On Friday evening, the Guardian caught up with Glasgow’s world Muay Thai champion Keith Mclachlan. The Super Featherweight is currently ranked number one in the UK, a feat even more impressive considering he only took up the sport at the late age of 25. The Maryhill-based fighter’s 10 year fighting has brought success after success. He currently holds two Scottish titles, the WBC British national title, the ESU European title and the IMF World Title. A joiner by trade, Keith juggles training, working, and raising his two boys, Corey and Reece. They are both considered rising stars by many in the Scottish Muay Thai world.
For a sport that has deep-rooted traditions in Thai culture, Muay Thai has in recent years seen a growing popularity in the UK (the Glasgow University Muay Thai Club is the 3rd largest of all the GUSA affiliate clubs). Muay Thai is a violent and punishing sport, but also technical and highly skilled. Keith gave up some of his time to give us a compelling insight into the world of this fascinating discipline. We met at the Griphouse, innocuously placed on the top floor of a tenement building in Mary Hill. The gym that has become synonymous with Scottish success over a number of fighting disciplines and is responsible for much of the Muay Thai Talent north of Hadrian’s Wall. I was met warmly by several fighters (they have a reputation for being as friendly outside the ring as they are hard inside it) before finding Keith relaxing after an intense workout.
Firstly, I’m rather curious to see how you first got into a sport like Muay Thai?
I started Muay Thai to get myself fit and mainly to stop partying and boozing so much. I was 24/25 and at the time had a 2 year old kid. I’d never done anything [combat sports] at all before. I just played football and went to the gym occasionally.
What’s your training Schedule like when preparing for a fight?
I run in the morning before work. In the evening I’ll come up [to the Griphouse] and hit pads, do exercises, spar, run stairs and just generally melt my body until I can barely move! I don’t really do weights or anything like that.
Do you have to maintain quite a restricted diet?
Aye that sucks! Anyone who’s fighting and is blessed enough not to have to diet, fair play to them. But aye, I have to, especially now at my age. I have to be really careful with what I’m eating, which isn’t very nice.
I watched your fight against Paul Karpowicz on YouTube (an uncompromising contest which Keith won having split Karpowicz’s nose in the third round)…
He wasn’t the easiest person to try and fight but I knew what he was gonna do and was expecting what happened. For him to gas and then tire out and I would catch up with him. I thought I’d win on points not that I’d smash his face in, but that’s the way it is, that’s the game. I’m not gonna say I regret throwing the kick because I don’t.
And what has your worst injury been, the worst thing you’ve had to fight through?
Haha, worst thing I’ve had to fight through? God…. Umm a burst ear drum. Years ago fighting Stevie Brown. I’ve had some horrific injuries, I’ve broke my leg, broke my arm, ribs. It’s rare for me to come out of a fight without a problem to be honest! But the burst ear drum was horrible. The most pain I’ve ever experienced, even breaking my leg didn’t come close.
The Karpowicz fight was obviously very demanding but who would you say your toughest opponent has been?
Umm, hardest opponent would probably be Rung (a thai fighter with over 260 fights to his name). When I fought him I remember smashing his face with an elbow and he bounced off the ropes, came back and he was laughing! I heard his nose snap after the elbow and he was giggling. I was like “wow”.
You’ve won loads of tough fights against world class fighters but what victory are you proudest of?
Beating Rung, at the time he’d never been beat by a Scottish fighter and he was still pretty good and very fit…and strong. So yeh being the first Scot to beat him was pretty cool.
And you’ve a big fight coming up?
Aye, I’m fighting at Oran Mor in 2 weeks (November the 8th). Against another French fighter, he’s the French number 1 at my weight. So I’m looking forward to it.
And you fought a couple of weeks ago at late notice?
I stepped in at late notice for Yokkao at 63 kg. I took it to get my weight down to be honest. It was to kickstart my diet, I had been dieting for weeks and it wasn’t shifting. So I was like, ‘right I gotta do something’. Went really well actually.
What’s the shortest notice you’d had before fighting?
When I fought Steve Mulhay I took that fight at 2 days’ notice. Which was the day before the weigh-in. It was the week after I fought Wrung so probably wasn’t the cleverest thing I’ll ever do. But it was the last chance to fight him before he went to Thailand.
You’re ranked 1st in the UK at your weight, you have a number of national and international titles you must be satisfied with what you’ve achieved in Muay Thai.
Aye oh definitely! When I first started fighting I started way too early, my record at C-class (the lowest tier of professional fighting in Europe) was awful. I won 1 in 9 fights or something. I fought B-class, got a couple of wins. When I stepped up to A –class fighting 5 rounds was definitely better for me. It all started very badly and I did wonder if it would ever get any better.
I know the Griphouse produces a lot of good Scottish fighter, what does the future look like more generally for Scottish Muay Thai?
The futures great, probably better than it has ever been. There are loads of youngsters coming through. Like young George Mann, Martin McBride and my own boys as well. Corey (Keith’s elder son) is almost 14 now; he’ll be stepping up to A-class soon, Brian Totty as well. These are all still very young, and all a lot younger than when I started.
I’ve heard that the past 2 yokkao shows have been amazing, what’s it like to fight in something so international and well regarded?
There are some big starts on it and it’s a great show to fight on. The exposure’s just incredible. But it could be a car park, it wouldn’t make a difference to me, you know what I mean? No matter the size of the crowd you still need to perform or you’re gonna get your face smashed in. Doesn’t matter who you’re fighting all there is in the ring, is you, the other guy who wants to smash your face in and the referee. It doesn’t matter who’s outside the ring.
Finally, do you have any words of motivation for our readers who want to get involved with Muay Thai but are maybe a bit tentative?
God just go for it! People say, ”I need to get fit before I start”. Why not get fit as you do it? I started Muay Thai to get fit and I was told at the time that I wouldn’t stick with it because it’s a martial art bla bla bla. But for me it’s not really a martial art, it’s a sport. Aye yeh get along! I love it; I would do it all day if I didn’t have to work.
Keith’s next fight is on November the 8th at Oran Mor.