Ondy Sweeting meets three Balifighters who have swapped the kitchen for the ring. Seconds out! Photos: Stephane Sensey.
Boxing and Muay Thai are gaining momentum as the sportsdu jour. There is nothing quite like a punch to the face or a kick in the kidneys to get things moving.
While kitchens are devastatingly dangerous places, it seems that dwellers of culinary corners are in the grip of an addiction.
Just over a year ago Ku De Ta’s head chef, Stephen Moore was done with feeling down. He is now among Bali’s leading amateur pugilists.
“I was 104 kilos in 2013 and the staff at Ku De Ta kept asking how far pregnant I was. I got depressed then asked Ku’s super fit security guy Gavin to help me with an exercise programme. We hit the beach to train and I couldn’t do one push up. It was embarrassing. Then our Executive Chef Ben Cross found Bali MMA and I saw the boxing in January 2016. I bought 10 private sessions with the trainer Anthony Leone and added two group sessions a week,” Stephen said.
Apparently a natural with huge dedication, his trainer asked him to do an amateur fight in June. The answer was ‘No way’.
But a night listening to music and watching UFC changed all that.
Stephen committed to the fight and ramped up his routine to six sessions a week plus strength and conditioning training six weeks before the fight. He was matched with a huge Australian ex-rugby player.
“On the night I was extremely calm and thought it would not go ahead but my name was called, which was surreal. I got into the ring and went three, three-minute rounds. It was an incredible experience. I was exhausted after the first round and I wanted to panic but had to control those emotions. In the ring I forgot everything I had learned and switched to human instinct. Anthony gave me the “Rocky” talk when I was completely fucked and he got me back into the ring. I made a decision to lose the fight. I had two black eyes and a bloody nose. For the next week I had to wear make up and sunglasses to work,” he said.
After a fail Stephen promised himself that losing was not an option and got ‘addicted’ to boxing, knowing he would fight again in November.
For this fight he turned to champion body builder and nutritionist Komang Arnawa who immediately banned carbs from the bread-loving chef’s diet.
“The weight dropped off and I weighed in at 90.4 kg for my next fight. I was feeling very proud and super confident. Friends and colleagues came. Stepping through the ropes no one can help. It’s very bizarre to be standing in the ring in front or your opponent. The bell goes and you want to beat the shit out of him. I really wanted to hurt him even though we’re good buddies and we train together. I nearly had it in the second round. Then I won on points. After the fight we were hugging. I had a moment to myself after winning and thought ‘Yes’.
To the chef, having his hand raised as winner was worth the hard training and discipline.
For Stephen Moore there is no flight, only fight.
Like a pathway drug, boxing seems to suck people in and push them to greater depths. But instead of certain death, the sport brings an improved lifestyle, happiness and community involvement. Restaurant consultant Lauren Camilleri introduces at least two people week.
“Boxing is addictive and so many friends have joined me. Josh Herdman from Sea Circus is on to it and Nude Café’s Christian Reyno has joined Bali MMA. He is also addicted,” she said.
Before Lauren starts her day she is training hard. This is no delicate flower looking to gain energy by photosynthesis – this a woman dedicated to the hard art of pugilism. She first hit the punching bag in June last year.
‘This addiction is great fun, bodily transformative at warp speed, 100 per cent adrenaline, energizing and gets people vibrating at a high level,” said Lauren.
She skips between the Daily Gym for fitness and Bali MMA for technique.
“I love one-on-one training because it pushes me to get my arse into gear and to short bursts of three-minute rounds at high intensity. It’s made me the fittest I have ever been at 26 years old. I don’t diet but as a vegan I eat high quality food. Training makes me feel great on so many levels – even my skin has cleared up,” she said.
While Lauren does not have a public fight planned, she admits it might be something to consider.
“I can see why others do it and if I become so confident in my position I would consider a fight. Bali’s boxing family is very cool and now some of the women are starting to ask me to train with them.
“Training with a friend makes you lock it in the day before – 6am. No excuses. “
From the kitchens of Ubud’s Amandari resort, executive chef Nick Kennedy emerges three or four times a week to ride to Bali MMA. He fell for martial arts in Sydney driven by a need to regain some health. He was 28 years old, overweight with health issues.
“I worked at the health food company and needed to make some big changes. I got into Muay Thai,” Nick said.
With six years of experience and training now under his belt, Nick has had two fights – one win and one draw – in Bali and expects there will be more.
The first time he was in the ring, fear and adrenaline where not on the menu – despite not feeling confident with his fitness or his capability.
“I wasn’t worried about being hit in the face but I was worried about not looking like a good fighter in front of people who had paid to watch a decent fight,” he said.
In fact, he admits that being in the ring is similar to being a chef. “You spend a lot of time working in a hot environment for the pleasure of others.”
While Nick said that fighting is an ‘amazing bonding experience’ between two opponents, he admits that few of his friends have followed him into the ring.
“It can be off-putting because it looks a bit savage but once you get into it you quickly realize that it’s a great sport for everyone – women and kids of all ages. It’s a lot of fun too.”
The obsession is clear with chef Nick claiming that he’d be lost without the sport.
“It’s a commitment that really pays off with fitness, friendship and confidence. If I miss the gym for a week I get restless and agitated and hit a kind of borderline depression.
“I am addicted.”