Interview with Aaron Boyes

We have a number of top quality Muay Thai Kickboxing trainers here in New Zealand that have long histories in the NZ and international fighting scene. Aaron Boyes from StrikeForce Gym in Auckland is one of those trainers. He has extensive experience as both a fighter and trainer in a number of combat disciplines and is also a promoter of the well known "Supremacy" (MMA) and "Young Blood" (Muay Thai) fighting events.

This month Aaron will be hosting the highly anticipated "Young Blood 4" on June 19th, at the Coral Reef in Auckland, which will feature Joey Brincatt from England (fighting out of MTI, Wellington: 23F/17W) fighting against Sailom Boonraum from Thailand (fighting out of StrikeForce, Akl: 120F/100W) in what is set to be a spectacular bout between two highly skilled fighters.

We interviewed Aaron at StrikeForce to find out a bit more about him, his fighting career and his life as a trainer.

NZF: Hi Aaron. Tell us a something about your background before fighting & StrikeForce?

AB: I started Martial Arts when I was 12 years old. By the time I was 16 – 17 I was running my own Martial Arts Club as our instructor left. I was a senior student and our club was going to die so I took it over and started teaching. It grew from there. It was the last thing I wanted to do at the time, I was just doing Martial Arts for myself. I didn’t really want to be a teacher but I got pushed into the position, and I carried on from there.

NZF: Why did you start training?

AB: I was always fighting as a kid and my older brother went to a local Martial Arts club, so I followed him. You always want to do what your older brother does. As it turned out I liked it more than he did and I stuck at it.

NZF: When was your first fight and what was it like getting into the ring for the first time?

AB: We used to have full Martial Arts tournaments when we were kids. My first Martial Arts fight was when I was 13. It was full contact but no head punches. Similar to what Kyokushin Karate do. I remember getting hit really hard for the first time and tears started to run down my eyes. My trainer looked at me and said "Aaron, suck it in! Harden up!" I turned around and turned my surprise from being hit into aggression and won the fight.

Aaron Boyes from StrikeForce Gym in Auckland

I started off in a style called Combined Martial Arts which is a mainly Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido then I moved into Chinese Kung Fu Wu Shu and also studied Tai Chi. I went to Asia to study Tai Chi with teachers over there. I worked on the internal arts, and then started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  

I moved into Muay Thai later on. It started when I was fighting in a Martial Arts competition in Hamilton and knocked a guy out with a spinning kick. While getting disqualified for excessive contact, Terry Hill said to me "Man if you can do that in a Thai Boxing ring, that would be awesome" so I said "get me a fight". Terry hooked me up with my first Thai Boxing fight which I won by TKO with a low spinning kick, which isn't something you often see in a Thai Boxing ring. I had no Thai Boxing experience, and knew nothing about Thai Boxing at all.  

For my first five or six fights I just used my Martial Arts training. I then hooked up with Daniel Tai who was working in a gas station across the road from my gym (StrikeForce, Avondale). We started sparring together every morning. He was my first real Muay Thai trainer, and was where I learnt my basics. At that stage I was only in my early fight stage whereas Daniel had already won a couple of titles and was a main event fighter. Daniel taught me to never say no to a fight, and to fight anyone. 

He used to run from Henderson to my gym after working night shift, 5 mornings a week, and we would do 10 rounds of sparring every morning, trying to knock each other out. That's where I learnt to box and throw punches. I used to just sit there after each sparring session not able to move from exhaustion and my head was ringing like a church bell. This was my introduction into Muay Thai. From there I would do most of my learning in the ring, make mistakes and try and correct them in the next fight. Most years I was fighting 6 to 8 times a year.  

NZF: What is your current record? (Including titles) 

AB: I think I've had about 75 Thai Boxing fights 4 boxing fights 1 MMA fight and over 100 full contact Martial Arts fights.  

My Titles are:

5 x NZ Light Heavyweight champion
2 x South Pacific Middleweight champion
1 x WKBF Super Middleweight champion

Back in my early days I also won ISKA World title in point fighting lol

NZF: What fights have stood out for you so far?

AB: Winning my world title against Prince Hamid was probably the best achievement. But some of my other fights that weren't title fights against world champions stand out to me as well, like beating WMC world champion Lenord Sitpolek, and fighting the likes of Nathan Corbett, Paul Slowinski and Kaoklai Kaennorsing from Thailand. After I had a few New Zealand titles and a few South Pacific titles, I fought 5 - 6 fights in Thailand, but hadn't fought any top quality Thai champions. So I asked one of the main promoters in New Zealand at that time (Kio) if he could bring over a Thai champion for me to fight. He brought over Kaoklai who was a Ratchadamnoen Stadium champion at the time. I lost by one point. In his next fight Kaoklai went to Korea and won the K1 there. So that was a highlight for me, fighting someone at that level.

NZF: What is it like to represent New Zealand on an international fight stage?

AB: I'm always proud to fight for New Zealand. It is always hard going to Australia, as you have to deal with the crowd yelling out abuse. You just have to deal with it though and block all that out and go hard. I've fought in Thailand, Australia, and Singapore.

It's always hard fighting when you don't have your team behind you. When you get to the fight it's not that different. It's the preparation leading up to it which is hard. When you fight overseas you spend most of your time in a hotel room, sleeping, you don't have all your comforts of home. You have had to travel without your support crew.

Once the bell goes however, a fights a fight. It doesn't matter where it is.

 NZF: What would a typical fight training day look like for you?

AB: It depends how much weight you have to lose for the fight, which will influence how far you will run in the mornings. For an average fight, I would run between 4 - 8 Kms in the morning and come back and then do some bag work. It depends, if I am doing my pad work in the evenings I will do my sprint training in the mornings. The evening is either sparring or pad work. I also spar two or three times a week. When you get to the week before the fight though I stop sparring or just do really light sparring.

When I was dropping to under 70kg for k1 max however, I would run 10 to 15km a day.

NZF: How do you mentally prepare for a fight?

AB: On the day of the fight, I love hanging out with my daughter, going to the park, just doing something totally unrelated to the fight. Once you get to the changing rooms, I like to get there really late so there is just enough time to warm up and get my gloves on. Some fighters get to the fight really early and you see them using up all their nervous energy walking around.

My changing rooms are really light hearted, lots of light heartedness and laughter; casual as. But as a trainer, when I put guys in the ring, it's different. You have to find out what each fighter likes, what rarks them up. If they need to be rarked up to the point where I need to say things like "Go out there and smash them!" or if they like to be laid back and relaxed. As a trainer you need to know what's going to spark your fighter, and get inside their head. If you don't know that, then you are in a big load of trouble.

Going back to when I first started putting fighters in the ring, I was warming up Willie Lam for a fight (we were really new to the game and Willie was my guinea pig lol). We were doing 3 or 4 hard out rounds on the pads. Pathai came up to me and said "Aaron, no, save it for the fight" it always stuck in my head from then. Now we just do enough pad work to warm up. We do a few kicks and punches; just so you remember combinations and feel your power.

Even when I go out to international fights, I see some guys doing the hardest work outs on the pads before their fights, and I always smile and think about what Pathai told me all those years ago.

NZF: What is your strategy when fighting an aggressive fighter?

AB: If someone wants to come forward and is really aggressive, let them walk into your shots. Fire off the back food, slip back and hit them as they are coming in. The best block is to not be there. If they are coming forward, move out of the way and make them miss. If you are both aggressive then you have a 50/50 fight, but if you let him just be really aggressive, and slip, then you will catch him. You are talking about counter fighting really.

NZF: How important is shadow boxing in your training?

AB: Shadow boxing is really important. I watch a lot of guys...if they can't shadow box, I say to them "if you can't do this by yourself, then how are you going to do it when someone is hitting you." I watch a lot of fighters shadow box and see them lose concentration, and I try to remind them that if they can't concentrate when someone's not hitting them for three minutes, then how are they going to cope when someone is hitting them. If they lose concentration then it's all over.

 NZF: Do you have a strategy fighting southpaw fighter?

AB: Generally with a normal fighter you have to move to the right. With a southpaw you have to move the other way. Move to the left and just keep attacking their inner leg. Just watch out for their straight left hand and beat them to the punch. Keep out of the way. Work the low kicks and set up for the high kicks. Most people don't see their left hands coming as it is backwards for them and it takes a while to click on that it's coming because they are so used to seeing the punches coming from the other way. Every good southpaw, if they have a good straight left, they are really hard to fight. Probably one of our best southpaws at the moment would be Joe Hopkins. If you watch Joe fight, he has a beautiful left hand.

 NZF: Anything you want to discuss about the fight scene in New Zealand?

AB: I think Thai Boxing is as strong as it has ever been. Only now a little more evenly spread with Champions in every gym. What is good is the new promoters coming through. They are starting to look at doing different things in their shows. Not just doing the same old. MMA is starting to grow as well. Once we get more gyms with MMA fighters in Auckland things will get really exciting. MMA is still 5 - 6 years away from really getting established in New Zealand, StrikeForce are lucky we started training MMA fighters 12 years ago, back then it was called Vale Tudo with no gloves and only 3 rules; no biting, eye gouging and groin strikes (sometimes optional) but this died a quick death as there were few willing to fight. It is getting better and will get very big in future. We have a really healthy fighting scene here as we like our contact sports and are a nation of natural fighters.

I would like to see a few more promoters trying to step up their games. I try to do this myself when I put on a show. It's good to see promoters like ETK who are also stepping up their game, bringing international fighters and all the lights and staging to the ring. We have slipped back a bit since K1 is no longer here. It is good to see the promoters trying to build it back up to what is was before.

 NZF: Any advice for the young people who want to get into the sport or step into the ring?

AB: For young kids, don't rush getting into the ring. Make sure that they are fit and that they have done lots and lots of sparring, and have got themselves prepared. As trainers we should really look after our youth, and make sure that they are fully padded up with headgear because their bodies and brains are still developing. They don't need to be getting knocked out as kids. As trainers and promoters we should make sure we have a high safety standard. That's my main concern for the kids. I think that we should have more kids tournaments going. As long as the safety standard's there, I think kids should be encouraged to get involved and fight.

NZF: Great. Thanks Aaron. Good luck with ‘Young Blood 4' at the end of this month.

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