The World of Fighting: Muay Thai Coach Tells How the “Art of Eight Limbs” Gains Popularity in Russia
1,144 views   /  28 Dec 2015
Muay Thai, an extremely tough martial art originally from Thailand, has become a popular sport among many Russians. We spoke with Ilhomjon Haydarov, a Muay Thai coach from one of Moscow’s leading martial art clubs, to find out more about the weird-sounding combat sport and how it has captured the hearts of thousands across Russia.
By Afanasiy Pervomaisky
Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is a full-contact combat sport that uses stand-up striking and clinching techniques. Although the sport is similar to kickboxing, in addition to their fists and feet, Muay Thai fighters are allowed to use knees and elbows to strike their opponents. That’s why Muay Thai is also called as “the art of eight limbs.”
I met Ilhomjon at the Club 18 Fight & Fitness martial arts center. Despite being a fearsome fighter in the ring [Ilhomjon won the Moscow Region Muay Thai championship], the young man greets everyone with a warm smile and quickly makes a positive impression. We talked about a lot of things, including his childhood, how he came to Russia at the age of 16, his training regiment, coaching and future aspirations as a professional Muay Thai fighter. Here are best highlights from our interview:
How long have you been practicing martial arts?
I’ve been doing Muay Thai since I moved to Russia 5 years ago. Before that I lived in Uzbekistan, where I did all kind of martial arts while growing up. When I was six, I started doing Sambo. After five or six years, a Sambo school was closed down and I had to stop training. So I immediately went to a boxing gym. After one more year, a boxing coach also left our town, so I once again had to switch a discipline. This time I chose taekwondo. I liked it a lot actually, but I never competed, just did it for fun. I had been doing taekwondo for two years before I moved to Russia.
In the end, why did you decide to stick with Muay Thai?
When I arrived in Moscow, I first looked for a Sambo school, but then I met my future coach, Stanislav Makeev, and decided to give Muay Thai a shot. From the moment I met Stanislav, I knew he was a man with an extremely strong inner power, work ethics and an ability to inspire everyone. I was hooked right away by his character and passion for Muay Thai, so I stuck with the sport. Right now, I’m a Russian master of sport [equates to nationally-ranked athletes in North America], but I still think that most of my achievements are in the future. I dream of becoming the champion of Russia, Europe and eventually the World.
When did you start coaching?
I did Muay Thai for about a year and a half when my coach offered me to help him train other fighters during classes. The coach said if I helped him then I could train for free, so I immediately agreed. After some time, the coach asked me why wouldn’t I set up my own group and train guys to fight. I was thrilled – it was my dream to become a Muay Thai coach! But I have to admit that it was hard in the beginning. I couldn’t even sleep the night before my first coaching session. At first there was only one guy attending my classes, but then other people began to sign up. Eventually, I also started giving individual classes.
How popular is Muay Thai in Russia? Can you make a living from doing Muay Thai professionally?
I think Muay Thai isn’t as popular in Russia as boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). There are around three-four Muay Thai tournaments a year in Russia. I think you could make money fighting in these tournaments – if you win them you get paid. But I think what’s even more important in such tournaments is self-promotion. As you beat more fighters, people get to know you and eventually you have more people attending your classes. That’s where the real financial benefit is.
How good are Russian Muay Thai fighters compared to athletes from other countries, such as Thailand, the United States or European nations?
Russian Muay Thai fighters are among the best ones in the world. Everyone knows guys like Artem “The Lion” Levin, the current World Muay Thai Intercontinental and European champion, and Artem Vakhitov, a several-time former European Muay Thai champion. But they aren’t the only renowned Russian Muay Thai fighters/kickboxers. There are many up-and-coming Russian fighters, who follow in footsteps of Levin and Vakhitov, who have definitely helped to set the tone for Russian Muay Thai internationally.
Do you remember the hardest fight you had in the ring? How did it go?
I’ve never really had a super hard fight yet. I train hard every day, so I could avoid hard fights. But I have surely had many interesting fights. For example, I clearly remember my first professional fight, it was an indescribable moment. When the fight started I felt as if I had suddenly lost all of my skills. Then I heard my coach yelling “Calm down, you’re doing well, keep your hands up.” These words helped me to relax and eventually I found my rhythm and flow, everything I learned during training came back to me and I performed very well.
Out of all Muay Thai fighters, who are your top three favorite martial artists?
Well, first of all I admire my coach and want to become a person like him, because he isn’t only a good fighter, but is also a good coach who loves and knows his craft very well. My second favorite fighter is former K-1 champion Badr Hari, a Dutch heavyweight kickboxer. I like his attitude, he always does what he says he’d do. I respect that. I don’t have the third favorite Muay Thai fighter, but if I could include boxers I’d say it’s Mohammed Ali, who despite being a heavyweight, was very quick on his feet, literally floated like a butterfly.
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