tried not to get my head taken off!”

Stoudt-Maries is another newcomer to Muay Thai. The 40-year-old from Pennsylvania took up training 8½ years ago after a bout of postnatal depression.

“I hired a personal trainer after suffering with the baby blues after having my second child,” she said.

“I’d always loved fighting and followed the UFC, and when I moved to Bermuda 18 months ago I was desperately looking for somewhere to train and I found this little place.

“Mostly, I just wanted to compete for the experience. I wanted to get over the fear of actually stepping in and facing off with somebody.”

The other athletes representing Bermuda were Jay Astwood, who recorded the association’s first win in a major tournament via knockout against Jason Swansson, of Illinois, in the men’s novice middleweight division.

Astwood was in hospital until after midnight prior to his semi-final bout against Anthony Schleicher, Illinois, having picked up a leg injury in his opening bout.

Despite his setback, Astwood battled gamely to a bronze medal in closely-fought contest.

Also earning bronze was Jeron Gunness — the only team member to have previously fought at the tournament — who lost to Caleb Merth, of Minnesota, in the men’s B super welterweight semi-finals.

Keron Lee was the first local fighter in action in the men’s novice super middleweight division, losing a first-round stoppage to Texan Mohamed Benachour.

Preparing the fighters was Ajarn Buck Grant, one of the top coaches in the United States, who spent three months at the BAMA headquarters at Beyond Fitness on Par-la-Ville Road.

Grant has coached some of the top names in the UFC, including Brandon Vera and Frank Mir, and offered a reassuring voice in the corner for the BAMA’s fighters.

“I’ve never been so proud of a group of people in my life,” Grant said. “They are like family to me. Now that I have transitioned, for now, back to the US, I reminisce on the three months of preparation we had as a team in preparation for the tournament.”

Chuck Morgan, the BAMA president, is hoping the Muay Thai Classic will act as a catalyst for growth for the association.

“I cannot express how proud I am of each and every one of our team members,” said Morgan, who established the BAMA about 18 months ago.

“Before we entered this competition I’m sure many people wouldn’t have even heard of Bermuda, but after our performances in the ring I guarantee some have started looking our island up on a map.

“We were honoured to have Ajarn Buck Grant and one of his top students Kru Daniel Chacon [a multiple-times amateur world champion and professional fighter] with us at this tournament.

“Their knowledge, experience, and guidance allowed this to be a success for Bermuda and establish a solid foundation that we can build on for the future of Bermuda Muay Thai.”

The BAMA is the only organisation on the island 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.

For more information about the BAMA, contact chuck@beyondfitbda.com or visit www.face book.com/bermudamuaythai.

Medal glory: Stoudt-Maries, centre, with Morgan, left and Grant