Mr Muay Thai has big plans for the sport in South Africa and Africa
Boxing / 28 November 2019, 6:25pm / Julian Kiewietz
CAPE TOWN – I think the first time I came across Muay Thai was when I was a bushy-haired five-year-old kid sitting in front of my cousin’s VCR. Legends such as “Kurt Sloane” and “Tong Po” were my guides in the 1989 hit movie, Kickboxer.
Since then, I was always fascinated by the sport and the rituals that paired with “The Art of Eight Limbs”.
I fell deeper in love with the martial art when I went on a sabbatical to Khao Lak, Thailand recently.
There, as I immersed myself in the culture of the Thai people, I realised that the discipline is a way of life and is practiced and celebrated by so many. The Wai Kru – which is a ritual dance that fighters do before they fight to pay homage to their teachers and family, as well as to bless themselves with victory in their bout – along with Thai music, the gear, and the nature of the sport has such a magnetic feel to it.
It also excites me to know that there is a man right here in Cape Town who has a much deeper appreciation and commitment to the sport.
Gary Barrett has big plans for the sport in Africa, especially following his recent appointment as the World Boxing Council Muay Thai representative for South Africa – a prestigious honour indeed.
Around these parts, Gary is Mr Muay Thai. He operates in various sectors within the sport. Aside from his recent appointment, he also owns the True Muay Thai gym in Cape Town’s CBD, is a representative for the World Muay Thai organisation, the World Muay Boran federation, as well as the Kru Muay Association.
“I’m also the president of the South African Muay Thai Organisation. Muay thai is my thing,” Gary adds.
Now you know why he is rightly called Mr Muay Thai.
It all started for Gary at the age of 15 when he started training in different martial art disciplines with various champions from across the world including South African legend, Mike Bernardo.
He then opened up his own combat sport and fitness gym – Takedown – in Diep River, Cape Town.
“Muay Thai has always been my staple and most favourite to train and teach.
Since 2011, I travelled to Thailand training and fighting in various gyms and cities across the land. Many of my students have gone over to train and fight there as well.
I then moved with my family to Thailand in 2016 before returning after six months to open True Muay Thai,” Gary says after selling Takedown to South African Mixed Martial Arts star, Gideon Drotschie.
“Muay Thai is great for the punch-kick, but is also good for defending against punches, kicks and elbows, and of course, the clinch work which is vital in close-combat when somebody is grabbing you and trying to wrestle you to the ground.
“The sport has such a rich history and culture. The Thai people are so awesome and friendly, if you (have) ever been to Thailand, you will quickly learn why it’s so special and why people keep going back.
“Sticking to its true roots and meaning with honour and respect, that attracts me. In this sport, the guys don’t swear and call each other names like some MMA organisations. I don’t tolerate that or promote that at all. We show respect, but we also fight hard, of course.”
Gary invests all his time in his athletes and clients as a full-time trainer and coach. He, along with fellow businessman – Anthony Kettle – used to run the very successful Cape Fight League, before launching the current “Ultimate Warrior Fighting Championship Promotion” which is a production for amateur and professional athletes to compete in MMA and Muay Thai.
It would be an understatement to say that Gary has dedicated his life to the sport.
Following Gary’s WBC Muay Thai body appointment – he will not only have the power to sanction Muay Thai fight nights, as well as crown South African champions, but he also has a keen eye for taking the sport to the next level on the continent.
“We will be sending a SA presidents team to (the) fifth international Thai Martial Arts festival in March next year,” Gary says.
“But I am also looking to host African and International Championship bouts. Our fights have gotten to that level where we are able to offer world title fights.
“I have a goal and responsibility as president to grow the sport.”
Aside from all the years he has been putting in the hours, Gary has wasted no time in his new role and already brought in Grand Master Kevin Lloyd to train and upskill Cape Town-based coaches and judges – a move that will only increase the quality of South Africa’s Muay Thai pool.
“I would like to also get more ladies involved in Muay Thai. I would like to to develop and create awareness and grow the brand and sport of Muay Thai,” Gary says.
For all we know, Gary could be the influencer who one day influences millions of young bushy-haired kids in front of a cellphone or PC, just like Tong Po and Kurt Sloane influenced this bushy-haired kid.