As students spar and learn Muay Thai, there is another battle brewing behind the scenes.
As you step into the doors at 8 Limb Muay Thai on Sundays, chances are you’ll see two people sparring in the ring that greets you as you enter.
James Richard is the owner of 8 Limb and head coach.
Immediately after the final buzzer sounds and the fighters relax, the two embrace and offer tips to each other.
It’s a tight-knit community.
Richard stresses the goal is to raise and train athletes first, and fighters second.
“We’re a family here,” said an onlooker as one of the combatants got kicked in the liver.
As the sounds of sparring and drills on punching bags fill the air, there’s another battle brewing behind the scenes.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s legal to train Muay Thai, but competitions are illegal.
While he did hold demonstration events in the past, Richard wants to change that and hold actual competitions.
“At these events there would be limited [punching and kicking] power, limited speed and techniques,” said Richard. “No winners or losers. People would pay a $10 cover fee, and pizza and pop would be provided.”
But even these events drew the ire of the provincial government.
“They shut us down based on a demonstration event – it was deemed illegal. So, I followed the law.”
“They understood two words. Prizes, which we are very good at apparently. And fighting, which we are really good at, actually,” said Richard. “They combined the two words together and lost all meaning for it. Amateurs do not get paid.”
Such events fall under the Criminal Code of Canada.
“… a boxing contest or mixed martial arts contest held in a province with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board, commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the province’s legislature for the control of sport within the province. “
Richard struggles to understand what the holdup is. Their arena is under Muay Thai Canada – the national sanctioning body. They are also affiliated with the International Federation of Muay Thai Associations.
“We have everything fulfilled [so] that we should be able to get a provincial sporting organization,” Richard said.
Newfoundlander Gavin Tucker fights professionally in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and is no stranger to Muay Thai. He has been practicing Muay Thai for at least 10 years and has even travelled to Thailand.
Tucker sees economic opportunity for the province in legalizing Muay Thai competitions.
“I think that if Muay Thai were legalized, it would bring a lot of people from all over the country to Newfoundland to fight Muay Thai,” said Tucker, who hails from west coast of the island and currently trains in Halifax.
Richard believes that legalizing such competitions would lead to more revenue for the provincial.
“There would be people from other provinces and countries coming here which we could call a form of tourism.”