On Saturday, November 12th, London’s Indigo at the O2 will host the Muay Thai Grand Prix featuring bouts “on the road to ONE.” One of the fighters on the card is the British champion Liam Patel, who also happens to have coached our Editor-in-Chief. We caught up with Liam ahead of his bout.
Liam’s journey in martial arts started at about the age of 7 when he trained in Karate, which he trained until he was 10 years old. School and GCSEs took over and his career in sports in general lay dormant for a good 13 years. At school, he ranked among the top 3 worst students in athletics, “so if someone had said ‘you will be a Muay Thai fighter,’ or ‘this is going to be your passion’ I would’ve laughed!” Yet, at the age of 21, he left university. He never enjoyed it but felt the obligation from his parents.
After leaving university he was kicked out of his house following an argument with his parents and decided to join a gym. He saw he was going down the wrong path and decided to do something to feel and look better physically. He tried May Thai, boxing, jiu-jitsu, and MMA to try different types of martial arts to see which one he liked the most. After 9 months he decided to stick with Muay Thai.
I follow up on his journey to Muay Thai and ask why this particular art stood out to him. Liam links for a while and replies “in terms of combat sports I like striking. My legs are long and I have a good build for Thai boxing. I remember the first time I ever saw it when I went for a tour around a gym, and I saw my first coach and one of the teammates at the time hitting pads together. I could hear it before I even saw them hit pads! It sounded like a shotgun! I saw them kicking pads and wanted to give it a go. Once I threw the first kick that really landed, I got addicted to it, to be honest.”
Readers of this magazine will know that we ask fighters to reflect on why they fight, and why they think people enjoy watching the fight. Liam provides a somewhat a-typical answer: “honestly, I still ask myself the question. I wouldn’t really call myself someone who likes to fight. When I put it down on paper, I don’t like to get hurt. I don’t like getting it. So it doesn’t actually make sense that I love Muay Thai! But I just love Muay Thai, and fighting is a part of it to show I am improving, that my skills are improving. But I think there is something primal, especially amongst men, where our current society is feminizing men a bit. There is something primal about two men getting in a ring, both having trained as hard as each other, with no hard feelings to see who is the better fighter that day.”
We turn to the forthcoming event, featuring “Road to ONE” fights. Liam will fight on the main card and adds that he would love to be the world champion one day, and to fight in ONE would be wonderful. But he is not there yet. “I say to myself, ‘let’s see how far I can get.’ That’s it. I didn’t start Muay Thai to become a world champ, that was never the goal. For me, I take it day by day and let the small wins add up. You can’t connect the dots until you get to a certain place: you can only connect the dots backwards and not forwards.”
In front of him on Saturday, he will have fellow Englishman Kory Chettle. Has he prepared differently for his opponent or is the strategy the same each time? “Well he’s around my height, and I don’t really get to fight people who are as tall as me very often. He’s coming down from the weightless above to fight me, so I’m assuming I’m fighting the best. I always do that. When I have an opponent I think ‘who is better than him but has the same style?’ I think about who is the best in the world at this sort of style, and I will then learn more about them.”
Turning to his own style, Liam explains his approach and distinctive traits. “Everybody has to fight the same way against me. I am a counter-fighter. I fight on the back foot and I have good footwork. All of my fights bar one I’ve fought on the back foot. People have to fight me moving forward and I have to fight my game plan. Now it gets to a stage where the higher lever fighters have a few more tools and you have to add on more tools.”
Liam predicts a win, but not how. He explains that he has a bad track record of predicting the exact way he will win. “Every time I have done that it has never happened! The one thing I have learned over my years of fighting is that you have to see what they come with. Have an idea of what they will bring, but you can’t have a set idea of combos in your head that you want to land. For all you know, it might not be there to land in the fight. Your performance will be worse or not as good as it can be.”
I have had the fortune of hearing similar advice from Liam before. Liam coaches at BoxCentric in London 5-6 times a week, and shortly after they opened the doors for the first time I took a class with Liam as a coach. I asked him now if he thought I could hold my own in a fight, and he expressed some scepticism. What he didn’t know was that I have been training for the past years since we first met, but, like Liam, I would prefer not to get hit. I’ll let him take – and give far more – hits this weekend.
We wish him the best of luck this weekend and in his future endeavours!
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