In just a few days, one of the biggest rematches in the history of New York City Muay Thai will go down. Brett “The Threat” Hlavacek, representing Anderson’s Martial Arts, is taking on Elijah “The Mayor” Clarke, of Renzo Gracie Muay Thai, at Lion Fight 40, held this Saturday February 3rd, at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. The two are considered among The Big Apple’s most exciting fighters, and they are battling for the inaugural Lion Fight North American Light Heavyweight Title. It’s an exciting prospect for both men, as they had originally fought on New York’s local and well-established Friday Night Fights promotions, and are meeting once again on Lion Fight.
“I’m excited for this rematch,” says Hlavacek (19-4) after a tough training at the Tribeca-based Anderson’s Martial Arts Academy. A long-time veteran of the sport and cornerstone of NYC Muay Thai, “The Threat” walked away the victor from his first bout with Clarke by unanimous decision in August 2015. Now, more than two and a half years later, he’s eager to step into the ring with “The Mayor” once more.
“Elijah’s a really good guy and we are friendly,” Hlavacek continues. “I respect the work that he puts in the ring and I think we both deserve this. I am excited to share this moment with him. Muay Thai is growing quickly and a lot of the amatuer fighters of today don’t know what it was like before--it wasn’t as noticed as it is now. There used to be only a chance to fight once or twice a year. I fought on Friday Night Fights when it was still in the basement of Church Street Boxing Gym. We all know each other and have grown as a community, this is something I love and what I’ve made my career out of. I like the competition of Muay Thai and I respect the art, it’s my main focus in my life. I wanted to go after a big promotion where you get the opportunity to be on television and make some money, and I’m planning to finish out my career with Lion Fight. My single focus right now is on that belt.”
Owner and CEO Scott Kent was certain the Clarke-Hlavacek bout was the fight to make. A martial artist himself with experience in Kickboxing and Muay Thai dating back to 1990, Kent wants Lion Fight Promotions to bring the attention to Muay Thai in North America that it deserves. Considered the premier Muay Thai promotion across the country, Kent is looking to answer Western fans’ calls for exciting stand-up fights.
“Both of these men have fought for us and have a very exciting fight style, they truly have respect for the sport, and are great fighters,” Kent says. “Brett and Elijah have also fought before so there’s already a good rivalry there, plus both guys are worthy of being in a noteworthy fight. I think the added stakes of it being for the very first Lion Fight North American title puts more fuel on the fire. It was a key step in adding the North American title picture, and not one we took lightly. The last thing we want to do is diminish what it means to be a Lion Fight world champion like Chip Moraza-Pollard, Regian Eersel, Jo Nattawut, and Iman Barlow. And we didn't want to just be handing out belts like candy as many other organizations seem to do. Every Lion Fight title belt must be earned. There needed to be a spot where fighters were able to achieve a level of notoriety between prospect or rising star and world champ. I think we have that now with the North American title and we may see more of that in the coming year or two.”
Clarke (8-1), a long-time coach of Renzo Gracie Muay Thai at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Midtown, Manhattan, is looking forward to the battle.
“I came into Muay Thai to challenge myself,” he says, “I want to fight the best in the world and see what I’m capable of.” Nicknamed “The Mayor”, Clarke is known across the country and is still considered Friday Night Fights’ “The Best Fight Here”.
Clarke’s debut fight with Lion Fight Promotion this last September left him with a unanimous decision win, on the same card that Hlavacek also fought and won his bout. Despite eventually wanting a rematch between the two, it wasn’t on Clarke’s mind when he signed with the promotion.
“I went with Lion Fight because it’s one of the biggest Muay Thai promotions in the United States, but now I get the opportunity to fight Brett again on a bigger stage,” Clarke says, sitting cross-legged on the blue mats of the second floor of Renzo Gracie Academy. “I think meeting someone across multiple promotions and fighting them over and over again, especially another top fighter, gives you the opportunity to show your talent on a promotion with more reach. We are both established fighters, both people who are have been in the game for some time, and are in the same community. It’s not just the actual night that counts, the fight is just a culmination of everything I’ve already done. It’s when I wake up in the morning to run and when I show up at fight camp, how I manage the day-to-day of my life.”
Kent is eager to see what the two men do in the ring on Saturday night, as they both represent NYC, and in a larger aspect, the East Coast. With the West Coast getting a lot of recognition for their superb fighters and coaches, it is his and much of the Muay Thai scene’s intent to bring East Coast fighters to become more recognizable on the map.
“Brett and Elijah are definitely two of the best in New York City, maybe the two very best in the Big Apple, which is why it is so important that they are getting a great spot on the Lion Fight 40 card,” Kent says. “The East Coast is truly a hotbed of Muay Thai talent. Our goal is to make Muay Thai under the Lion Fight brand one of the household names in combat sports. We have seen some great growth in Lion Fight, and we will continue to strive for more. The key for that is going to be the ability to do more shows in more locations, which will in turn hopefully drive corporate sponsorship, and of course, ticket sales to a growing fan base.”
Hlavacek agrees that the sport needs support to grow and encourages all within the community to give the fighters a platform to showcase their skills.
“Some of my best friends are in the business, on every side: coaches, fighters, and promoters--I see it from every angle,” he says. “It’s a business, so we have to help support one another. Buy a ticket and keep the lights on for the smaller promotions, which helps the fighters grow and develop. Then these fighters get more experience and are able to move onto bigger promotions, which gives more opportunities to everyone else.”
It is Kent’s and Lion Fight Promotions’ intent to have cards as often as possible as well as to develop their audience in New York.
“To keep and grow your fans, you need to have fight frequency,” Kent says. “The sport of MMA has a fight every weekend, and we are looking to make that possible with Muay Thai. We are deepening our involvement in New York City and growing our base here, and on the East Coast, with the intent of having a show at Madison Square Garden. Lion Fight is very proud to represent the sport and both Elijah Clarke and Brett Hlavacek have the potential to be very influential in American Muay Thai. Their weight class is one we specifically started focusing on last year and we want to put weight classes and ranking with North American fighters only, to grow the North American Muay Thai division.”
Clarke simply loves the experience of it all. “I love fighting,” he says, “I am representing myself, but foremost, I am representing my team. I am a direct representation of this academy. It’s my job to represent them, to show what our amateurs can do and build up the community as a whole. My favorite part of this process is what I learn about myself. My head coach, Joe Sampieri, has such a great way of tweaking things to the slightest, and what we all learn from that. I’m always learning from everyone around me, including our beginner students and amatuer fighters. I thank my coaches and teammates at the end of every fight because they have helped me to get where I am now. We are really good at helping one another and being there for each other, whether it’s physically, mentally, or emotionally, like a family.”
Being a part of a team is also very important to Hlavacek, and he feels as though he has that with Anderson’s.
“Dan and Dasha Anderson created this environment, they put the right people in the right place, and are great mentors,” he says. “The whole team is invested in me and then we cater it to whoever is next to fight. It motivates me to stride towards what they’re doing, like one day having my own gym, and I have their support and advice. I’m lucky to have these young guys who keep me motivated, as well as my friendship with fighter and teammate Alex Chang. He helped with my transition from my previous gym to Anderson’s and is such an important part of my training--besides my wife, he’s my second and is a real best friend. We travel the world and train together, and he supports me very much.”
As the day draws closer and the men enter the final hours of their training and routine, both are eager to show the world what New York City can do on the big stage that Lion Fight provides them.
“The night of the fights, I always feel in control once I’m in the ring,” Clarke says. “In the week leading up to it, I feel great, and the whole experience of it all is always a good memory. Being around people like Joe, and my teammate Mark Marrero, they make me feel like it’s just another day, there’s no added pressure to the actual fight. I’ve been training for this and I know what to do. There’s a lot of attention on West Coast fighters, but that night, we’ll be representing the East Coast. I want to grow the sport and leave something important behind for the fighters after me, including my teammates and my students. I’m looking for the next generation to do better than what I’ve done. I want to put Muay Thai at the same level as MMA and other combat sports, and I think Lion Fight is the promotion that’s really pushing for that to happen.”
Hlavacek seems to feel the same. “It is super hard to survive in NYC and as a community we have to support each other, it’s up to us to grow this sport,” he says. “At the end of the day, I just want to be looked up to. By teaching and showing people something I truly believe in and love, sharing that with them and giving them something they could love as well. I do want to be one of the better fighters to come out of the U.S. However, you can have all these belts and titles, but having respect is more important than anything else.”
Despite being at different academies in different neighborhoods, both men have respect for one another and are ready to battle once again this Saturday in Connecticut. They are, after all, only a few subway stops apart, and New York is a lot more tight-knit than what people outside of the city know. Don’t miss the any of the action, buy tickets here!