Muay Thai’s popularity exploded in countries like France, the UK, and Australia, but it has been more of a slow burn in the USA.
However, though it took time for the sport to take off in America, it is starting to gain a legion of fans, and it has produced some world-class fighters.
There is no doubt the recent surge in popularity is down to some of these great athletes. They have traveled the world to take on the best before coming home to star in US events.
These are just five of the best Muay Thai fighters to come out of the United States and put their Muay Thai scene on the map.
Ky Hollenbeck bounced between different martial arts disciplines due to a lack of opportunities, and he was successful in whatever sport he competed in.
He was at his best in Muay Thai, where he stood out as one of his country’s first truly world-class athletes.
Once Hollenbeck got going, his relentless assault was difficult to stop. His opponents found it almost impossible to make a dent in his iron jaw, and when he finished walking through their best shots, he made them pay with his explosive punching power.
After excelling on the national circuit, and beating other top Americans like Cyrus Washington, he started to travel to prove himself against the best on the planet.
Victories against World Champions like Jordan Watson, Vuyisile Colossa, and Gregory Choplin proved he could mix it up with the global elite.
Tiffany Van Soest
There is no one in Muay Thai quite like Tiffany Van Soest.
“Time Bomb” has an extraordinary arsenal of Muay Thai kicks that goes back to her martial arts origins as a karate black belt.
Her hand speed is also electric, her knees are devastating, her elbows are punishing, and she can put opponents on the floor with some of the most spectacular sweeps and dumps around.
Plus, she comes at her rivals with a range of unorthodox angles thanks to her phenomenal Muay Thai footwork, which she credits to her history as a college-level soccer player.
At worst, she is the number two women’s pound-for-pound fighter in the world, thanks to her dominance in Lion Fight and Glory.
Though Miriam Nakamoto didn’t have a long pro career, she squeezed more success into it than most athletes could even dream of.
“The Queen of Mean” only had 14 pro bouts, but she won them all and collected an unbelievable number of belts.
Nakamoto is recognized as an eight-time World Champion with honors, including three WBC Muaythai World Lightweight Titles, a WMC World Lightweight Championship, and a WPMF Light Welterweight World Title that she won at the prestigious Queen’s Cup in Bangkok.
Nakamoto retired from the ring in 2013 to focus on MMA, but not before she’d beaten the best in her division – including Angela Rivera-Parr and fellow WBC Muay Thai hall-of-famer, Julie Kitchen.
As you’d expect from someone who achieved so much, Nakamoto was brilliant in all areas of Muay Thai, but when she got up-close and personal, she really shone.
She was strong in the clinch and possessed an arsenal of knees and elbows that no one relished having to endure.
“Stitch ’em Up” Joe Schilling bounced between disciplines during his career, and shot to worldwide fame when his KO of Melvin Manhoef in the Bellator cage went viral.
However, many of the mixed martial arts fans who saw that did not realize his decorated history in stand-up martial arts – particularly in Muay Thai.
Schilling was a two-time national champion and beat two-time Rajadamnern Stadium king Kaoklai Kaennorsing to claim the WBC Muay Thai Interim Light Heavyweight World Title in his adopted home of Los Angeles in 2011.
He then traveled to Bangkok to face the dangerous Dutch-Armenian, Karapet Karapetyan, and retained the belt with a near-shutout.
Schilling was also known for his killer instinct, which brought him KOs in more than half of his victories.
“The Soul Assassin” Kevin Ross might be the most well-known American Muay Thai fighter competing today, and he’s got the skills that make him stand out as well as his signature appearance.
Having trained under the famous Master Toddy, he well-versed in a traditional Thai style with great kicks and fantastic sweeping ability.
But Ross has also adapted his style to use plenty of Western-style techniques – particularly with his hands. He’s arguably at his best when he’s putting punches together in combination and overwhelming his opponents.
“The Soul Assassin” is also admired for his heart and toughness, which seems to be rooted in his inspirational story of starting Muay Thai at the age of 23 after a battle with alcoholism.
Throughout his career, he has made his name by getting into grueling battles with some of the best around. He prides himself on testing himself against athletes that have exponentially more in-ring experience than him.
That led to bouts against top Thais like Sittisak Por Sirichai, Sagetdao Petpayathai, and Saenchai, which earned him a ton of respect.
Better yet, he claimed signature wins against Coke Chunhawat and Rajadamnern Stadium champion, Malaipet.
Plus, Ross has captured multiple titles, including WBC Muay Thai national and international belts, the Lion Fight World Title, and the Bellator Kickboxing World Championship.
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