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Copyrighted photo from Team Messer

 
   

The "Fireball" gives me her unique
insider view of  combat sports!


Interview by Dee Williams

Three-time world champion kickboxer Kim Messer talked to me in July 1999 about her transition from kickboxing to boxing ... and her advice to anyone who's deciding which sport(s) to compete in. She described key differences between the sports and how to prepare for them, explained why she herself switched to professional boxing, and more ...


Dee: Some kickboxers have had big problems switching to boxing, but you seem to have made this transition especially well! I'm wondering if you are aware of aspects of your own style or training that particularly helped you to do this or if you have any advice for women who have been kickboxing and now want to box.

Kim: Hmmmm .... First I think it's important to make a serious point about the use of the word Kickboxing. When you use that word you should know exactly what you're talking about. Here's what I mean. There's Modified Thai, there's True Kickboxing, and then there's Full Contact Karate. Now if that sounds a bit "nit picky" I'm sorry, but if you don't know the difference and you don't train for it you can get yourself in serious trouble ... I mean, like, get hurt ... bad! This has happened a lot to Americans especially, because they used to think Kickboxing meant Full Contact Karate. They'd underestimate the power of low kicks and be ignorant about how to grapple when using knees and they'd just get butchered by Europeans and Asians. I won't go too deep into the history there, but I would recommend you look at Mike Miles' web site because he explains the confusion and gives documentation of the whole issue better than anybody I've ever seen.

Dee: Were there any techniques you had to "unlearn" as a boxer?

Kim: No, I don't think so. I mean other than deepening my stance and not holding my guard so high I don't think there was really anything I had to "unlearn". To transition from Kickboxing to Boxing I just simply quit kicking! There were times that I'd feel a spot where it was like, "Oooh...Man I coulda kicked their head off right there!" But I've never had one accidentally come out or anything. I think the reason some people have had such a problem making the switch is that they probably still did kicking drills and kind of went half and half on their training. That's just my guess but going by the confused looks on some people's faces I'd bet I'm right. That's why when I took my first Boxing match which was on two weeks notice, I immediately went to the Boxing gym and only the Boxing gym. If I'd have gone half and half I might have been an easy target, with my hands way up like a Thai Boxer or worse, I might have kicked Regina in the leg and got disqualified!

Dee: Do you think it's possible to succeed in more than one sport at the same time? Must you go all out for one or the other?

Kim: That's a tough one. I'd say that really depends on just what you mean by succeed. Do you mean you fight a few times as an amateur ... you win some you lose some ... or do you mean go Pro and make a little extra money while you travel or do you mean you want to be the best in the world and make as much money as possible? I think it's important to figure out what you want to be good at and then ask yourself, "How good do I wanna be"? Do I want to be a World Title holder or do you just want to do it for the thrill a few times? Because if you want to be the best I think a saying I heard once makes a lot of sense and that's, "A hunter who chases two rabbits at once will catch neither".

You see, in Full Contact Karate (PKA style) and Boxing, all the kicks or punches are above the belt and the shins have pads on them, so that's the only "zone" you have to pay attention to. In True Kickboxing and Modified Thai your entire body (except for the groin) is in the "zone". The Boxing habits of lateral head movement, ducking or bobbing, and dropping one had to slip a punch are seriously dangerous habits for True Kickboxers. So if you're a True Kickboxer then you don't wanna "dabble" with boxing. If you want to be a True Kickboxer and the best there is then you don't wanna mess around with straight Boxing. It's better to stay on the Thai pads. You can get away with a little Full Contact Karate and Boxing at the same time though because the rules and the zones are virtually the same. But it's best to take one sport at a time.

Those four other weapons (low kicks and knees) that you have to look out for is why you see some people try to make the transition and come to Boxing looking "straight up" with their hands held high, stance tall, and no angle to their shoulders. They've been trained the right way, but for the wrong sport! European fighters are kinda like that anyway and then add Muay Thai training to it and you got some really "high handed habits". One of the worst examples I saw was when Julie Cross fought Lena Åkesson. Julie's hands were so high! I guess a good way to describe the differences would be to compare it to dancing. Boxing is more like Break Dancing, you can lean forward and back or roll under the belt line, like Pernell Whitaker or Naseem Hamed (if you're good enough), but Kickboxing is more like "Riverdance" with almost no upper body play and really high stances.

I can only think of one person who really did two sports at once and did well and that was Bo Jackson. I mean, even Michael Jordan figured out that he could only be the best in one sport at a time. So I guess I'd have to side more with Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, "Stand on left side of road, OK. Stand on right side of road, OK. Stand in middle, get squashed like grape". But if you'd like to try both just for the thrill I'd suggest you have at least one month in between fights and if you're gonna box, go to a Boxing gym ... if it's a Kickboxing match then go to a Kickboxing gym to train. The half and half thing is definitely a bad approach for most.

Dee: We saw that Kathy Long struggled, especially against taller opponents, without her kicks, but you have handled the switch okay. It seemed to us that you more often used punches in combinations to set up your kicks, while Kathy used her kicks as her main weapon. I'm wondering how this looks to you, and what adjustments you think are more important for a kickboxer when she starts to box?

Kim: You said you noticed that I used combinations of punches to set up my kicks. That's right. The fighters I used to admire the most were Dutch ... Rob Kaman, Ramon Dekker, and Ernesto Hoost. That's how a True Kickboxer sets you up. They use punches to get you to run into their kicks and use kicks to trap you between their punches. So instead of looking out for two weapons, you've gotta watch out for four now. If it's Modified Thai, then it's six! In Boxing though it's just two and you don't have anybody whacking at your legs, so there's a lot more freedom of movement. You can "dance" with your footwork a little bit. You can also lean back or bend over to get away from a punch. In True Kickboxing leaning back might get you away from the first punch but it'll probably put you right at the end of their kick. Bobbing or bending at the waist might put you under their jab, but in Modified Thai it's legal to grab you by the back of the neck and come up with a knee strike, not a good place to be!

So the first thing to fix is your stance. Relax! No one's gonna whack you in the leg! And it's okay to bob under a punch now, your not gonna eat a knee! Now you can "post" on that lead leg more and get more leverage on your lead hand punches. As a matter of fact, you can bend your legs more for any punch and get your body weight into them. This is a real non-no in Kickboxing but here it's a must, no more "arm punches"! Dig in, set down if you want. Next quit reaching for the ceiling! The ''zone" is nowhere as big here, you don't need to spread your defense so wide. It's above the belt now and that's it!

Dee: Which sport do you prefer and why?

Kim: I'd say I like Muay Thai the most because there's so many more weapons and combinations to use, more room to be creative. You can grab 'em by the neck, spin 'em, throw 'em up on the ropes, knee 'em, kick 'em, punch 'em ... there's just more stuff to do. It is more painful though! What I really love is the fight itself though, and I guess you could say I have sort of a "mercenary" heart because I like to travel to far away places, meet new and interesting people and beat 'em up!! But....I wanna get paid too. So if someone will pay me more to punch than to kick then there ya go, that's where I'll be!!

Dee: Do you think you'll fight professionally again as a kickboxer?

Kim: That's not up to me, that's up to the promoters of Kickboxing. What I mean is that I've held three World Titles, I've defended them in four ten-round Title fights on ESPN2. ESPN2 repeated each fight many times and just about anybody who cares about seeing Kickboxing fights has seen me. I've been told many times that our fight (the women's) was the best on the card (even by the promoters themselves). Now here's the catch ... male fighters who were on the same card, who fought before me (I was the semi-main event) would tell me afterwards that they got paid more. This is where it doesn't add up. One ... I'm a World Champion. Two ... you make me the semi-main event (next to last). Three ... my fights get televised repeatedly, the others don't even get aired. And then I get paid less!!?

I mean ... if I'm not worth more money, if I'm not entertaining, if I don't do as good a job as the others, then why make me the semi-main? Doesn't later mean better, as in "save the Best for last"? I think the moment it really sank in was when after an event a lot of the fighters had gone to a restaurant and were sitting around yakkin' and goofin' off and telling funny stories, ya know, just relaxing after the tension was over. Well the promoter was walking from table to table and chatting with everybody and he stopped by ours and told me what a good job I'd done and that he hoped to have me on his card again. Then when someone asked if he was gonna take a little break he said, "oh yeah, gonna go to Hawaii for a couple of weeks again. This'll be what? Second or third time this year? I just love the golf courses there, some of the best in the world!" And he went through the motion of a golf swing. Now as far as Kickboxing is concerned that guy was one of, if the not the biggest promoter in the U.S. with TV connections and everything. So if he couldn't (or wouldn't) pay me enough for being a good entertainer, enough so that I wasn't paying to compete, then the idea of switching to Boxing didn't seem so bad.

This is the real reason for the women's exodus from Kickboxing to Boxing. And what you need to understand is that I was asking to be paid more the minimum I would get in Boxing. So the switch was easy and the promoters made the decision for me because I just told them, "Hey, I've got three World Titles, plenty of air time, lots of people know me, I should get paid enough so that I don't just break even after time off from work and taxes!". So what I'm saying is if you're a Kickboxing fan and upset about the recent decline, I'd say the problem is your ticket money and the fighter's purse money went to a Hawaiian golf course!

I don't feel like I abandoned kickboxing, I feel like the sport (or its so-called promoters) abandoned me!

Dee: On another topic, you have fought the Japanese stars like Naoko Kumagai, Aya Mitsui, and Sugar Miyuki. Do you think any of them have a good style for boxing, and would it be good for the sport if there were more cards (kick or boxing) with the Japanese fighters?

Kim: Actually the biggest obstacle there is air fare, it's so expensive to fly a fighter one way or the other that it's tough to get any kind of "traffic" started at the lower levels. I mean for a big name in men's Boxing or Kickboxing, yes. But not for someone who's just a prospect or up and coming. When I made my pro debut in Kickboxing, I fought Naoko Kumagai and I didn't make any money. I just wanted to fight in the Tokyo Dome, which is like ooooohh, a big deal if you're into Eurasian style kickboxing. So my purse was very small, but it was good for my confidence because she was such a big name. And although things are slowly changing there, I've seen three things that would be a problem. One, the economy, it's not good. Two, except for the K-1 which is a heavyweights only Kickboxing event, the Japanese promoters are much more likely to bring in someone from Europe (Kickboxing is much more popular there). And Three, the Japanese are very "structured" in their approach to fighting so I don't think the women you mentioned would transition very well from kickboxing to Boxing. But that's just a guess and only my opinion. I could be wrong.

Dee: You're one of the best technical fighters in both sports. We'd love to know who you see as technically the best kickboxers and boxers!

Kim: In Kickboxing that would be Rob Kaman, Ernesto Hoost and Ramon Dekker for the men and Lucia Rijker for the women. And in boxing it would be Johnny Tapia, Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosely, Angel Manfredy and somebody who I think is kind of a "best kept secret" ... Angel Vasquez ... for the men's. And then Chevelle Hallback and Lucia Rijker for the women's.

Many thanks to Kim for sharing her unique perspective on women's combat sports!  A little over a year later, Kim became the IFBA world Junior Flyweight boxing champion with a win over Japan's Yumi Takano in Seoul, South Korea!  

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Page last updated: Friday November 06, 2015

 
     
     
     
     
 

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