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Muay thai: Bringing the fight home

Local gym set to host largest muay thai event in history of the SCV

Posted: August 12, 2010 10:13 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Local muay thai fighters Francisco Funicello, left, and Hector Godoy spar on Wednesday at World Muay Thai Gym in Santa Clarita. Both men have fights scheduled for Saturday.

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A new kind of buzz can be felt inside World Muay Thai Gym in Canyon Country — even more than usual.

The gym, along with Push Kick Promotions will host the World Muay Thai Council World Championships Saturday at Saugus Speedway.

The event features several muay thai fighters from around the world and five from Santa Clarita. It’s the biggest event of its nature to ever grace the Santa Clarita Valley.

All five local fighters train in the ancient martial art of muay thai, which is a style involving exclusively stand-up fighting with the use of fists, elbows, feet, shins and knees. The fighters earned their spots on gym owner Kru Pongsan Ekyotin’s fighting team after multiple years of training with him. Ekyotin says he cycles a total of about 150 fighters through his gym.

“You don’t just come in here, walk in this place and become a fighter,” says Francisco Funicello, one of the fighters competing Saturday night. “You’ve got to earn your spot on the fight team here.”

Funicello, a Saugus High graduate, is the only member of Ekyotin’s team who will fight as a professional.

The others, including Funicello’s little brother Vito, Hector Godoy and brothers Ruben and Anthony Lahn, are considered amateurs until they compete in enough sanctioned fights.

In addition, World Muay Thai Gym played host to four fighters from Thailand, one from Japan and one from Canada for the upcoming event.

The gym was in high-intensity mode with the eclectic mix of fighters on hand. Francisco Funicello, a 22-year-old, who’s been involved in muay thai for four years, says that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the relatively small gym.

“When you picture walking into Rocky Balboa’s gym, that’s the kind of feeling I got when I walked in here,” he says of his first experience at World Muay Thai.

Francisco’s brother Vito, 17, joined the gym just a year later, and is set to fight only his second sanctioned fight as an amateur on Saturday.

Before muay thai fighters can become sanctioned, meaning they can fight without elbow and shin pads, they must fight a certain amount of “pre-fights” in full padding.

Vito has trained with his brother for three years while attending Saugus High, and he says the two have always maintained a friendly rivalry.

“We’re competitive about everything. We have to beat each other at everything,” Vito says. “(Francisco) found muay thai and started doing it and I said ‘I can do it better than you.’”

Ekyotin, a former two-time WMC champion himself, founded his gym in 2002 and says the sport has picked up a lot of speed in the past decade due to the increased popularity of various types of mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

He says often times UFC fighters learn muay thai first before learning the other aspects of MMA.

Ekyotin, on the other hand, started learning muay thai at age 7 when he lived in Thailand and has stuck with it through the years.

Fighters, like 19 year-old Golden Valley graduate Ruben Lahn, chose muay thai because he doesn’t like the wrestling and ground aspects of MMA.

“Muay thai is the most brutal of them all,” Ruben says. “There’s a lot more technique in it.”

Ruben’s brother Anthony agrees.

“It’s the deadliest sport because you just stand there and you can’t really run anywhere,” he says. “In MMA, you can go to the ground and all that. In muay thai, you stand up and fight.”

“Muay thai is the most brutal of them all,” Ruben says. “There’s a lot more technique in it.”

At age 16, Anthony is the youngest member of the fighting team and he will participate in his first-ever sanctioned fight on Saturday.

Though he will fight with less padding than he ever has, he is still required to wear headgear by rule because he’s under 18.

Ruben is excited for his little brother’s first fight without shin pads, but hopes he’s ready to feel the pain of his shin bone connecting with his opponent at full speed.

Often times, muay thai is about toughness and who can take the most hits, but Francisco describes the sport as much more than a test of pain-tolerance.

“It’s like watching a chess match almost between two individuals in the ring,” Francisco says. “There ain’t no pawns and there ain’t no kings. But there are shins and knees.”

Beyond the fighting, the Santa Clarita-native is looking forward to bringing his passion to a hometown audience.

“This is my backyard man,” Francisco says. “This is the first time I’ll get to show my friends and family what it’s about and to have them come out and support me.”


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