EXCLUSIVE | Kevin Ross Talks Muay Thai and Lion Fight
Kevin Ross, world-champion and 3-time national champion Muay Thai fighter, will be taking on Canadian phenom, Matt Embree, at Lion Fight 10 Friday July 26 in Las Vegas. The fights will air live on AXS TV beginning at 10pm ET/7pm PT.
By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA
World champion and 3-time national champion Muay Thai fighter, Kevin Ross, spoke with BJPenn.com’s Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio Sunday night as he finishes preparing for his fight against Matt Embree next Friday night with Lion Fight promotions in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For those less familiar with Muay Thai fighters, Ross is one of the best to come out of the US. A quick search for him on YouTube will give you an idea of his abilities inside the ring, his unbelievable grit, and his style that is both tenaciously aggressive and efficiently technical.
Next week, Ross will be putting those skills on display at Lion Fight 10, an organization whose expressed goal is putting Muay Thai on a more public platform in the United States. They recently signed a deal with AXS TV, allowing even more people access to the fights. For Ross, fighting on live television is an opportunity that has not come too often in his career.
“In different ways, it’s bigger than some [of my fights],” said Ross. “The fact that it’s live on TV and all that; I’ve had some amazing, huge fights in my career that nobody’s seen unless they’ve gone onto YouTube… As far as importance goes, and as opponents goes, you can’t even touch those [older fights]. But the fact that he’s a top guy and this is live on AXS TV and everything, this is huge; definitely the top 5 important fights I’ve ever had.”
When he began fighting for Lion Fight in January of this year, Ross was on the tail-end of some rather big changes in his life. He had just finished recovering from surgery on his ACL, and he had just relocated to Northern California from Las Vegas.
About the move to the bay area, it all started a few years ago when he would travel there to help spar with the Cesar Gracie fight team.
“About 2-3 years ago, Kirian [Fitzgibbons] up at CSA started bringing me out to help the Diaz’s out, Jake Shields and them. I think they needed me for sparring and stuff like that, so I started coming up here, you know, every few months or so; and I just fell in love with it more and more. [Kirian] was always dropping hints to me about how much they would love to have me out here full-time and stuff like that. Toward the end of last year, I really started considering it. I finally made up my mind [that] it was time for a move. As hard as it’s going to be to leave my friends and family, there’s going to be great training up here too, you know, and I can kind of get the best of both worlds, because I travel back and forth between the two quite often. I just needed a change of pace, just something to kind of revamp my motivation… it’s worked out great.
I moved up here a week after I had ACL surgery. Just that alone, being in a new environment, like a fresh environment, a cleaner environment- kind of a more healthier, mental place for me. I think that really helped me heal so quickly, that mental aspect of it, not just the physical side of it… The gym I was at was great, the training was great, you know, I had a lot of great guys around me. That’s what made it so hard to leave. It’s just a different view, kind of the same thing, but getting it from a different angle… So I feel really great, and I hope to be here a lot longer doing this.”
With the rejuvenated motivation, Ross found immediate success in the Lion Fight cage, winning two decisions in January and March of this year. The success has helped him fully believe in the strength of his repaired knee, though he admits it was a difficult challenge that even today gives him moments of doubt.
“Yeah, I mean those doubts and concerns were definitely there. Even now they’re there… In this sport where you have to use your shins and your knees, it’s scare to have something like that taken away from you; and then to have to come back not knowing how it’s going to be. And I didn’t know how it was going to be. I didn’t know if it was going to be healed, you know. My ACL was torn for over a month, and I had no idea, I was training on it, you know, I was getting ready for a fight… I broke my hand several times, and even to this day I have issues with it from time to time, but I know it’s healed and it’s solid, it’s just that sometimes it hurts, you know what I mean? That was the hardest thing, was the mental aspect of it for sure. Going into that first fight, I was like, ‘Sh*t, I don’t know what’s going to happen, you know, if I really, really get kicked, or if I really kick somebody, or kick something hard like an elbow or a knee. Or what if it goes out on me? Who knows?’ That’s something you got to overcome. I think that’s what fighting is all about, is overcoming those concerns.”
With the new focus on taking care of his knee, however, Ross feels that his game has strengthened.
“In some ways, I feel like it’s better. Maybe that’s because I focus on it a lot more, and I focus a lot more on strengthening my legs, and I focus a lot more on my kicks and stuff now.”
With the new strengths and confidence, Ross will be looking to implement his game plan next week of pushing the pressure and keeping it exciting. Always pushing forward, he says, is something that gives him an edge, but he is working on keeping that in check throughout the fight.
“I think [my aggression] is the difference in all of my fights. The thing I’ve been working on lately is sometimes I do it a little too much, you know, and I don’t adjust accordingly to my opponent. Like when I fought Saenchai [Sinbimuaythai], I had to stay in his face 100% of the time from bell to bell. Then going from him to Sagetdao [Petpayathai], that’s exactly what Sagetdao wanted me to do, is go after him as hard as I could and just stay nice and tight and composed. [Matt] Embree has that similar style where he will just lay back on the ropes, sit back, stay covered, pick his little shots here and there, use his front kick; and, you know, I’d rather be in an exciting fight and lose than be in a boring fight that I win, but I’m still trying to go about it in a smart way. Yeah, I think I always have that edge over anybody that I can push the pace harder than anybody in there.”
While Muay Thai is one of the more violent of all combat sports, here in the US it has not been as popular as boxing or MMA. Kevin Ross credits much of that to an overall lack of exposure, but he thinks that some of it has to do with the brutality of the sport: it’s not a sport that the average person is willing to stick with because of the toll it takes on one’s body.
“I think Muay Thai is the most brutal of all the fighting sports, it’s just pure pain basically. You are not coming out of a Muay Thai fight uninjured, unhurt, regardless if you just destroyed the person in front of you. I’ve never had a Muay Thai fight where I didn’t come out hurt in some way. I’ve had boxing, I’ve had MMA, I’ve had Sanshou, I’ve had kickboxing- all these other ones that I came away just fine, just smiling, and I could go running the next day or have someone smack me upside the head. But I don’t even want to be touched for like 2-3 weeks after a Muay Thai fight. That’s what I love about it, and that’s why I’ll always rather fight Muay Thai than anything else.”
And Muay Thai is something in which Ross continued to compete, through pain and through injury. The only time he really questioned it, he says, is not when he was hurt, but rather when he couldn’t find fights.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a fight where I’ve felt better. I’m always hurting everywhere, you know. There’s never been a time when I’ve been banged up, or hurt or injured from a fight where I was like, ‘Jeez, why am I doing this? I just can’t do this anymore.’ The times I’ve thought that in the past was when I just couldn’t get fights, you know. I mean there was a long period of time where I couldn’t get a fight to save my life, and that’s when I had all those other fights. I had those four boxing fights, the MMA fight, and I had two Sanshou fights, this, that and the other. I was fighting a guy on a day’s notice who outweighed me by 30 pounds or whatever the case may be. You know, I was like, ‘Man, what am I doing? Why don’t I just switch to boxing? Why don’t I switch to MMA?’ One, I’d be making more money, day one I would make more money in boxing or an MMA fight than in my championship fights. Two, the biggest thing for me, is I want to fight, and I want to fight all the time. More so than the money, is I need to fight regularly. Especially if you got me in there fighting guys with 300 fights, and they’re fighting every month, how am I supposed to compete with guys like this if you can’t keep me active? So that makes it very frustrating. But over the last 2-3 years, it’s really started to pick up. It’s been great to see, and it’s been great to be a part of. I’m really grateful that I stuck it out this far, and I made it through all those really dark times where there was no hope and no fights, there was nothing. It was really, really difficult to go through. I don’t think a lot of fighters these days, Muay Thai fighters, really know what it was like. I mean it’s bad now- it’s great in some aspects- but it’s still bad. There’s only so many shows, so many fights, and such little money. But how bad it was ten years ago, it was nothing. You know, you were paying to fight.”
Next Friday night, Kevin Ross will be stepping into the ring with one of Canada’s best Muay Thai fighters in Matt Embree. Those two are men who have stuck with the sport for years, becoming some of North America’s best fighters. The people in attendance, and those watching on TV, will be among those who also share the love for Muay Thai. While it may not reach the same numbers as a UFC Pay-Per-View, Ross is perfectly OK with the small, but strong, Muay Thai community.
“I think that’s one thing I really love about this sport: the only people that are going to be in it are the ones that really love to do it and have passion for it. I think that’s what really separates this sport. You don’t have people coming into it just to get famous… that’s what I love about it. As much as I want to see it get huge and as big as the UFC, the bigger something gets, the more watered-down it can get, and it can get a little messy. As long as it’s growing at the right rate and keeping those kinds of things from happening, I’ll take a cut in paycheck as long as it’s staying real.”