I often get asked how I got into Muay Thai. The sport seems such a part of my life now I sometimes forget that its unusual or even interesting to outsiders that anyone, especially a woman would gravitate towards a full contact sport that appears bloody and violent. When I meet other coaches or fighters I find their stories fascinating. What draws people to this type of training, what makes them want to excel in a sport that is so highly competitive, so physically demanding and pays nothing in the beginning and has no promise of a financially stable future is always very personal and tells me so much about who they are, where they came from and who they want to be.
This blog is about my Muay Thai story, my reasons for loving to fight and my reasons for wanting to make Muay Thai a part of my life forever by coaching and supporting the sport in any way I can. It’s a bit long, but not as long as the book I will one day write about my adventures.
If you read on I hope that my story will resonate with others in the sport and remind them of their humble beginnings as well as help Muay Thai beginners see that with enough strength, passion and dedication anything is possible. I also hope you will see that my love for Muay Thai, as violent and bloody as it can be, is really about empowerment and self discovery.
My first experience with anything really athletic was in high school. Even though my single mother didn’t know the difference between a football and a basketball and I grew up with more books and museums than sports, my school put an emphasis on team athletics, so I actually tried out and made some teams. I wasn’t great – my private Quaker school was super small so competition was slim. I played varsity basketball and tennis. I was mediocre at best and gave up sports my senior year in favor of a part time job at a local bagel bakery, a car and the freedom to party all weekend at various raves and club up and down the east coast. I got most of my exercise dancing with the club kids from that point on.
I decide to attend college in Philadelphia and got an apartment in the city. College was more of the same, school, clubbing, partying and working in the restaurant industry. I cleaned my act up enough my last two years of school to graduate with good grades and a degree in Communications and Psychology in 2000. Then I was left working as a full time bartender with no desire to enter the corporate world. I bummed around Philadelphia spending my days in local coffee shops writing or socializing and my nights in the bars working and/or drinking. After a couple years I felt bored and complacent, so I decided I needed a change. I arrogantly applied to one graduate school, Columbia Film and nothing else because I was too lazy to study for the GRE’s (I have always had an irrational fear of standardized testing) and Columbia was the best film school in a cool city that didn’t require them. After submitting my application I had a moment of panic. I needed a back up plan. What if I didn’t get in? Then I would be stuck in Philly with the same nightclub job and the same drunken friends and routines night after night forever. I decided if I wasn’t accepted I would move to Los Angeles. I’m not sure why I decided this. I hated Los Angeles when I had lived there before in elementary school. I just needed a plan B that got me out of Philly.
Around that time, early spring 2002 I started dating an awesome guy. He was smart, funny, really cute and, unlike anyone else I had dated since high school, was athletic too. He worked at Urban Outfitters and spent his spare time training Muay Thai. We were crazy about each other and I was very intrigued by this sport that he did. He started training me a couple times a week privately at this hole in the wall gym he had keys too. He was one of the advanced students there, so he had access to the gym during the day.
I was instantly in love with the training. I had been wanting to get in great shape for a while, but the random workouts I did on my own at Bally’s were only slightly making up for the sub sandwiches and 4am greasy diner trips that were a frequent part of my party girl bartender life. But now I had the Muay Thai bug and everything that went along with it. I started running (because my boyfriend said it would give me better endurance for pad work). I started eating better; lean protein, more veggies and protein shakes became part of my new life. Every change I made in my life was now with a purpose: getting better at Muay Thai (and/or impressing my new awesome boyfriend). I was still the crazy after hours bartender I had been, but I felt a shift had occurred. I had a new passion, something extremely motivating.
Then I got the news that I didn’t get into Columbia film school. I was disappointed, but even though I was in love with a local boy I was determined to stick to my plan and move to LA. Call it fate, call it stupidity, but I was a stubborn girl and once I told everyone that about my NYC grad school or LA decision I had to do one or the other. I started making plans to leave. I tired to convince the boyfriend to come with me, but he was uncertain about uprooting for some crazy girl he’d just known a few months and so I flew out the summer of 2002 to LA, with all my belongings, my entire savings and my two cats.
I got a little studio in West Hollywood and stated looking for work, a task that proved much harder in LA than it had been in Philly. I bought a 1992 used Honda Civic and decided that I could occupy my time not spent job hunting with some Muay Thai training. The only gym I could find in LA at the time even remotely near me was the Muay Thai Academy in North Hollywood. There I trained with Kru Puk, Malipet, Kru Santi and Edmond Bilbasso. I liked the evening class at 6pm the best, so after a full day of job hunting I would drive through an hour or more of traffic everyday to get the the gym and train. My first year in Los Angeles was rough. I could not find steady work for a very long time and the only work I could find payed very little compared to my previous bar tending gigs in Philly. I didn’t know anyone in the city, except some new acquaintances and I quickly emptied my savings that I had arrived with. Training Muay Thai was my only constant. No matter how bad things were I could always count on a Muay Thai class to give me a pick me up. I wasn’t worried about work or bills, friends or the complete lack of non-douchey guys to date in LA when I was hitting a heavy bag or sparring. I started running in the mornings and I quit smoking.
I had no intention of fighting, but the school I went to held “smoker fights” every couple months and it was common for students to test their skills in the ring, even just for fun. For those of you who weren’t around in California in the early part of 2000 things were different then. Smoker fights were unsanctioned amateur fights held mostly at local gyms. They were always three 2 min rounds with 1 minute breaks. Everyone wore headgear and shin guards. The gym owners would act as match makers, but it was common to show up to a Smoker the day of the fight and just see who was available. Female fighters usually had to ask ahead of time to set it up because there weren’t as many of us. So the trainers at my gym saw this girl who came to class 6 days a week, stayed late and was stubbornly in love with Muay Thai and they asked if I wanted to fight. I didn’t exactly want to, but felt obligated, not just to the gym for fronting me my dues when I couldn’t always pay on time, but also obligated to my self. I thought I deserved to test myself and see if I could do this crazy thing.
I never thought of myself as an athlete or a fighter in the beginning. I was 24 years old. I had no career, no boyfriend, a crappy studio apartment, an even crappier car (which I later totaled and just had a bicycle I rode around the city), my writing was going no where despite winning a national competition and all I knew was I loved Muay Thai and I wanted to prove I could fight. I had only been training about 6 months at this point. I wish I still had the VHS tape of my first fight (yes, VHS) – but it got lost. I barely remember anything that happened except I remember thinking, “Wow, this girls really wants to hurt me.” At the end of 3 rounds they called it a draw and my corner says to me, “Don’t worry what anyone says to you about this fight.” ‘Til this day I’m not sure what he meant, but I think it meant I didn’t really do enough to get a draw, but I got it anyway. Tough love, huh?
I had no real intention of fighting again. I’d had a hard enough time psyching myself up to do the first one. But this thing happens after you fight once. Every time you go to the gym and see someone they ask, “When’s your next fight?” Now I am a very prideful person and at the time I was very concerned with everyone’s opinion about me (I’m so glad my twenties are over), so I of course agreed to continue and fought again a few months later.
By the time I was preparing for my second fight I had switched gyms to a place much closer to me, the Bomb Squad in West Hollywood, and started training with Paulo Tocha and Chris Reilly. Chris and I would eventually develop a long training relationship which took me far into my fight career, but of course I didn’t know that at the time. In my second fight I knocked the girl out with a right hand and a kick the landed to her head as she fell down from the right hand. It was pretty epic. The VHS from that fight is also ruined or lost, unfortunately. After that I thought to myself, “That was pretty cool. I could do that again.” Winning is addictive.
By this time I had some regular work and was making good friends. I had given up my party life and was committed to training but I still thought of Muay Thai as a fun side thing. I was unsure of my future in it. I didn’t see championship belts in my stars. I was still trying to write every day, but if I was honest, I was spending more time at the gym than I was writing and I hadn’t met anyone that could help me sell my screenplays.
In my third fight I showed up to weigh-ins late because I got lost with a friend. I had no idea what the girl I was suppose to fight even looked like. I scrambled to get warmed up and jumped in the ring. That night I got pushed around, kicked, punched and kneed by none other than Gina Carano (I do have a copy of that humbling fight thanks to my pal Kevin Ross). Gina at that time was just starting out herself, but as she proved that night she was something of a prodigy. After watching the fight several years later it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. I held my own for 3 rounds and fought back some, but at the time what I recalled of the fight was that I got my ass kicked by someone obviously better than me.
After that fight I spent a lot of time reflecting on my goals and place in Muay Thai. I loved the sport, but I was not fully dedicated. I thought deeply about where I wanted to go and considered my options. In my mind I knew that I could not continue to try and be a writer and a fighter. I was splitting my passions in half and as a result doing a half-assed job at both of them. I reasoned that I was young enough to fight now and I could always write later, so I made the decision to dedicate myself 100% to fighting. I wasn’t confident I could be a great, fighter I just knew I had to try. Something deep inside me drove me to challenge myself.
I was aware that the decision sounded crazy. I mean on paper who would declare such a thing. “I, Roxy Richardson, 25, broke, in debt, with little athletic background will now dedicate the next few years of my life to fighting.” But, crazy or not that is exactly what I decided to do. I never lost a smoker fight again after that.
I fought my first sanctioned amateur fight 5 rounds for a title belt (at this point in California amateur Muay Thai was with no head gear or shin guards). I lost that decision and stress fractured my shin, but by then I was committed to the journey and I knew it was just a matter of time before I would get the W… and I did. I lost my first 2 sanctioned amateur fights but learned from them and went on to win a lot more and a few by knockout. Eventually I fought for that amateur belt again and won it. I defended that belt 4 times before going pro. My amateur career was full of ups and downs, but I had the opportunity to train with many great coaches and I learned so much from all of them. I started teaching Muay Thai for Chirs Reilly in 2005 and got certified as a personal trainer that year. In 2006 I made the leap to working as a full time trainer and fighter and gave up the restaurant business for good. I was the general manager at Legends MMA when it first opened, but in 2007 due to personal reasons I left to work for myself.
From 2007 on I was a bit of a renegade fighter. I had trouble finding the right permanent team and coach and I sometimes had to take fights not knowing who my team or corner would be, but by then I had discovered something in myself that I never knew existed. I felt strong, strong and capable enough to figure things out on my own. I’d had several fights by this point and I knew where I wanted to go. They say love changes you and in this case it was completely transformative. My love for Muay Thai made me the person I’d always wanted to be. I didn’t realize it was happening over the years, but each day I put into the training, each mile I ran, each dessert I passed up to make weight, each round I sparred, each bead of sweat earned, each drop of blood lost, I was changing myself for the better. I was getting up early for conditioning, I was giving myself a curfew at night, I was sacrificing social life and money and time but the pay off was greater than I ever imagined. Each time I had my hand raised in the ring and sometimes even when I didn’t get it raised I felt a rush of accomplishment. Nothing, except maybe some really good drugs had ever made me feel that incredible about myself before and I was willing to work hard to get that feeling again and again.
Muay Thai taught me patience, discipline, hard work and respect. It gave me the life I always wanted. A life where I felt in control of my own decisions and actions and I could be proud of them. Going pro was an easy decision. I never thought it would happen, but then I turned around and realized that that was the next step. I fought my first pro fight July of 2009 after 5 months off due to a knee injury. It was, as far as I know, the first pro full rules 5 x 3 female Muay Thai fight ever in the U.S., as full rules Muay Thai had just recently been legalized in California. There were fewer fights as a pro, but I kept training and tried to stay active. My personal training business had taken off and I was teaching my own small group women’s Muay Thai classes, so I was very busy teaching between fights. Just like with one fight at a time I had become a pro fighter, with one new client at time, I kept getting busier and busier and the next thing you know I was opening my own gym because it was just the right time.
I had a total of 3 pro fights, then before my 4th one in 2011 something happened. I lost my drive to train and decided to retire, it just felt right. I wrote a blog about that last fight and my retirement decision. A year later and I’m still happy with my direction. I’ve been lucky enough to coach some hard working fighters and see the sport of Muay Thai from that side. It’s challenging and rewarding, just as fighting was. Now I get to focus more on how Muay Thai touches those around me. I can watch people be transformed by the process. If a student has the desire to learn, the ability to suffer and the dedication to commit to the rigorous training amazing things can happen.
I get to watch as the community of Muay Thai grows and evolve. It has come so far since I first started and no one had even heard the name. Now people search for Muay Thai on Google regularly and with 28,900,000 search hits, it’s almost mainstream. I wrote a blog about why I love Muay Thai and what I hope never changes. Everyone’s Muay Thai journey will be different, but I think the reward is similar. I often make new students the promise that my coach Chris Reilly made me. He said, “If you dedicate yourself to training for one year you will be a different person, for the better. I can guarantee that.” I find that is true and even more so when you dedicate many years of your life to fighting. I am so grateful to have had these experiences and so grateful to pass them on today.
I have this tattoo on my back that says, “Saved by Grace”. I got it when I was 22 because I felt that God gave me a second chance at life and maybe that proved to be true, because something along the way led me to make better decisions… but really the tattoo should say, “Saved by Muay Thai” because that is exactly what happened.