Caley Reece has lived the dream of anyone that’s ever watched a martial arts movie and wanted to show off their own moves… She’s a 6-time World Champion in the sport of Muay Thai. Originating in Thailand, it’s one of the toughest martial arts there is. And perhaps an even tougher role, she’s also a mum.
Favourite colour RockTape and why?
I actually like the black with white Rocktape writing! I’m a black and white kind of girl
How long have you done Muay Thai?
I have been doing it for 18 years! I started when I was 19.
You’ve won 6 world championships – that’s amazing! Is being a world champion in a martial art a matter of winning one tournament, or beating the girl who previously held the title, or something else?
My first world title I won in a sanctioned event where another girl held the world title and I beat her for it. My next one at 57kg I won because it was vacant and I then defended it 3 times. My 59kg one I won because it was vacant and the last one I won was against a girl that already held it and I beat her for it.
Why do you receive a belt when you win? What’s the history of that?
I guess it’s to solidify that you are the best. Winners get trophies. Champions get belts.
What are the origins of Muay Thai?
Muay Thai’s origin is Thailand and the Thais are extremely passionate about it.
Do you blend a combination of martial arts, or is there a strict delineation between the different disciplines?
No there’s not a combination of other martial arts within traditional Muay Thai. People that compete nowadays, may have trained in another combat sport like karate and incorporate that into their style to make it their own, but Muay Thai is very distinct compared to other martial arts and in my opinion, the most brutal in terms of damage you can inflict.
I’ve heard that you also used CrossFit in your preparation for MuayThai. What aspects of CrossFit do you think are a good fit for athletes in other sports, and how do you avoid getting sucked into the vortex that is CrossFit?
Yes I used CrossFit towards the end of my fight career to add a different dimension to my training. It really helped with my explosiveness and strength. Also with CrossFit, most workouts if you go hard enough, take you to a point of feeling similar to what it’s like in a fight – where you have to really grit your teeth when the going gets tough, so the more I trained like this, the more familiar the feeling became to me. Since retiring from Muay Thai, I have been sucked into the vortex that is CrossFit for this exact reason – I like to be pushed and I love being challenged and I can’t think of another sport that would give me a big diversity and give me that same feeling that fighting did.
The weight categories seem quite strict. What does your nutrition plan look like in the lead up to a fight?
They are strict especially when fighting for titles. You must make weight otherwise the fight may not happen or you lose the privilege to fight for the title or defend your belt. My nutrition was, and always is pretty good. I would eat about 7 meals a day consisting of oats, eggs, salads, tuna, red meat, natural yoghurts, berries and always brown rice. The week of a fight I would usually have about 5/6 kilos to lose so my food intake would half on a Tuesday and 1/4 on Wednesday and then only small amounts of food Thursday and Friday with a weigh in on Friday night. Loading and cutting water was a big part of losing that weight and it was only very temporary and I was back up to my normal weight by the time I fought the next night.
Obviously, you have to learn to get hit and keep going. How does training and competition differ in terms of how much you use full force hitting? How do you learn to get hit and tolerate the pain?
Hahahaha – this is a good question! I would train every session as if I was fighting although my power would be about 75% – I would usually spar the guys and this would help me mentally prepare fighting girls because I knew that no girl would punch or kick as hard as the guys I was training with. Our bodies become conditioned to being hit as weird as that sounds. It’s like weightlifting – you see people lift all that weight overhead and wonder how they do it? Years of practice. It’s the same with getting hit – years of practice getting hit and learning to keep going.
You married your coach, who is also a pretty accomplished fighter in his own right. How did you guys balance your personal relationship with your coaching relationship?
He was my trainer before he was my husband so I had that trainer/ student respect for him from day 1. I went to him for his experience and knowledge in the sport and had the utmost respect for that from the first session I had with him. Everything he told me I knew was coming from experience so I would never question what he taught me, just trust it. We never act like partners in the gym when training. That was kept separate. He was always my trainer and I was always the fighter.
And what’s some of the best advice your coach / husband has given you?
There’s nothing specifically he has said to me but there was always an unspoken sense of belief as a team. We knew what we were doing and we knew that together, I could be the champion of the world if we did all the right things together.
Boxing, and Muay Thai are traditionally male sports. How does the female side of the sport differ? How are they growing the sport?
There is no difference between the way the male and females fight in Muay Thai – the rules are the same. When I started, the female scene was there, but it was quiet – they weren’t recognised as much as the males but over the years, I think with social media, the females have been able to get their names out there. People can see through videos that the females are talented and because of this, they have been stepping into main event roles on fight shows which is amazing and unheard of 10 years ago.
For girls that want to get into the sport, what’s the best way?
Like anything, you just have to start. Take your time and enjoy what you are doing.
You’ve recently retired. What prompted that decision? How have you dealt with it? I think it’s a difficult transition for any elite athlete and I’m sure words of advice would be appreciated.
I had been trying to have a baby for 4 years but I think with the amount of stress I put on myself when training, it just wasn’t happening so on my 60th fight, I decided to stop. I wanted to be a mum more than I wanted to fight. It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make because I had to have faith that it was going to work. And it did but I do miss it. Since having Maddox, I was offered a few fights on different shows and I actually considered it – I started training again but my heart wasn’t 100% in it and to come back and return to where I was, it needed to be. I finished on top of the world, I had done everything I wanted to do so I had no real reason to come back other than because I liked to fight, but, I also LOVE being a mum and missing out on things with Maddox wasn’t worth it. It took me 4 years to get him so to go back to something I had already done didn’t seem right. I’m loving my CrossFit at the moment, I can train when I want and by myself so it’s much easier. The transition has been hard – I won’t lie, sometimes I still cry about it but I also remind myself of what I did, where it took me and what I have now. I look at my son and the feelings quickly disappear.
What’s next for you now that you are no longer fighting professionally?
I’m loving being a mum. It’s the best feeling in the world. Nothing will ever come before that but training wise, I am concentrating on CrossFit now. I haven’t quit Muay Thai for CrossFit. I have finished my career in Muay Thai. I did everything I could – gave my whole life to it and finished on top of the world. I remember my sports psychologist saying to me one day: ‘Finish on top. Go out a champion.’ So that’s what I did. CrossFit is new for me. I’m learning new stuff every day, its challenging physically and mentally so I enjoy it. I train around some amazing athletes in a positive environment so this makes me happy.
Where can people find you on the web?
Facebook page: Caley Reece