Danish Muay Thai and kickboxing sensation makes his ONE Championship debut as he headlines ONE 158 in a Featherweight Muay Thai bout on June 3rd. This makes him the first Dane to compete in the Asian-based martial arts promotion. We spoke to him about his preparation.
Larsen goes by the new nickname “The Dream Chaser.” Previously he was known as “the Destroyer.” As we started speaking Larsen explained how he got into Muay Thai after getting into trouble as a teenager. He speaks of being bored and unsure of what do to in life. His martial arts career, in other words, came later than usual. Starting at the age of 17, through the influence of a friend who saw some potential in the young Larsen, he tried a Muay Thai gym in Denmark. At the first session he felt like he was taken into deep water by the other guys at the gym, but instead of giving up it spurred him to come back- He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t the best, after having heard about his promising potential. He was humbled and found new role models. “They didn’t have to say anything, they just showed how a true martial artist does. I learned a lot!”
When I wake up, even though I am tired, there is no excuse or anything – I do what I need to do, and I do it happily. I enjoy the process, and do my work. That’s it.
His strengths today, according to himself, are that he sees himself as the equivalent of a white-belt in Muay Thai. He considers himself to be open to learning, developing, constantly honing his skills. “I search for growth and add things to my repertoire,” he adds. Larsen is a fighter who wants to improve in all areas of the art, despite being aware of his natural advantages: he is a tall fighter, standing at 184cm in the 70kg weight class. He can gain an edge through his use of distance, but is comfortable at any distance. His opponents might feel they are having a bad day, he says, but in fact it is only a technical difference, based on the techniques he has been working on and perfecting.
His former nickname fits well his record: 47-10-2 with 25 KOs. His past speaks volumes of a fighter who can crush opponents, but as we speak a gentler, yet passionate fighter appears. For Larsen, it is not destroying his opponent that serves as the primary motivation, instead it is creating something spectacular. I ask him about his ONE debut, and as soon as I mention it he interjects – “it’s crazy!” He is clearly ecstatic about the forthcoming bout. He prepares for the fighter as someone who constantly wants to improve. Fighting for ONE has been a dream for years, and every fight up until now has been part of a process. His thoughts about his opponent are those of someone who truly loves the sport: “I have an amazing opponent. I look forward to fighting against Tawanchai so much, and the thing is that I believe the feeling I get when I know I am about to fight a very, very good opponent, I get extra energy in me! When I wake up, even though I am tired, there is no excuse or anything – I do what I need to do, and I do it happily. I enjoy the process, and do my work. That’s it. Now I have one fight and I take this as part of my development, or that I can show more to the fight fans. It almost sounds arrogant that I see Tawanchai as a part of the process, but I feel every time I fight I am up there alone, and the better my opponent is, it helps me to grow as a fight. This is something I really look forward to. I train hard, eat good, sleep well, and my focus is on one thing: ONE Championship and Tawanchai. Well, even more than that, on being as good as I can be when fighting him. I am very grateful”
In some ways, the competition might seem to be disadvantaging Larsen. Tawanchai is competing in what is, in many ways, his national sport. Larsen hails from Scandinavia, and is competing in Thaiboxing. I ask why he believes Scandinavians have done so well in martial arts. Due to circumstances in Scandinavia, Larsen believes, we are very fortunate. We don’t train to live, in order to survive, we train because we chose it and enjoy it. “We could do so many other things, but there is a level of chasing it, because you love it, and because of what the sport brings to you. I see that as something that can be hard for fighters who do it for a living, or to find a better way of life. Scandinavians can say no thank you, get an easy job, or something like that. But here we have to think smart how we train. Some people here in Asia, and many other places, train since they are five, they have so many hours in their training. If we all, especially in Scandinavia, train the same way they do, we will always be behind them. We train more through what is good for us, and not a system that needs to be done. We have to be smart about how we train, because they have so many more hours than us.”
I see it almost as if we are creating a Picasso together.
Why, then, despite the discrepancies in what brings us to the gym, do people all over the globe want to fight or watch other people fight? Larsen thinks the special thing about martial arts is that it teaches you something about yourself. You really get to know yourself. “When you stand in front of an opponent who will do everything to make it difficult for you, you will get to know who you truly are. This is where you can put on your building bricks and choose what human being you want to be. That’s where I see many of us Scandinavians choosing to take this direction of becoming a fighter, because it sounds crazy, but it’s about life, and it’s about strategies, how we believe in ourselves, and what we show can be done in life. All this comfort we build and lay in makes us sleep. If we bring ourselves into a situation where danger is present – which you can see in martial arts – you can really, really, find out more about what we have in ourselves. More about the potential that we all have. This makes us wake up! So that, I believe, is the turning point for Scandinavian fighters – well, all who do it because they choose to fight.”
THE AESTHETICS OF MARTIAL ARTS
We return to the forthcoming ONE 158 fight. What are his predictions? “It will be exactly as it should be,” he says with a genuine smile. The prediction for him is that the fight is more like a play: both fighters put something into the play. Larsen speaks of fighting in aesthetic terms, and as a collaborative creation. “I see it almost as if we are creating a Picasso together. Whatever needs to be shown on the day, we will make it happen. We are going to bring it. I really enjoy fighting such an experienced and amazing fighter, because I know he will be a big part of what we will create out there. Anything can happen. Anything!” Larsen referenced and echoes Picasso, himself an avid boxing enthusiast, who considered the sport a mix of combat, spectacle, strength and bravery, which was for him a metaphor of creation itself.
Regarding his opponent he is full of praise, but confined that he will have the skills to outwit his antagonist. “I will put in my A-game, and this is also my chance to dig in deep and find something that even I didn’t know that I have. I am so grateful to have this opportunity, and am so looking forward to fighting Tawanchai. I really admire the way he fights, because he is so calm. His confidence is high as Hell, and he makes it look so easy. The technique he brings to the game – I know he is southpaw – and when he comes at you he comes so hard! I am so excited for this fight! I love to fight amazing fighters and I really admire the fighter I am going to fight. With that said, I also think I have something that can surprise him, and I definitely believe in myself and that I have the skills to take over this fight. I see it as something that I am really grateful for, and we are going to create something great for the fans and for ourselves. We are both going to grow, because this is going to be incredible.”
The goal is to be the best he can be. He says he would lie if the championship belt was not on his mind. But it is not ultimately about that – it is about fighting the best he can and creating something he can be proud of. That is more important to him. It is an internal motivation, rather than anything external recognition. The inner growth is primary for Larsen, but the belt is in the horizon, with the immediate attention being directed towards Tawanchai. Again, Larsen reiterates his respect for his opponent.
We end our conversation with Larsen directing his thanks to his many supporters in Scandinavia. “I am so happy this is happening right now. This is the best moment. I hope that people will enjoy what we are going to create. It will be amazing, and there will be much more. Enjoy the process. The journey will continue!”
Niclas Larsen faces Tawanchai P.K. Saenchai at ONE 158 on June 3rd in Singapore, for a Featherweight Muay Thai bout for the chance to challenge Featherweight champions Petchmorakot Petchyindee. The event will be live-streamed on their Youtube page.
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