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Tales From A Kickboxer: In Defense Of Fighting On Your Feet

Elliot 'The Dragon' Compton fights with a fire that's unique to his discipline

by Jason Tulio | Apr 19, 2018

Compton, one of the fighters squaring off at One: Heroes of Honor, possesses the lethal air of a viper, punctuated with an eloquence that belies his profession

Combat. Sports. For many, those words boil down to just two categories: boxing and mixed martial arts.

The former has been a staple since before our lolos were cheering on “Flash” Elorde in his heyday. The latter is now a mainstream sensation thanks to the growth of the UFC.

But one form of combat that hasn’t yet reached those heights is kickboxing. It’s popular in places like Japan and Holland, and Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport, but it’s not nearly as global a phenomenon as it could be. In the US, for example, kickboxing reached its zenith in the ‘70s and ’80s, spawning full-contact karateka turned B movie action stars like Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, clad in their full long pants regalia. After that? Internal politics intervened and the sport has arguably yet to recover.

Singapore-based mixed martial arts promotion One Championship is now trying its luck at promoting the stand-up arts through its Super Series league, which will house some of the world’s greatest strikers under one banner. The new format will debut on April 20 at One: Heroes of Honor at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“Fans will be treated to the most exciting striking matches where the best face the best inside of both our ring and our cage. Some matches will be under standard international kickboxing rules in our ring, and other matches will be under modified hybrid striking rules in our cage,” explained One CEO and chairman Chatri Sityodtong.

One of the fighters squaring off that night is Elliot “The Dragon” Compton, an England-born, Australian-bred multiple-time Muay Thai and kickboxing champion making his One debut. We met Elliot and his father Steve in a single room atop one of Manila’s most luxurious hotels, amidst the fading soundtrack of fortunes being won and lost in a downstairs casino. It showcases a set-up that the two have perfected over years of marching into battle: two beds, one room, one dream.

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We were privileged enough to shoot here because the Comptons and I are no strangers to one other. I first met them when I was 12, when I inquired about classes at their industrial-garage-cum-fight-gym after being mesmerized by The Bourne Identity. Seeing Steve twirl an escrima stick faster than he could talk while taking in the gruff cadence of a fighter walloping a heavy bag behind him hooked me in. Later on, I met and sparred with Elliot, a wiry kid with the deft touch of someone who had been punching and kicking for a short lifetime.

These days, Elliot’s frame is equal parts wiry and sinewy, his deft touch augmented with knockout power. The kid is now a professional possessing the lethal air of a viper, punctuated with an eloquence that belies his profession.

It’s been a decade since Elliot first took up a Muay Thai fight on a whim while training in Thailand, and his journey has seen him soar to some of combat sports’ greatest heights. By his estimation, he has yet to soar his highest.

“For me to sign a six-fight deal [with One Championship] is everything that I’ve worked towards and it’s a dream come true. I’m looking forward to going out there and showcasing my skills to an audience that has never seen my skills and my potential before,” he says.

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Elliot and Steve’s backgrounds go far beyond just striking. The father’s list of combat accolades reads like a Wikipedia tab, while the son has imbibed his lessons well ever since he could walk. They’ve lived and breathed the mantra of absorbing what is useful and rejecting what is useless from every art they come across. Right away, you sense that the two have spent years honing, training, and bleeding together in arenas across the globe.

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There are enough differences between them, sure. Elliot is a millennial wizened to the ways of social media and posturing for the camera. Steve likens his poses to something out of an ABBA dance routine. Yet when the jokes are done and it’s time to work, father and son are a choreographed number. Whether they’re hitting pads, in the corner between rounds, or at the dinner table dissecting their meal plan, they dance, they jive—doing it all while having the time of their lives.

Though Elliot’s myriad of martial arts skills could translate to any combat sport, it’s the honesty of the striking arts where he finds the most comfort.

“I think how raw the sport is and how real it is—there’s no way you can fake it in this game,” he reveals.

“We fight each other, we try and take each other’s heads off, but there’s always that mutual respect for each other. I really have found a home within the sport of Muay Thai.”

Still, he acknowledges that his chosen code isn’t as popular as some of the others.

“I think with the growth of MMA, and particularly One Championship, UFC, Bellator—they’re really marketing towards people and drawing them away from combat sports such as kickboxing and Muay Thai.”

But even then, a lot of viewers don’t necessarily appreciate MMA’s subtleties. “Most fans want to watch [fighters] stand and bang, sitting back against the cage swinging until someone falls over,” Elliot adds, noting that many can get turned off when a fight involves mostly grappling.

It’s strange, isn’t it? The sports that incorporate what fans crave most and eliminate what they don’t always enjoy don’t get nearly as much attention. And it’s not just in countries like the US, either. The Philippines is home to many capable strikers, from Yaw-Yan fighters to Muay Thai athletes medaling in the SEA Games, who don’t get nearly enough of the limelight.

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"Fighting comes naturally to me. I’ve done it my whole life"

Striking can be equally beautiful and violent in the hands of the right artist. Consider Anderson Silva in his prime finishing opponents with cinematic savagery. Or Lyoto Machida’s ability to bring Karate Kid-esque moves into the Octagon. Grappling takes as much skill as striking, but it’s the latter that has a more visceral appeal. The one that doesn’t always take a nuanced understanding for the average fan to appreciate.

With efforts like One’s Super Series cropping up, Elliot believes that kickboxers and Muay Thai fighters like himself will be given a chance to shine alongside the others.

“I think they’re going to bring everybody to the forefront,” he says. “I think globally it’s going to bring the sport up another level.”

But no matter what style or ruleset they prefer, competitors like Elliot all have one unmistakeable thing in common: Heart. It takes handfuls of it to train for weeks, fly across the globe, and bare your heart and soul in front of thousands.

Kickboxers and Muay Thai stylists, just like boxers and mixed martial artists, are fighters in every sense of the word. And when the bright lights are on and the crowds are cheering, they do one thing that anyone with an inkling for combat sports can appreciate. They fight.

“I’ve never felt uncomfortable and I’ve never felt myself second-guessing what I can and can’t do,” Elliot reassures. “Fighting comes naturally to me. I’ve done it my whole life.”


To catch Elliot Compton in action against Cosmo Alexandre under Muay Thai rules, watch One: Heroes of Honor at the Mall of Asia Arena on April 20.


Photography Mark Jesalva

 

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