New York Muay Thai and the City

New York City is a metropolis that enthrals millions of visitors each year. Rudy Giuliani’s zero tolerance policy turned the Rotten Apple into a tourist-friendly destination, but the old New York still simmers away under the surface. The no-nonsense character of residents of the Five Boroughs comes from generations of New Yorkers raised in tough streets. The crucible of Gotham’s diverse neighbourhoods bred an attitude of tolerance, tempered with readiness to argue or fight a way out of trouble. In NYC the upstart sport of Mixed Martial Arts is everywhere however New York Muay Thai is alive and kicking.

The pugilistic legacy of Empire City continues through some of the best Muay Thai gyms in the USA. Muay Thai is going through a renaissance in the city, thanks mainly to the rise of MMA, and Manhattan is the nucleus, with most of the city’s big players calling it home. Even conventional boxing gyms like the iconic Church Street Boxing Gym are getting in on the act.

The city has a number of well established New York Muay Thai camps like Five Points Academy, named after the once notorious Five Points slum, immortalised in Scorsese’s movie Gangs of New York. Square Circle and Kings Thai Boxing are both respected fighter producing gyms, with a lot of talent on their books. Sitan, a long-established gym in Astoria, has seen its lineage continue further afield with former fighters setting up Rebel Thai Boxing in Long Island and Jompikad Muay Thai Gym in Connecticut. Evolution Muay Thai is a big name in the city’s combat sports scene and even has British actor Jonny Lee Miller competing in grappling tournaments for their team.

New York is city that attracts expats. Former British and European champion Phil Nurse, runs The Wat while retired French fighter Natalie Fuz, a Five Points alumna, runs the city’s friendliest gym, Chok Sabai. The most famous expat in the city is Coban Lookchaomaesaitong, the legendary Thai fighter famed for his four fight series against Ramon Dekkers. Coban’s Muay Thai Camp is one of the busiest in NYC. The Muay Thai program at Renzo Gracie’s academy also has a great reputation, despite taking a back seat to BJJ.

It can be hard to find the old New York when exploring Manhattan, but occasionally there is a glimpse into what it once was: Latino mom and pop stores in Alphabet City, knishes at Yonah Shimmel, tenement blocks in the Lower East Side, gruff service and great pizza at Joe’s Famous, beers at McSorley’s. Walking through sanitised Times Square, the occasional topless girl with body paint clothing tells of the seedy past when the “Centre of the Universe” was a dangerous red light district filled with peep shows and pimps.

Muay Thai gyms are a relative newcomer to the city, but like all immigrants they have become distinct New Yorkers. They fit in with fabric of the city. White collar office workers hit the bag side-by-side with heavily tattooed fighters looking to make their name in the sport. Sparring partners from different sides of the tracks grab a bite to eat together with genuine solidarity after a heavy training session. Just another day in the city that never sleeps.

photo by Andres Nieto Porras

Tom Billinge Tom is the Editor of Revgear Sports and the founder of WarYoga. He is a 10th Planet purple belt and a Muay Thai Kru having spent over two decades in the sport in Thailand and around the world. Tom has trained Lethwei in Myanmar, Kushti wrestling in India, Zurkhaneh sports in Iran, boxing throughout Europe, and catch wrestling in the USA. Tom also resurrected the ancient techniques of traditional British bareknuckle pugilism from archaic manuals.