Muay Thai is called the art of eight limbs. For many kickboxers, it's just a clever turn of phrase. If your career is concentrated in Japan or Europe, it's likely you really practice the art of four limbs - hands and feet. Only rarely will knees come into the picture. Standing elbows are out of the question. To purists, K-1, the kickboxing brand most familiar to North American MMA fans, is barely Muay Thai kickboxing at all.
"You're allowed to throw one knee at a time. There's pretty much no clinch in K-1 fighting," fighter Elaina Maxwell said. "In traditional Muay Thai, there's elbows, knees, and what most fans know as 'kickboxing' all combined together."
Tonight at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, while many fans will be watching Wanderlei Silva fight Cung Le, Maxwell and some of the best strikers in North America will be letting all eight limbs go. Nevada is one of the few athletic commissions that allows professional Muay Thai fights in their purest form. It's not for the faint of heart. But promoter Scott Kent from Lion Fight Promotions thinks it's a level of violence Americans are ready for.
"I think the time is right," Kent said. "With the explosion of the UFC and MMA across America, we have the advantage of promoting a sport that everybody in MMA already trains in. Because you have to in order to be a complete MMA fighter. So we are able to hack into our traditional Muay Thai audience, since the sport is already very popular in many parts of Asia, but also expand that audience because of the exposure of MMA."
The show will stream live from The Joint at the Hard Rock on Go Fight Live. While many smaller shows like Kent's have gravitated towards HDNet, which features a rotating cast of North American based promotions, Lion Fights has taken a step into what could be the next big thing in content distribution - streaming pay per view.
"I think it's a great way to bring our fights to a global audience," Kent said. "With their distribution, a lot of folks get a chance to see these fighters that wouldn't normally have the opportunity."
Maxwell is one of the MMA crossover stars Kent is hoping will make a difference at the box office. Her record shows a blank kickboxing slate, but don't be fooled. Although she's never competed in a professional Muay Thai rules match, the San Francisco based fighter has lots of experience using all the tools of the trade. Maxwell is also one of the most successful American San Shou fighters of all time, combining punches, kicks, and wicked throws with devastating ease. The Cung Le protege won a gold medal in the Chinese sport in Macau in 2003 and is a dynamic striker.
"We rocked the house in 2003 and 2005. Cung Le is the best San Shou coach that the United States has ever had...That was an awesome experience," Maxwell said. "I want to go back again, but the politics in traditional martial arts are not fun. And all I want to do is fight. Plus, it's hard to go from getting paid to fight, back to paying to fight. "
Maxwell has turned her attention instead to mixed martial arts. She's lost her two highest profile bouts, Strikeforce fights with Gina Carano and Miesha Tate, but has won both of her bouts this year and four of her last five. Fans shouldn't read too much into her appearance in a kickboxing event. With Strikeforce on the verge of folding and the UFC remaining steadfast in a refusal to promote women's fights, the future for women in the sport seems bleak. But Maxwell is taking it all in stride.
"I don't think women should be afraid. Sure, they're not going to be in the UFC unless they're holding the ring card," Maxwell said. "I don't think the women's sport is dying. There are more than a few organizations out there that will showcase MMA. I just wanted to stay busy. I love to fight and really wanted to test my standup game.
"That's where I come from and I love it. One of the last times I actually fought a kickboxing match in Las Vegas it was at the Stardust," Maxwell said, referencing a Las Vegas hotel that was blown up in the name of progress in 2007. "So, that was awhile ago right? It should be fun."
Lion Fights: Battle in the Desert 4 will be available live tonight on Go Fight Live. The event is also available on demand for UFC fans who want to purchase the kickboxing event and watch it sometime after UFC 139 is complete. Elaina Maxwell would like to thank kickboxing coach Kirian Fitzgibbons, Dan Russell at Mainstreet Chiropractic, and Fight Chix.