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Lion Fight 19: A tale of two young guns and two Thai legends

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Once again Lion Fight delivered some awesome Muay Thai action at Lion Fight 19. There was not a boring fight on the AXS TV card. Jo Nattawut stepped up on hours notice and defeated a game Sean Kearney who agreed to fight up two weight classes in the main event. While Chajmaa Bellakhal used sheer aggression to sway the judges in her fight with Jeri Sitzes in the co-main. Ognjen Topic defeated another Thai giant in Rungravee Sasiprapa and Julio Pena kicked off the televised card with a UD win over Matt Doherty.

It is the second and third fights of the night that I want to focus on. In each of those fights you had a talented fighter with only a few fights facing a Thai legend with vastly larger amounts of Muay Thai experience. In one you had Chris Mauceri at 6-1 taking on Coke Chunhawat who was 149-29-3 in his career, and in the other a 2-0 Pedro Gonzalez was facing off against Rungrat Sasiprapa with a record of 50-24-1. Both fights were entertaining, revealing and each yielded a possible future star.

Mauceri following a similar path as Kevin Ross

Each fighter is an individual and fight in their own style and Mauceri fights differently than Kevin Ross. Their paths though have some strong similarities. Ross was a talented natural athlete who came to the sport late in life. He immersed himself in the sport and took on various Muay Thai legends early in his career. In those fights he gave up the experience factor but he could match them or exceed them in heart and will. Wins and losses were not as important as the actual fights themselves.

Now 11 years later Ross is one of those legends himself and was Mauceri’s last opponent before this fight. They threw down at Lion Fight 15. In that fight we learned a lot about Mauceri who suffered an early cut in that fight off of a perfectly placed elbow from Ross. The cut spurred on Mauceri who became even more aggressive and urgent in trying to finish the fight.

On that night, Ross was just sublime in the way he slipped and slid past strikes to land his own. It was the type of fight you get when a talented young fighter meets an equally talented veteran in their prime. Ross taught Mauceri some lessons and you saw him apply them in this fight with Chunhawat. While Mauceri learned from Ross. He also revealed his fighting heart.

How a fighter responds to his own blood is telling. Seeing their own blood often brings a visceral response from a fighter. Some are clearly bothered by it. They will keep touching the area and you can see their focus shift from their opponent to their cut. The end of the fight usually comes quickly for those type of fighters.

Other fighters get angered by the sight of their own blood. Sometimes they are able to use that anger to overwhelm their opponent and for others it leads to them getting finished. In the anger category there is also the low burner, the one who seethes. They are looking for their revenge. If you cut them with an elbow then they are looking to land their own.

Then there are the fighters who just do not care. Ross is one of these type of fighters. A great example of this is his fight with Tetsuya Yamato at Lion Fight 11. By the end of the fight Ross looked like some took a hatchet to his forehead. It never slowed him down and he just kept coming at Yamato. He did not get pissed that he was cut. It is more like something that happens in fights like sweating and moving are elements of a fight so is bleeding. If anything for this type of fighter it raises their sense of urgency in the fight and that is what we saw from Mauceri against Ross.

There is also another category. The Jason Andrada one. In which you get cut and are so excited by it that you start dropping F-bombs in your post fight interview with Pat Miletich.

Facing another legend

Coming into Lion Fight 19 some fighters would have been intimidated by facing someone with 143 more career wins but not Mauceri. He fought with a fearlessness in this fight. That is one of the traits that is quickly making him a fan favorite.

Now there has been a recipe for Western fighters facing Thai ones and that is to start fast against them. As announcer Michael Schiavello informed the viewing audience that in Thailand there is betting throughout the fight and it is an accepted practice for the local fighters to start slowly in the first two rounds to encourage more betting. Then they pick up the pace over the last three rounds.

The problem with that approach is the Thai fighters have already caught on. Now when they fight here they start faster. Schiavello and his colleague Pat Miletich confirmed that Chunhawat was indeed planning on starting out fast.

It was also Mauceri’s game plan as he came out firing combinations at the bell. For the first 18 seconds Chunhawat played defense. Then he landed a roundhouse kick to the body, caught Mauceri’s front-kick and swept the other leg out sending him down hard. When he got back to his feet he fought off a clinch and landed a couple of good strikes. It seemed like he could take the first round but right before the two-minute mark of the round Chunhawat started going to work.

For the rest of the round he used superior technique and a strong clinch game to take control. We saw the heart of Mauceri who was not discouraged by Chunhawat getting the better of him throughout the round. It did not look great for him at the end of the round, but Mauceri was having success with his hands. While Chunhawat worked him with his elbows, knees and in the clinch to take the round.

The thing about heart and will is that they do not care how things may look or whether or not the fight is going your way. They focus on keeping you going forward and fighting your best in that moment. There were openings in the boxing area for Mauceri it did not look like he could control the distance well enough to keep it there. It was easy to think that Mauceri was going learn another tough lesson in a loss to a legend. Instead he learned how to defeat one.

Mauceri started to take over in the second round

It is a treat to watch a young fighter grow quickly in their career. Mauceri lost to Ross in May and in few months since then he had already evolved into a better fighter. It also helped that he did not have a nasty gash on his forehead at the end of the round.

Mauceri started the second round with a couple of good kicks and a knee to the body along with a few punches. He was effective at landing strikes and avoiding Chunhawat’s clinch. Then just under thirty seconds into the round Chunhawat locked one on. A few seconds later Mauceri got tossed to the canvas and ate on knee on the way down.

The clinch is often the last part of the Muay Thai art form for fighters to master. It looks simple from the outside but is very complex and it is hard for someone with only seven professional to match up with a Thai fighter’s clinch. Chunhawat is someone who has been training his clinch game since he was a child. It is usually not a good game plan for an inexperienced Western fighter to battle in the clinch with a Thai legend.

After working his boxing, Mauceri again found himself in the clinch with Chunhawat only this time it was the Thai legend who got tossed to the ground. As a former gymnast, Mauceri has explosive power and an excellent understanding of balance. They helped him battle Chunhawat in the clinch. It was that solid clinch work and his striking from the outside that won him the fight.

It was simple a joy to watch him start to string together combos. As the fight entered the final 30 seconds of the second round Mauceri put together a nice sequence in the center of the ring. He started with a triple jab that were more range finders for the hard right hand that landed right after them. He just missed with a left-hook, jab and right outside leg kick combo right afterwards. It was still a nice scoring sequence for Mauceri.

In the third the combos kept coming from Mauceri. A jab, right to the body, left to the body and knee to the body one. A little later in the clinch a quick left-hook right-hook back into clinch and finished with a solid knee to the body one that was sublimely sweet. Then a little later Mauceri backed Chunhawat into the corner and worked some nasty elbows in the clinch. First Chunhawat landed one of his own and Mauceri responded with three in a row that brought a smile to Chunhawat’s face. One that was indicating that they were solid strikes. It was some slick work from the fighter with only seven fights experience against the Thai legend.

The slickest kick from Mauceri in the fight was his leaping front kick to the body that sent Chunhawat backwards at the end of the third round.

Mauceri Leaping frontkick

Mauceri took the momentum of the kick into the fourth round where he opened up the round with an impressive flurry. The fast start for Chunhawat seemed to have worked against him and he seemed to be slowing down while Mauceri was getting stronger.

Here is an example of some of Mauceri’s hand speed and combos.

Mauceri's slick combos

Throughout the final two rounds Chunhawat battled but Mauceri continued to get the better of the exchanges. His size, speed and athleticism was too much for Chunhawat. Continually during the fight Miletich praised Mauceri’s defense in the fight. That defense along with his crisp combos and surprising clinch work lead him to UD win. It was a magnificent performance from Mauceri against a true Thai legend. With his work ethic, natural athletic ability and his warrior’s heart Mauceri will continue to grow as a fighter.

Rungrat Sasiprapa is too much and too nasty for Gonzalez

Gonzalez is not a traditional Muay Thai fighter. He comes to the sport from an MMA background and Schiavello informed us that he started fighting Muay Thai because he could not get any MMA fights. He had started his Muay Thai career with two upset wins and was facing his biggest challenge in Rungrat.

The success that Gonzalez had experienced in his short Muay Thai career was due to the fact he could just overwhelm his opponents with sheer size, heart and toughness. His is not the prettiest of styles but it is effective one. It is like Gonzalez is the Ray Jackson of Muay Thai.

At the start of this fight Gonzalez tried to swarm and overwhelm Rungrat right at the bell. The Thai fighter calmly defended himself as Gonzalez pushed himself into Rungrat and forced him into the corner. The clinch was an area that Gonzalez had found a lot of success in his first two fights but they were against less experienced Western fighters. Rungrat’s clinch was a much different beast than the ones that Gonzalez had faced before. However, Gonzalez uses a bear-hug body-lock to dump Rungrat.

When he got back to his feet Gonzalez stepped in to throw a righthand. Rungrat read it and countered with a body kick that hurt Gonzalez. He responded by retreating then surging forward. Once again he forced Rungrat into the corner and started to swarm. Rungrat weathered the onslaught and answered with well-timed and placed knee to the body that again hurt Gonzalez. That lead to an attack from Rungrat who sensed that Gonzalez was hurt but managed to survive.

In the second round a clash of heads opened up a cut over Gonzalez’ right eye. The referee incorrectly took a point away from Rungrat. Fortunately the cut nor the ref’s taking away of a point did not affect the outcome of the fight. The fight was determined by Rungrat’s superior clinch work. He landed punishing strikes to the body throughout the second and third rounds.

By the time the fourth round start Schiavello and Miletich were confused as to why Gonzalez kept initiating the clinches. Rungrat was just eating him up on the inside. The little success that Gonzalez experienced was with his hands from the outside but as soon as he landed a couple of solid strikes he went straight into the clinch. It was like he was stuck in Rungrat’s gravitational force and could help himself.

The finish came of course from the clinch. As they battled inside of the final clinch Rungrat pushed him away with his righthand. As Gonzalez went back Rungrat feinted high with his left hand and then went to the body with a kick. It thudded home and hurt Gonzalez who tried to block it but was too late. He did briefly catch it after it landed but the pain made him release the leg as he crumpled to the ground. Gonzalez was unable to get up. It was a painful lesson for him.

The revelation for Western fans was getting to see Rungrat on the TV screen. His ability to calmly weather the storm of Gonzalez and the dole out pinpoint punishment was impressive and a joy to watch. He looked fantastic and at only 19 years-old he is already a legend in the sport.

It was another exciting night of Muay Thai action from Lion Fight and AXS TV. One that saw a rising young Western star in Mauceri shine against the legendary Chunhawat. Mauceri is fast becoming a fan favorite and I cannot wait for his next fight. We also saw a young Thai legend in Rungrat put on a Muay Thai display against the rough and tumble Gonzalez. Rungrat’s next fight is also one that I will be highly anticipating.

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