Interview by muaythainews.co.uk
In 2015 I was interviewed by a UK Muay Thai blog ukmuaythainews which has since unfortunately closed down.
I came across the final transcript today so I thought it was worth posting here since it isn't available anywhere else online anymore.
What is your background in Muay Thai? I started training Muay Thai in the late nineties on and off in Bolton with Sandy Holt, but eventually Darren Phillip’s GFC Muay Thai opened up just down the road from where I live so I started training there. It was originally called Heywood Sitnarong and still part of Master Sken’s set-up back then, so I did all the grading system up to red armband and just enjoyed the sport and keeping myself fit. Another ten or so years down the line I’ve got a decent handful of fights under my belt, I was never going to set the world on fire as a fighter, but I won more than I lost, sparred with some incredible fighters along the way and still train with and coach the young fighters at GFC now. How long have you been a photographer? For as long as I can remember… My dad bought a fancy SLR when I was a kid which I loved messing with, but I was only allowed to have a small camera of my own to start with - I studied art & design when I went to college and learned how to use SLR film cameras and darkrooms properly there. How did you first get involved in fight photography? I wasn’t much of a fighter when I first started Muay Thai, so I used to take video cameras and cameras along to interclubs and just see what I could get. I had no clue how to shoot fights back then, so everything was little more than snapshots, but I got some pretty memorable stuff for the gym. Eventually Darren asked me to take pictures of the fighters at ringside for an early GFC gym show, I wasn’t too heavily involved back then so it was a bit of a buzz sitting at ringside – Andy Thrasher V Dave Paquette was top of the bill, so looking back it’s nice to see which fights you can accidentally end up shooting, I just really enjoyed that feeling of being involved. After that I approached Master Sken and asked if I could shoot some of his shows whenever GFC guys were fighting which he kindly let me do, I’d borrowed a camera that really wasn’t up to the job so the results weren’t great to start with, but it was a brilliant learning experience. Eventually I got made redundant from my day job so I spent my redundancy money on a proper SLR (a Canon EOS350D camera fans) with the kit lens and started getting some decent stuff from there. How did that develop into you working for all of the main shows? I’d been getting myself into shows just exclusively shooting GFC guys whenever I could, particularly with Andy Thrasher – he was always really helpful in sorting me access with promoters so I started developing more as a photographer during that time. After a while I had quite a couple of years out and wasn’t really shooting much, but then the MSA show came up which Master Sken asked me to shoot for him… I couldn’t believe it! The lighting and set-up was better than anything I’d shot before so it seemed much easier to shoot. I was fortunate enough to be on the right side of the ring to capture the shot of Jordan Watson’s flying knee which became pretty well known. It kind-of snowballed from there… I got invited to shoot the Rumble at the Reebok which rolled on to The Main Event, as well as all the subsequent MSA shows, Dan Green also introduced me to Stefania from Yokkao back before they’d started promoting in the UK so I ended up shooting a lot for them, too. I’m on-board with the guys at Smash as well now, they’ve got a really nice set-up. There’s so many good promotions now from the ground up, it’s great to see! Without getting overly technical and confusing us non-photography experts, how does shooting live action differ from a more traditional shoot where the people are stationary? The main thing is trying to freeze the action and keep everything in focus whilst composing a good shot as the fighters are moving about. In other forms of photography, you generally have time to set-up a shot, but with sports (as well as things like wildlife & journalism shooting) once the moment’s gone, it’s gone, so you have to give yourself the best chance of getting the shot in the first place and then just let what you know do the rest. How long did it take for you to develop the timing to get the ‘perfect shot’? I’m not 100% sure, but I’d say for sure it wasn’t until the MSA shows that I started getting the really good, publishable quality stuff on a regular basis. Do you study the fighter’s styles before a fight to give you an idea of when to get that perfect shot? For example is it more difficult to shoot a fighter with an unorthodox style like Andrew Lofthouse or Paul Karpowicz as it’s hard to know what they will do next! I don’t study fighters before shoots, no. I do love shooting the likes of Karpowitz and Lofthouse, though. I’ve got a million decent shots of all the varying Muay Thai techniques, so it’s always cool to shoot those fighters you know will bring something different to the table whatever that is. You recently got the opportunity to shoot at the world famous Lumpinee stadium in Bangkok, how was that? Oh, that was fantastic! I’d gone over to train at Rob Cox’ Kiatphontip gym in Bangkok and I’ve known Rob for a while now so he really helped out with the ringside access. The show I shot on was the Lumpinee birthday show so it was PACKED and really loud. The atmosphere was electric in there, really what I imagined Muay Thai being all about. Every single fight, from the bottom card to the top was absolutely top drawer to shoot, I was like a kid in a candy shop, grinning from ear to ear at it all. I also got to shoot at the Ratchamadamnoern, too, but I kind-of chanced my arm a bit, Rob had told the ushers that I was a top journalist from the UK (he’s a terrible liar!) but after a couple of fights (Dan McGowan’s being one) I eventually got asked to go and sit down by one of the Army Generals running the stadium – I wasn’t going to argue with him! To be honest I was happy to just sit there and enjoy the rest of that show - The Man with the Golden gun was always my favourite Bond film as a kid so I made sure I sat where Bond sat. Ha ha What is your favourite ever fight photo you have taken and why? If I didn’t say the Jordan Watson flying knee I’d be doing myself a disservice. That’s the one which gave me recognition. Lately though, I really like the shot I got of Brad Stanton’s head kick against Silenco Remmy on the Main Event in 2014, they used that on their poster for their next show, too. It’s not often things line-up that perfectly for a photographer, fighter position, lights, focus, timing, everything, but when it does and I see the shot on the back of the camera, I get a bit giddy wanting to show people straight away! If you could shoot a fight between any two fighters in any location, who would you choose and where would it be? Fantasy fight here, I’m allowed to put this together how I want, right? ;) Buakaw V Dekkers, both at the height of their career (let’s assume they’re the same weight) in Vegas, absolutely packed out. That would be one of the best fights the world has ever seen, I guarantee it! I haven’t shot Yodsenklai yet, so being realistic I’d really like to shoot him fighting in the Lumpinee on a packed out show, go on, then… let’s make it a rematch V Jordan Watson. We recently interviewed Vinny Shoreman and finished with these questions, and it would be great to get your answers too: You watch a lot of Muay Thai, who do you feel are the rising stars from the UK to watch out for over the next 12-18 months? Macauley Coyle – I spotted him a few years ago and was really impressed. I spoke to Liam Robinson at the time and told him as much, he said he was his “new 53.3kg star!” I should add that I hadn’t seen Tam McCourt fight before The Main Event, so I’m adding him here, too. He’s got some cracking dance moves! All the lads from Frank’s gym are frighteningly good at the moment – Chris Whittle and Soloman Wickstead stand out, they’ve got a real team spirit going on there. And I also reckon Brad Stanton’s had a breakout couple of years, too so it’s time to see him in some serious match-ups now.
Two really young fighters worth keeping an eye on would be Majestic’s Louis Harper, I’ve seen him a few times lately, he looks very promising; then there’s a young lad at GFC at the moment, Lewis George, both of them with bags of potential.
I could go on and on here, there’s so much talent in the UK at the moment, it’s all about who can make the right decisions with their career, get the right fights and stay busy. I think consistency is key. Just a few quick fire questions to finish: - Favourite current Thai fighter I’ll be honest, I really don’t watch enough straight Thai V Thai fights regularly to have one. I was very impressed with Superbank and Pen-ek when I shot the Lumpine show, though. I would have said Pornsane if he was still active. Was that guy ever in a dull fight? - Favourite ever Thai fighter Saenchai – hands down. I love skilfull quick fighters, his timing and positioning never fails to impress me. Nice guy, too! - Favourite current UK fighter Panicos Yousuf is just a classy operator all round, although I’d like to see him in bigger fights now (Wootton rematch?!). Also, if I don’t mention Liam Harrison, I’d be an arse. The guy’s a machine… hits like a mule and he’s developed year on year as a fighter and is better than he’s ever been right now, his timing against Pakorn was fantastic to see. UK Muay Thai’s biggest draw for over ten years… you can’t argue with that. - Favourite ever UK fighter Can I choose someone who’s still active? Jordan Watson – I’ve photographed him since he was a teenager, his style is so relaxed, skilfull and accurate. There’s not many fighters who have the strength and balance to stand on one leg and still put their opponent on their arse. Jordan does. It’s hard to get bad pictures of him, he’s too good looking. …and now owes me money for that last comment. Ha ha. - Favourite ever foreign fighter (i.e non Thai or UK) Sorry for being captain obvious here, but the first time I saw that compilation clip of Ramon Dekkers blew me away. It was early on in my Muay Thai training that I saw that so it could have been one of my first glimpses of top level fighting, I guess. So yeah, Dekkers. - Inspiration growing up that made you want to get involved in MT Like a lot of people my age, Bruce Lee… there was nobody like him at the time, so he inspired me to start Martial Arts as kid (I got my karate blue belt Ousssssss!). Then at some point, when I was a teenager, I saw a Master Sken doing a demo somewhere (I can’t even remember where now) and was absolutely blown away by Muay Thai. I looked for the nearest Thai Boxing club after I saw that and haven’t looked back since!