Team USA Holds Their Own at IFMAs but Need More Support


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Team USA Holds Their Own at IFMAs but Need More Support

With many countries requiring over 50 fights before competing in Muay Thai's most important amateur tournament, and many athletes showing up with over 200 fights, it's obvious that more opportunity is needed for fighters in the US.

Photos by Lord K2 for IFMA

This years IFMAs marked the first event since Muay Thai was granted provisional status by the International Olympic Committee in December of 2016. It was something that the Muay Thai community had been fighting for years, and the significance of the matter was not something the organizers or the athletes took lightly. Spanning over twelve days, this year's tournament was held in Minsk, Belarus. Now with recognition from IOC, many countries sent larger teams because of increased government funding. A total of 75 countries attended, with just under 500 athletes competing for IFMA gold.


The United States was no exception to the rule, they sent one of their strongest teams to date with 11 athletes competing in both female and male divisions. According to IFMA general secretary Stephen Fox,

"It was exciting to see such depth of skill and talent coming from America, continuing and improving on their traditions at IFMA events. I was not surprised to see America still in action at the business end of the tournament here in Minsk, and we hope to see them coming back even stronger next year. The American youth team had outstanding results at the 2016 youth tournament, and I'm sure these young athletes will continue to represent their country well in the coming years."

Despite their successes, Team USA still has a long way to go. The United States Muay Thai Federation (USMF) who works directly with IFMA has really stepped up its game in the past two years, completely overhauling their system; they will be unveiling national rankings this fall. They are also bringing in regional coordinators to facilitate gyms and athletes in USMF activities. Open to working with all sanctioning bodies, the hope for these new implementations is more fights for Team USA fighters and a larger pool of athletes to scout. The US is still severely lagging behind in terms of both government support and funding. Athletes were able to do some fundraising with the help of the USMF but for the most part were forced to pay for the trip out of pocket. This doesn't include training expenses, or costs associated with taking time off work, because let's face it, all these athletes have full time jobs. Countries whose governments subsidize the program like the Ukraine, Russia, and of course Thailand were standouts at the tournament.


State controlled sanctioning bodies continue to make it increasingly difficult to promote Muay Thai. Having to pay for the commission to come in is often too much of a burden for amateur promoters, shutting shows down before they even get off the ground. Without a unified commission, each state has different rules and very few commissions know anything about Muay Thai, some going as far as to ban Naman Muay, a pre-fight liniment used to warm up muscles before competition. The USMF is working hard to be allowed to self-govern themselves similar to USA Boxing where athletes are able to rack up lots of experience with consistent shows. Some countries require athletes to have over 50 fights before being able to compete at IFMA, and many athletes at the tournament have well over 200 fights, a combination of tournaments, amateur and pro matches.

Kate Allen-Cottone has been competing in Muay Thai for the last five years; she and husband own 8 Limbs Muay Thai Academy in Philadelphia. Despite her dedication, Kate has only managed to fight fourteen times. She was invited to represent Team USA for IFMA after the president of USMF, Michael Corley, saw her fight with fellow team mate Erin Jimenez. Fighting at her walk around weight, Kate fought on the first day of the tournament and lost a razor thin decision to Peru.

"Obviously I was planning on leaving with gold. I learned a lot from the fight and being at the tournament itself. I was able to watch hours & hours of Muay Thai. I wish I would've been able watch some fights before my own fight to get a feel for what the judges wanted to see but instead I did what I normally do before a fight and that was take a nap."


She's got no regrets, and is super grateful for the experience but is really hoping that things get easier in the US for Muay Thai athletes.

"We just don't have the opportunities here, especially as women."

Overall the team took home two Silver and one Bronze Medal out of 11 athletes. As Corley explains,

"I think that it was a good showing. This was the first World Championships under the patronage of the IOC so I believe that had a lot of teams motivated to bring their best."

Janet Todd, who trains out of Boxing Works with head coach Brian Popejoy in LA, scored a solid win over the Belarusian host in possibly the most exciting fight of the tournament for team USA.

"The stadium was filled with Belarus military chanting loudly for their hometown fighter, but it didn't Todd faze at all. She delivered a flawless performance silencing the crowd. She even dropped her opponent with a head kick in the second round. It was such a great performance that two of the founders of IFMA came to the back after the fight to congratulate her. It was a cool moment for us."

Todd was able to take home a bronze medal for her team.

If more people can join together, it will be a lot easier to get government support and subsidies, paramount for Team USA success at IFMA, and in the future, the Olympics as well. Corey says that gyms, coaches, and fighters need to register with the USMF.

"It is my goal to be able to cover our athletes expenses for 2018 IFMA World Championships."

The first IFMA World Championships was held in Thailand in 1993, and continued to be hosted there until 2007 when Almaty, Kazakhstan was given the honours. Since then it has been held both in Thailand and other countries including Russia, and last year in Sweden. This year Belarus had the privilege of hosting the first IFMAs since IOC's recognition; next year's event is set for May, in Cancun Mexico.

Special thanks to Niamh Griffin from IFMA.