Kevin Ross – The Soul Assassin
By Mike L Ng
Kevin Ross has maintained a very busy schedule and a high profile in Muay Thai in the United States and in Thailand. Kevin as a recent resident of Sitsongpeenong Muay Thai gym in Bangkok, Thailand has fought a steady stream of fights in famous Lumpinee stadium and took part in the Toyota Cup 8-man tournament. During the Toyota Cup Kevin Ross made a very convincing case for the level of American nak muay by winning the quarter final in the tournament and putting a ferocious attack on his opponent in the semi-finals. Kevin has recently even come on the radar of Saenchai Sor Kingstar, widely regarded as the best pound for pound nak muay in not only Thailand but the world.
Among Kevin’s achievements so far are the Super light weight(140 pounds) WBC International champion, the Welterweight(147 pounds)WBC National champion, the Welterweight champion of Mexico and the USMF Welterweight champion.
Q: It’s been said even at an early age you always wanted to fight. How did you eventually find Muay Thai?
A: Well I always loved watching boxing fights and often thought about possibly fighting. I also really loved martial arts but never really saw a martial art that had and real fighting. The closest thing would be point sparring tournaments or stuff like that. Then one day I saw a Muay Thai fight on ESPN and I knew right away that it was what I wanted to do with my life, I was hooked.
You maintain one of the busiest fight schedules of any American nak muay. What makes you seek out fights so often?
The simplest reason is that I love fighting, I would fight every week if I could. I also got such a late start to Muay Thai that I don’t want to waste any time, I want to fight as much as I possibly can before I’m done. My goal is to get to 100 fights, almost half way there.
You recently spent some time at Sitsongpeenong in Bangkok,Thailand. How was your overall experience there?
I really enjoyed my time there. I will definitely be making it my gym in Thailand from now on. Everyone there was wonderful and made me feel welcome, from the trainers to the other fighters and Tim the owner. I felt right at home. It was really great being able to train with Kem and Sittichai every day. I rarely get to work with people in the same weight class as me, especially at that level. Most people I work with back home are at least 155 and up. This was really the first time I’ve ever gotten to work with world class fighters that are in my weight class. What’s funny is that I didn’t even realize that they trained there when I decided to go so it was a nice surprise.
A lot of people may not be aware that you are also a freelance artist. Is it your main day job?
I would consider it my side job as Muay Thai is my life. For me art has always been something that I’ve loved and have been good at from the time I was a kid but fighting is my real passion.
Do you prefer the fine art side or more the graphic design aspect?
Both really, I love all aspects of art but I tend to do a lot more paintings than anything else.
On a related topic, are you aware that your wai kru photo is probably now the 2nd most used photo for Muay Thai posters for artwork world wide next to Tony Jaa in Ong Bak?
Ha, yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I never would have thought that it would get as big as it has when we took it. It kind of just spread all over the world. Funniest thing is that most people don’t even know that it’s me. The first time I met William Sriyapai I noticed that he had it as his screen saver on his phone. I was like,”Nice pic man, you know that’s me right?” He didn’t believe me at first till I showed him the tats on my knuckles. People are always telling me that I should have found a way to make money off of it but I don’t think it would have gotten as big as it has if I had tried to copy write it or making people pay to use it. I’m just grateful to have added something to the Muay Thai world that people enjoy.
How do you feel about your image being emblazoned on so many Muay Thai promotional posters?
I think it’s cool, I’ve had a few promoters and gyms hit me up and ask me if they can use it, which is nice of them, but for the most part I’m just glad people enjoy the photo.
There’s been a lot of speculation about why you are not on the USA team for Sport Accord. So to clear it all up did you get invited and declined or were you never invited?
I was never invited. Honestly I didn’t even know about it until you asked me why I wasn’t on it. I wish I would have been though because I would have loved to participate. [*Kevin Ross in retrospect remembers being asked while he was in Thailand awaiting confirmation for Thai Fight but also remembers after his initial invitation they went with someone else due to possible time constraints]
The early roster for Thai Fight for Thai TV channel 3 had you on it representing the United States. Can you describe for us why you are no longer on that roster?
Well I had already agreed to do the Toyota tournament when they invited me and of course I said that I would love to fight in both. A week before the Toyota fights I was told that if I participated in them that I would not be allowed to fight in the Thai fight promotion. Well I have turned down fights in the past because of being offered a better fight and then had that fight fall through and got left with nothing. So for me I take what I can when I can because you just never know. In the end I’m glad that I stuck with the Toyota one because after I passed up on the fight they offered the opportunity to one of my past opponents, Justin Greskiewicz. He was originally supposed to fight in an 8 tournament in New York and ended up pulling out of it so that he could participate in the Thai fight promotion. Well he was told, as was I, that they would be paying for all expensis,travel,hotel,etc, but a week before he was supposed to leave for press conference in Thailand he was told that he would have to pay his own way. So in the end he was stuck with no fights. It’s unfortunate because I would have liked to see America represented there but what can ya do.
You’ve had the opportunity to fight in different combat sports such as boxing and even MMA. What in your opinion makes Muay Thai unique compared to other combat sports?
Well I had those fights in other styles because at one point, and even a little today, it was almost impossible for me to get Thai fights. Both of my pro boxing fights were on less than two weeks notice and my MMA fight was only after a few months of ground training. Muay Thai is my passion and if I had it my way it would be the only thing that I would do but at the same time I would rather fight in boxing or MMA than not fight at all. I think the History,respect,culture and purity of Muay Thai is what really separates it. Muay Thai has a much more spiritual side to it than any other fighting styles. For me it’s the combination of the brutality and beauty that makes it so appealing. There’s nowhere to run and hide in a Thai fight. In my boxing fights as well as my MMA fight I never got that same rush, it was almost as if I had just got done sparring or something. I think it’s unfortunate that Muay Thai has not gotten as much recognition as MMA or boxing but at the same time I think that it has kept it a more pure sport. There seems to be so much more respect in Thai boxing than in other styles and I think that has a lot to do with the history and the fact that it hasn’t been as tainted or corrupted as other sports have been. I would consider almost every opponent I have ever had a friend. I mean when you’re in there it’s all business but I just don’t see any reason for all the trash talking or stuff like that outside of the fight. Sure you can say it helps sell the fight but I think if you have two world class fighters in there than that should sell itself. Regardless of whether it helps sell it or not, that’s just not me and I won’t pretend it is just to help sell.
Do you feel the level of Muay Thai in the United States has grown since you first began Muay Thai?
It definitely has. The level of fighters and the quality of shows is going up all the time, however slowly. I think the biggest reason it is taking so long is that there is so much more of an opportunity in MMA. There’s more shows more money and more exposure. For someone to make a living as a Thai boxer in America only through fighting is basically impossible. I mean there’s plenty of amateur shows all of the time but once you start getting up to a certain level there’s not a lot out there and that’s why you see a lot of people make the switch to MMA. There’s only a handful of promoters that even put on top level shows and they usually use the same people every time and even on those the pay is minimal. In order for Muay Thai to get bigger in the U.S. there needs to be more promotions, especially at the top level, and it really needs to get exposure on television. The only place for people to watch Thai fights is on the internet. Another reason I believe that it’s taking so long is you have so many people using the name ‘muay thai’ when they have absolutely nothing to do with it. There are countless fights, fighters and gyms that all say ‘Muay Thai’ but yet they know nothing of the sport. So you’ll have a so-called Muay Thai show and people that have never seen it will go and it ends up being a modified rules card, basically kickboxing, which ain’t the same thing, and their like, “muay thai is lame”, and all because it was misrepresented. Or you see these gyms that say that they teach Muay Thai yet the instructors have no clue about it and probably just went to a seminar or something, got certified and are now teaching people, it’s ridiculous. Another thing is if you watch any MMA fight the announcers will say someone is using Muay Thai just because they throw a kick or knee. On one hand it’s bad for the sport because it is being misrepresented but on the other hand it is getting the sport out there and getting people interested. I could go on and on about this.
You’ve trained in Thailand, prior to your latest trip to Sitsongpeenong, at Sitkuanim as well as Sasiprapa. How would you compare your time at Sitsongpeenong to prior trips to Thailand?
All of the camps that I have been to have been wonderful and have had their own great qualities. What made Sitsongpeenong really stand out to me was not only was it a hardcore camp with top level training but it was also a really nice one, as in the accommodations and cleanliness. Most of the time if it’s a really hard core, legit camp you are going to have to give up some comfort or you can go to a really nice gym that might not be as intense of training you know, so it just depends what you’re looking for. But at Sitsongpeenong they had the best of both worlds.
What are the challenges of fighting Thais compared to American opponents?
I think one of the biggest challenges is their experience and their hearts. The majority of fighters from Thailand fighting its their lives, it isn’t a hobby or something that they do for fun. It’s how they pay the bills and take care of their families. So more than anything it is the mental aspect of it. If someone is doing something for fun as opposed to doing it as a means to feed themselves and their families than they are a lot easier to break. There are definitely fighters here in the states that can hang at that top level but they are few and far in between. I think this just has to do with the lack of experience and dedication to the sport. But it goes back to that same problem, we just don’t have enough top level cards here, as well as gyms, so it’s really hard for fighters to stay active and really progress. The fighters here in the U.S. that do make it to that top level really have to completely dedicate every aspect of their lives to this sport and sacrifice more than most people are willing to.
Having accomplished many milestones in your career in Muay Thai already what other goals remain for you in Muay Thai?
Well there’s definitely winning the WBC world title but my biggest goal is and always has been to fight as much as possible and fight better people every time. More than anything I just want to be an inspiration to others and show people that no matter where they are in life that they can go after their dreams. I didn’t start training in Muay Thai until I was 22 and before that I was an alcoholic heading down a road to nowhere. Most people would have laughed in my face back then if I told them that this is what I wanted to do, as would I. Finally one day I had enough, poured out the drink in my hand and two days later started training and never looked back. I had originally seen Muay Thai when I was about 14 so it took me about 8 years to actually do it. A lot of things kept me from going after it. I knew people would laugh at me and not take me seriously, mostly because I didn’t even know how serious I was. I was too busy partying and wasting my life and it just seemed like an impossible dream to me. I never could have imagined that I would be where I am today when I first decided to turn my life around. All’s I knew is that I wanted to fight so I completely dedicated my life to it and didn’t let anything get in my way. I would also like to compete in the new K-1 MAX 63.5kg category. If I can show one person that it’s never too late to change their lives and to accomplish their dreams then I know I’ve succeeded.
Is there any likelihood that we could see you return to Thailand soon?
Definitely, I love it over there and want to spend as much time as I can but it isn’t always financially possible for me. I’m hoping to go back again towards the end of the year but if not definitely next year.
Maintaining as busy of a fight schedule as you have it can be hard to be healthy. What steps do you take to keep your fitness and health up?
Well trying to stay healthy hasn’t always been the easiest thing as I have had some pretty serious injuries over the years. I do my best to stay healthy and even when I do have injuries I tend to heal rather quickly. I really try and maintain a good diet regardless of my fight schedule. I mean as anyone who knows me will tell you I love the junk food and go way overboard after fights. But that will only last for about a week and then I’m right back on the grind. I think it’s really important to have balance, if you are so strict on yourself constantly then you’ll probably break down and go completely the other direction. So you’ve got to make sure and enjoy the little things from time to time, like donuts! I always have a lot of doctors, masseuses and chiropractors that have really kept me healthy as well. I would be a mess if it wasn’t for them. One of the worst injuries that I have had was snapping my ankle in China and my physical therapist got me back in the ring within 6 months. When my doctor first saw my ankle she didn’t think I’d even be walking properly in that amount of time. I really have to give them their credit and my thanks.
Do you have any upcoming fights?
I don’t have anything set right now but I am looking to get something lined up towards the end of August or beginning of September. I really want my shot at Pinca or any other top fighters but I will fight anyone.
What so far has been your proudest moment in your Muay Thai career?
Winning the WBC International title and getting my revenge was definitely my proudest moment. There was so much emotion for me in that fight. From snapping my ankle and loosing that controversial decision in the first fight to the 5-6 months it took me to rehab my ankle. Then having the rematch be the war that it was and to end by knocking him out in the 4th round, I was just flooded with emotion and couldn’t keep it in. It was the best feeling in the world. Another one of my proudest moments was when I got to fight on the King’s Birthday in 2007. Walking out and fighting in front of that many people was the most surreal experience I have ever had. For some reason I have never been one to get nervous before fights, more times than not I get too relaxed and really have to get myself amped up to get the adrenalin flowing. I really thought that fighting in front of that many people would actually make nervous for once but I was calmer than I ever had been before. I really feel like God put me on this earth to be a fighter and in that moment I could just feel His presence and knew that I was doing what I was put on this earth to do, it was an amazing feeling.
Do you have any advice for new students in Muay Thai?
My biggest advice to anyone, whether it’s in fighting or anything else, is to go after your dreams and never give up. Figure out what you want out of life, what you are passionate about and go after it, no exceptions. But you also have to be willing to sacrifice in order to get there. If there is something that you love and know that you were put on this earth to do, there shouldn’t be anything that you let get in your way. I have had to give up so much, sacrifice and go through more than I could even begin to tell you but I wouldn’t change it for the world. There have been moments where I just wanted to quit, to give it all up. At time it would be a lot easier to just stop, give up and do something else but in the end I would live my life in regret. I think that is one of the biggest reasons that people are unhappy. They had a dream but never went after it because of fear of failure or fear of the challenge or any number of reasons. But I’ll tell you that even if you never actually accomplish the dream, just going after it will bring you more happiness and peace than anything else. I mean even if I never had accomplished as much as I have in this sport I never would have regretted going after my dream. I will always know that I gave it my all and I never have to look back on my life and ask ‘what if’. What if I would have tried, what if I wouldn’t have let fear hold me back, you’ll never know and it will eat you up forever.
For new and old fans do you have any parting words?
I just want to thank everyone that has helped and supported me over the years. I also want to thank all of my trainers and training partners, Mark, Shawn, Chaz, Norm(my conditioning coach) and everyone else along the way. I truly appreciate you all more than I could ever express. Whether it’s someone that has helped me train for fights or just someone that has said hello to me and told me that what I do inspires them, I appreciate you all. I will continue to give everything that I have to this sport for as long as I can and hope to inspire and touch as many lives as possible. “Face your fears, live your dreams”. God bless you all!
Much thanks goes to Kevin Ross for the interview and the well thought and detailed answers. It truly was a pleasure and honor.
And now a clip of Kevin fighting with the WBC USA title staked: