Dangerous Dave Zuniga – Looking to Fight the Best
By Mike LNg
Dave Zuniga has 16 years of competition in Muay Thai, kickboxing, and boxing, including over 60 amateur bouts and a decorated professional record and has competed against and defeated the top fighters in North America. Dave has also fought in Rajadamnern and Lumpinee stadiums. Dave Zuniga also became the New Gladiators Kickboxing champion at welter weight.
You recently traveled to Kiatphontip in Thailand to Train. What led you to choose Kiatphontip as a gym to train in?
At first I was looking to train at Kaewsamrit gym, just because it was a popular gym. Then someone mentioned to me to train at Rob Cox’s gym, Kiatphontip. I first went there in 2008 and had a good experience, so I recently went back there and stayed for around 4 months.
Have you trained in other camps in Thailand and what separates Kiatphontip from the other gyms?
I have never trained at any other gym in Thailand. During my stay at Kiatphontip, I have talked to foreigners that have trained at other gyms in Thailand, and they always said that Kiatphontip gym caters to foreigners better than any other gym they had been to. I also wanted to fight as much as I could during my stay. It was important for me to develop a good relationship with my trainers, so I didn’t bother to train at any other gyms.
I understand you did quite a bit of fighting while in Thailand. What were some of the more memorable fights you’ve had while in Thailand?
Yes, during my last stay in Thailand, I fought 8 times. At my weight (75kg), it can sometimes be difficult to find a good fight. I did have a couple of easier fights, but my toughest fights were against two foreigners I fought at Thepprasit stadium in Pattaya, and a Thai from Kaewsamrit that I fought outside of MBK mall in Bangkok. I won those 3 fights, each by decision. I only lost 1 fight this past trip to a Thai in Thepprasit stadium, but it was more frustrating than tough. Thais know how to outscore foreigners, and I was fairly outscored, but not beaten up.
Having trained previously in Muay Thai in Canada how does the western way of Muay Thai differ most from the Thai method?
In Canada, people talk more than they fight. I just love to fight. I only fight 3 to 4 times a year in Canada, and only k-1 rules. In Thailand, a fight could be available for me every weekend, if I wanted.
When did you begin competing in combat sports and Muay Thai?
I had my first kickboxing fight- just low kicks, when I was 13. At that time in Canada, Muay Thai was just coming about. I started doing K-1 rules fights at around 16, and had my first full Thai rules fight at 19.
What age did you begin competition?
13 years old.
In Canada how would you regard the Muay Thai scene in comparison to the rest of the western world?
Canada has a long way to go in Muay Thai, compared to the rest of the world. I personally think that one of the main reasons is that Canadian kickboxing and Muay Thai gyms typically don’t get along with one another. Another reason in that all Canadian provinces, except Alberta, do not allow elbows. Another reason that Muay Thai is so far behind in Canada is the amount of attention that MMA is receiving. Everyone seems to be heading that way nowadays.
What was your first important fight in Muay Thai?
My first important Muay Thai fight would be my very first one. It was about 10 years ago, against a fighter trained by Duke Roufus in Millwaukee, USA. The guy I fought had just come back from a 3 month trip to Thailand, and I had never fought a full Thai fight before. I won that fight by KO in the 3rd round, but It was a very difficult fight for me.
You’ve become well known for producing high light reel knockouts in Canada. What do you attribute your power to?
I don’t know what to say about that, other than I just hit people when I see an opening. I think timing does play a role in that though.
Unlike many Muay Thai fighters in North America you also have a background in international boxing has this helped you in Muay Thai?
International boxing can only help a Muay Thai fighter to a point. I did some boxing after I had many kickboxing fights, so when I returned to kickboxing and Muay Thai, I did notice that the boxing complimented my style a bit. I think that if a person did boxing first, and then switched to Muay Thai, they would have many problems adjusting to the Muay Thai stance, as well as absorbing and blocking low kicks.
In North America Muay Thai is still in a developing phase of growth. As a growing sport what are your concerns to sustain growth in Canada and in the United States?
Muay Thai has been in the developing phase in North America for the last 10 or 15 years! I think that one of the main problems in the development of the sport is regulation. Every promotion here has their own sanctioning body, and different rules. Most athletic commissions do not allow elbows, which makes it difficult to promote the true sport. A set of universal rules that all sanctioning bodies could follow could really boost the sport, but we don’t live in a perfect world.
You’ve fought from a fairly young age to the present. Who in Canada or the Untied States would you most like to fight?
I don’t really like to call out names. I am willing to fight anyone out there that wants to fight me though. There are some decent fighters in the USA at my weight. Craig Buchanan, Kwame Stephens, and Sean Hinds. I’ve seen them all fight and they’re really good.
What are your goals in Muay Thai that you’d like to achieve?
I just want to continue to look for the toughest fights that I can find until I retire. I’m not getting any younger, and I love testing my skills, win or lose, against the best fighters I can find.
What made you decide to choose Muay Thai as a sport?
As a kid, I had seen Muay Thai in movies and wanted to learn it for myself, but it wasn’t available where I lived. So, I started kickboxing. Eventually, my trainer went to Thailand for around 6 months, and from then on I studied Muay Thai.
What is your record of fights so far?
I had around 60 or so amateur fights, all kickboxing or k-1 rules, and boxing. I think I lost around 10 times. My professional record, which is Muay Thai and k-1 rules combined, is 24win 8loss.
I recently did an article broadly covering practices I think would help safety in regards to 2nds in the corner. As a fighter what is a safety concern you think needs addressing?
I don’t really know what to say about safety, except keep your hands up! I used to have an amateur boxing coach that would do corners for all his fighters with a towel in his hand, and the instant that he thought his fighter was taking too much punishment, or was being outclassed, he would just wave the towel and stop the fight. Everyone called him Mr. Towel. I thought that was a great strategy for the amateurs. There’s no need to take unnecessary punishment. I think combat sports need more coaches like him in order to increase safety.
Who would you like to fight most nationally and internationally?
Again, I’m not the type to publicly call out names. I just love to compete. There are a few people I wouldn’t mind being matched up against, but I’m sure in due time those fights will happen.
How is the atmosphere so much different in the ring in Thailand compared to the west?
I seem to be a lot less nervous in Thailand when I’m fighting, compared to Canada. Back home, I have friends, family, and gym mates there watching me fight, so there’s a bit of pressure. In Thailand, you just fight. There’s no pressure, and everyone seems to be so much more relaxed there. From the fighters, to the trainers, to the audience, everyone is just enjoying themselves. Except the gamblers. Those guys can get pretty excited when the have money on someone to win!
Do you have a set tactical approach when fighting opponents?
Yes. In Thailand, you don’t have to do too much during the first 2 rounds. In the 3rd round, I always pick up the pace. I keep a strong pace in the 4th as well. Thai judging is so different than in the west. Clinching and knees are very important in Thai scoring, so I would clinch and knee a lot. When I fight in Canada, I don’t like to clinch and knee so much, and it doesn’t score so well here either.
Thanks so much for granting this interview and do you have any last words for your fans or foes?
Well first I’d like to say thanks to you for the interview. Muay Thai has the potential to grow in North America. I think it’s more exciting to watch than mixed martial arts. If we can get a universal set of rules, along with the proper marketing, Muay Thai will become more popular over here, and maybe we can start to compete at the same level that Europe is on.
Dave Zuniga fights out of the Canadian Kickboxing and Muay Thai Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.