A look at muay thai

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

A few weeks ago, The Toronto Sun ran a piece on mixed martial arts (MMA), bringing up the issue of legalizing the sport in Ontario so live events could be held here.

With the advent of reality shows like The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, and the higher pay-per-view ratings for Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts, interest in MMA is rising.

Ken Hayashi, Ontario's athletic commissioner, says if the MMA crowd wants to see the sport legalized here, with live UFC events in places like the Ricoh Centre, or better yet, the John Labatt Centre in London, where the sport really flourishes, then it's best they go to the province and get established as a recognized amateur sports body.

That's what the muay thai folks did, Hayashi says. The MMA crowd should follow their lead.

"Now they can build their amateur association and a good health and safety record," Hayashi said. Then, someday, try to get sanctioning for pro bouts.

That appears sound enough, but it's not a given the UFC, one of the leading promoters for that sport in the world, will have the patience to wait the five years it took for the Canadian Amateur Muay Thai Association of Ontario to get recognized as a provincial sport organization.

Khan Phady, who runs Phady's Muay Thai Kickboxing gym in Kitchener, and also heads up the provincial sports organization, says the process tried his patience, hacking and slicing through government bureaucracy to get his sport legalized here, which admittedly was made more difficult after criminal charges were laid against people holding illegal, unsanctioned bouts in the 1990s.

It took a lot of Phady's own money to make it happen.

The muay thai people had to meet a list of 19 safety-related criteria. Elections over the years meant a new slate of politicians and government managers to meet with and send updates about the sport to. Delays, and more delays.

Still, with Phady's Battle for the Belts going tonight at Preston Arena in Cambridge, he says it was important to get through the process and get it legalized, because people in the past were promoting it the wrong way.

Muay thai is known by some as the "brutal ballet," renowned for bloodletting. That's an impression many in Ontario, including Phady, have worked hard to overcome.

It's a martial art that's also called "The Science of Eight Limbs," utilizing the feet, knees, hands and elbows. That's a description that's easier to swallow for many of those who practice it. Muay thai is an essential part of Thai culture, making live events a celebration of heritage as much as a sporting contest.

"It's not just a sport where you put two people in a ring to fight," Phady's wife, Anna, said. This all makes sanctioning live bouts even more important.

"There was a lot of underground stuff going on," Phady said. "I've heard it's going on now, but I can't point it out. They're using the name of the sport, and they're misrepresenting it."

If someone is holding an illegal event, they don't have to pay for judges, doctors, everything you need to do to get sanctioned.

Clubs that become members of the provincial body have their coaches go through test assessments. There's the issue of liability insurance. Clubs that register have to go through a year's probation before they can host live fights.

Mixed martial arts people are trying to say they're muay thai to try and get under the radar, so Phady says a part of his job these days is to try and locate the real muay thai clubs out there and make them part of the provincial organization.

Eleven clubs are registered with the provincial sports organization now, Phady says, and that number is growing.

Still, the temptation to take the illegal route is there, especially when one factors in those costs.

Phady's group is hosting a muay thai fight night as part of the Mixed Martial Arts Expo May 13-14 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

MMA is becoming more popular at the grassroots level, with younger people coming to it, especially after watching the sports superstars, like Chuck Liddell and Canadian Georges St. Pierre.

The MMA guys will instruct and hold workshops at the Expo, but it's Phady and the muay thai athletes who get to hold the live fights.

Next up on his wish list are live, professional muay thai fights in Canada.

"It was a long time, but we had to do it the right way," he said.

"I'm trying to get kids off the street. I want to bring our culture to Canada."


Videos

Photos