When it comes to American Muay Thai, few are more illustrious and influential than the Soul Assassin, Kevin Ross. He is truly one of the most impactful forerunners in regard to putting America on the Muay Thai map.
Ross has accomplished a great deal, winning titles in multiple weight classes and organizations, as well as beating prominent Muay Thai legends with records that heavily outshine his own.
While that is no doubt impressive in its own right, it becomes more impressive when you consider the circumstances in which he entered the sport.
The Story of the Underdog: “Face your fears, live your dreams”
While Saenchai, Malaipet, and Coke Chunhawat (some of Ross’s fiercest competition) were deep into Muay Thai, with years of training and fighting experience, Kevin Ross was deep into the bottle.
As he recounts it in his talk with Joe Rogan, he began drinking around age twelve, and by eighteen was a full-blown alcoholic.
At the same time, Ross had a keen interest in boxing and martial arts. But it wasn’t until 1994, when he watched his first Muay Thai fight on ESPN, that this interest became more focused.
After seeing the spectacle of elegant violence that is Muay Thai, he knew that if he was going to fight at all, it would be doing that.
But, instead of aspiring towards his dreams, he put them in the back of his mind, letting fear and doubts dissuade him from actually pursuing them. A spark, however, was lit when he vocalized this dream to a close friend, Moe.
Expecting the usual ridicule, Moe actually affirmed Kevin and his dream, telling him he was capable of doing it. This was the first time he received an external motivating force, which helped shift the internal dialog that said it was all merely a pipe dream.
Nonetheless, the partying lifestyle was ingrained and to the back burner the thought went. When Moe tragically died a year later, Ross promised to himself to finally move towards his dreams. Yet it had the opposite effect, further sending him down a path of self-destruction.
Four years later, it dawned on him that he was wasting his life away, and that his friend, Moe, were he still alive, would probably slap him for it.
With a deal made with his dad to put down the bottle, he now had financial support. Living in Las Vegas at the time, the only Muay Thai gym in the area with Thai instructors was Master Toddy’s.
At the age of twenty-three, that is where he landed to start his Muay Thai journey.
Into the Fire: The Forging of The Soul Assassin
Having put off this journey already for so long, Ross had to devote the totality of his heart, soul, and energy into every second. There could be no half in, half out attitude.
While starting at such a late age may seem like a great disadvantage, it may well have been the opposite. As Ross puts it, all the work he would do would merely be playing catch up. If he was going to beat fighters who had years of experience on him, he had to make the best use of every second allotted to him.
As in most human endeavors, necessity is a supreme motivator. This meant fighting whoever, whenever, just to rack up the experience he was sorely lacking. And he displayed this in his very first fight, when his original opponent was replaced by Mat May, who at the time weighed twenty pounds more than him and had thirty fights to Kevin’s zero.
Upon losing that fight, the doubts crept back in. After digging deep and doing the internal work, though, he then went on to win the rest of fights as an amateur. Here’s an excerpt from Kevin’s book, Dancing with Saenchai, that encapsulates his mentality:
“I’ve always loved fighters who just go in there to fight, win lose or draw they are in there to put it all on the line and make it exciting. These are the types of fighters that I love to watch and the type of fighter I try to be like. I think too many people get hung up on records then on actual performances.”
Indeed, this would come to be a defining feature of Ross. The complete lack of hesitation to fight anyone and put it all on the line was a big factor in him elevating in the sport so fast.
Career and Training Trajectory
Ross trained at Master Toddy’s from 2003-2009. Master Toddy’s three main trainers at the time–Master Chan, Lookchang, and Nope–were his main padholders… but as Ross says, “…Toddy was the one who would really be able to see slight adjustments and tweaks that I needed to make, viewing from the outside and conveying them to me to where I could adjust.”
Out of all his training partners there, Ross says the two most influential were Anthony Brown and Ben Garcia. Though only working with Garcia a handful of times, Ross says, “His mentality, approach, and humbleness to fighting and training is something that has stuck with me to this day.”
Once Ross left Toddy’s at the end of 2009, he spent the next two years fighting professionally with no actual coach. Left bereft in that regard, he had to rely solely on himself and the help of friends. Though he still managed to be successful while coachless, a change was needed.
In April 2012, right after an ACL surgery, Ross moved to CSA (Combat Sports Academy), located in Dublin, California, to train under Kirian Fitzgibbons, one of the top striking coaches in North America.
His first match back was Lion Fight’s first ever televised fight. Ross’s career would crescendo from there. As he puts it, “I continued to progress and it eventually culminated with winning the world title against Thompson.”
After an active three years (2013-2016) of competing in Lion Fight, Ross made the move into Bellator Kickboxing, eventually winning the Bellator world title against Domenico Lomurno.
Ross is currently training out of Boxing Works with Bryan Popejoy and The Boxing Club in San Diego. Regarding future fights, Ross says, “As far as fighting goes, tough to say with everything going on in the world but I am staying ready, as I always do, and will take a fight as soon as one is available. “
Style and Attributes
Ross’s style comprises a beautiful mixture of traditional Muay Thai, slick boxing, and heavy forward pressure.
As far as the traditional Muay Thai aspect of his game goes, this comes as no surprise. Ross had been trained under Thai instructors at Master Toddy’s and had multiple visits to Thailand, training at camps such as Sitsongpeenong, Sitkuanim (P.K. Stereo Camp), Sasiprapa, and Sitmonchai.
But what’s unusual is Ross’s boxing. His hands are very sharp, and he even employs western boxing techniques such as slips and weaves, which are rare and risky in Muay Thai bouts.
I asked Ross how he got his boxing to such a level, and he revealed that, “…it was more about my mentality and approach as opposed to my coaches working on making me a good boxer.”
Having had developed a love for boxing early on, he placed more time and emphasis on it than your average Muay Thai athlete.
When Ross finds his rhythm, it is truly something to behold: High volume combinations with constant level changes that display the full gamut of strikes–punches, kicks, knees and elbows. It’s live action art when he starts to flow. And his technique is as good is as it gets.
Perhaps Ross’s strongest asset, however, is his heart. The first fight against Tetsuya Yamato is a case in point. Every single round he received at least one sharp elbow that cut him open.
By the end of the fight, it looked as if he’d gotten a shape up by a deranged barber who suffers from hand tremors. Yet for virtually the entire fight, he still came forward, throwing and landing a multitude of strikes.
Check out the aftermath of the fight, and view the fight in full.
Yet another example that shows Ross’s heart is his first fight in Thailand back in 2007 against Kongla. Around the first minute of the first round he broke his right hand.
Despite this, Kevin went on to fight the rest of the five round fight, pressing forward all the while… and even throwing shots with his broken hand. Pure heart and grit. One could go on and on with such examples.
Now there are many fighters who are skillful, and many fighters who have a lot of heart. Kevin Ross, however, has both. That is what makes him so unique, and what has allowed him to achieve what he has.
Kevin Ross Achievements
Ross boasts an overall record of 48 wins and 16 defeats. In professional Muay Thai, he is 35-12 with 13 knockouts.
He has captured the following belts: Super-lightweight WBC International, WBC National Welterweight, Lion Fight World Super-lightweight, Bellator World Featherweight, FIDAM International Welterweight.
In 2010, Ross was voted Muay Thai North American fighter of the year.
Ross’s most notable wins are against Thai legends Malaipet and Coke Chunhawat, each opponent having well over a hundred more fights than Ross (Coke even has a win over Buakaw). He’s also fought other top-tier Thai opponents such as Sittisak, Sagetdao and the living legend, Saenchai.
As Ross puts it,
“I’ve always said I only want to fight people that on paper, I have no business in the ring with, and that’s something I’ve stayed true to and built my career on from day one.”
And this is why–skills aside–Kevin Ross remains one of the most revered and beloved Muay Thai fighters to come out of America. He is the embodiment of the warrior spirit.
While winning is no doubt important, Ross often throws caution to the wind and does everything but play it safe. He’s not just trying to score points and scrape by. He’s there to put on a spectacle for the crowd that’d be worthy for the Coliseum in ancient Rome. Do or die.
A big part of this ethos can be attributed to those dark, early years of Ross’s life. When asked to elaborate on the quote, “Face you fears, live your dreams”, Ross had this to say:
“To me nothing in fighting has ever been a fear, as far as injuries go. A big reason for that is the fact that I know fighting is what truly saved my life. I’d be long dead if it wasn’t for this so all this is just extra to me, I ain’t supposed to be here anyway.”
Time and time again, we see that Kevin Ross’s circumstances, rather than being a crutch, served as fuel. So many people have these preconceived notions that to be great at something, you have to be X or do Y. You have to come from this background. Or you have to have these certain attributes.
But Ross shows us how stupid all these ideas are, and that despite even the most trying and unfavorable circumstances, you can achieve greatness. It’d be an understatement to say Ross made the best of his situation, who, on the brink of self-annihilation, didn’t even start training until 23 years old. Yet he went onto to capture multiple titles and beat some of the best in the sport.
Through setting such a precedent, Ross has inspired an entire generation of people both inside and outside the sport to face their fears and live their dreams. A feat that overshadows even his best performances.
Outside The Ring: The Renaissance Man
“Though Bushido naturally implies first of all the qualities of strength and forcefulness, to have this one side only developed is to be nothing but a rustic samurai of no great account.” – Daidōji Yūzan
If this was feudal Japan, Kevin Ross would be no rustic samurai. To the contrary, Ross has developed other skills and modes of expression besides fighting. His thoughtfulness and philosophical nature can be gleaned through his numerous writings.
Being adept with the usage of words, he has written the book, Dancing with Saenchai, co-wrote the book Soul, and is writing his autobiography.
Ross is also well versed in drawing and painting, having received a bachelors degree in computer arts and animation. Oh, yes, and he plays piano.
You can go to Ross’s website https://thesoulassassin.com/ to get a deeper look into his art and writing. Also, follow Ross on Instagram and Facebook, where he is apt to drop knowledge and powerful memes on the regular.
In closing, I’d like to share some words from Kevin Ross, followed, of course, by an awesome highlight video.
This has been a hectic year across the board, and people are having a much harder time simply living than ever before. Thus, to invoke a little of Ross’s sage wisdom, I asked, “if there was something he could say about the situation we’re in, and how it could maybe help others, what would it be?”
Here’s what Huggy Bear had to say,
“I tend to have a stoic approach to most things in life, or at least attempt to. To focus on the things that I can control and let go of the things that I can not.
“I would advise people to do what they can with what they have while they have it, in all things. There is so much in this world, particularly this year, that is well out of our control. Countless things to get stressed over, angry and fearful about, and distracted by.
“But how much of that is helping as opposed to hurting? Live your life, do things that scare you, take risks, challenge yourself. None of us are getting out alive anyway so you might as well go for it.”
“You have power over your mind-not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.”– Marcus Aurelius
|About the author
Ricky LaPera is -in his words- a simple lad with a love for self expression through art, whether that be Muay Thai or writing. Wherever the soul can shine, you can find him there.