Khongisttha Brett Hlavacek is East Coast through and through. It comes out in his accent, tinged with the locality of the boroughs. It’s in his dress, he favors old NYC HC shirts like Cro Mags, and its in his style – driven.
Born in South Jersey Hlavacek gew up in the world of sports. When he was only 4 years old he was already enrolled in Tae Kwon Do. In his early teens, he participated and medaled in the Junior Olympics a few times. From there he began to attend Muay Thai seminars after a pivotal visit from Sitydotong LA’s Walter Michalowski came to visit his gym. “My trainer and I started to get into Muay Thai after Kru Walter visited. I went out to California a few times for Kru Vut’s seminars and I had my first smoker in staten island at 11 or 12 years old,” Hlavacek said.
These unregulated fights would continue during his high school years and he would move on to sanctioned fights. By the time he was in college he’d had 10 or 12 fights having fought other sport veterans such as Chris Romulo.
As the sport was still in its infancy on the east coast there weren’t many regulations to the fights. Often fighters would show up overweight or not at all. “Athletic commissions didn’t exist in the 90s. I did my first blood work in 2007 when I fought on a Mike Miles show,’ he said.
“There was no future for Muay Thai in New Jersey. I researched a little and found Phil Nurse out of the Wat. I got a job there and became a trainer and fighter. I was at The Wat for 10 or 12 years from 2005 to 2017,” Hlavacek said. The Jersey boy made his way to New York City and has resided there since.
As many others have confessed being a coach and a fighter was difficult for Hlavacek as his training took a back seat to his teaching. “At the end of the day I didn’t want to be in the gym for an extra 2-3 hours to work out. The grind really got to me and after I started to feel stagnant,” he said. The years at the Wat did have some real advantages for Hlavacek as he was at the gym when Phil Nurse was training high level MMA fighters. “I was routinely sparring with George St. Pierre, Rashad Evans and Jon Jones. I really grew in those sessions and my game plan developed beyond traditional Muay Thai,” Hlavacek said.
The exposure for him was a real positive as he started to get asked to train people for fights. Training others for fights was wearing on his body. “Holding 30-40 rounds a day or moving around with people all the time you get better. It helps your defense and you can start to really pick people apart but you’re holding for 30-40 rounds a day. Your body breaks down. Any successful gym owner will tell you that it’s a passion and not just a business. Ultimately being a fighter you have to be super selfish. When you’re a trainer it’s the complete opposite. You give a lot of yourself up.”
Hlavacek was able to continue training and teaching at the Wat. His longstanding participation in the Muay Thai community saw the sport grow in the region. While Lion Fight is leading the charge in the USA shows like Justin Blair’s Friday Night Fights have been going on for the last 20 or so years. There is also Chris Tran’s popular Warrior’s Cup. “Tran is one of the best matchmakers in the business,” Hlavacek said. Along with Blair and Tran there is also Eddie Cuello from Infightstyle who routinely puts on shows at Madison Square Garden. All these promotion helped Hlavacek secure solid professional experience which showed in his matches on Lion Fight.
“My first fight on Lion Fight I rematched Cyrus Washington. We’d fought a month or two before on Chris Tran’s Warrior Cup show for his WBC National Title. I beat him. He thought it was close. My Lion Fight opponent backed out at the last moment and Cyrus stepped up. It was similar but not as close but the same outcome,” Hlavacek said. From there He fought in Panama and subsequently defended his WBC title against Elijah Clark. He then battled Brad Mountain on Lion Fight and won which led to a multi fight deal contract with the promotion.
Not everything was turning up well for Hlavacek though as he felt that he didn’t show up for his last bout. “I’ve had 50 or 60 fights now and it was a competitive fight but I wasn’t there mentally,” he said. “It’s bound to happen sometime though. Losing a bout isn’t a big deal. The American Mentality when you take a loss is that its some sort of devastation. Everyone in MMA is 7-1 or 8-1. Some of the best fighters in the world, in Thailand are 75-13 or 85-20.”
Muay Thai has grown internationally as well not just in the United States. Now as Hlavacek mentions, “You can fight at Max Muay Thai and other promtions in Thailand. You don’t have to fight on the weekends at Lumpinee. You used to fight on the slow nights at the stadium. Max is doing a really good job at their match ups.”
Despite dropping a points loss in his last performance Hlavacek has also had success in other organizations. He fought several times for Glory and “I did the Road to Glory tournament and placed second in that,” he said. “It was a great pay day. I made $13k and beat Erich Utsch but ended up losing to Francois Ambang who is ranked in Glory now.”
Finding success in Glory didn’t mean that he was turning his back on Muay Thai. “Glory was great,” Hlavacek said. “It was a huge opportunity but it wasn’t my style. I like more of a five round fight where you can implement a game plane. Also Muay Thai scoring is a lot different.”
This is really seen in Hlavacek’s style of fighting as he is a solid counter fighter. Since he started out so young Hlavacek was sparring with much larger and older men. “We were all learning together at the time. It was a little scary and it was all just about surviving so I got really good at my defense. I just didn’t want to get concussed,” Hlavacek said.
Lately Hlavacek has been able to train abroad as well. He’s hosted a camp at Khongsittha, a new Muay Thai gym in northern Bangkok. “Khongsittha is a really forward thinking new generation of thai gym. Training at a gym like FA Group is hard training but Khongsittha is bringing muay thai and fitness together,” he said. Hlavacek went on to expand, explaining how Khongsittha’s updated gym offers a full time strength and conditioning coach and how gyms like Khongsittha are drawing the middle class into the sport. “When I go there I get good training and good pad holding. They still hire A plus trainers but it’s a new updated gym with new equipment.”
Most recently Hlavacek has been working on a feature length film, “Haymaker” with Nick Sasso the writer and director. After the film was funded the crew including Hlavacek flew out to Thailand. “Shooting a movie was harder than I thought. I figured it’d be a couple lines and that would be it but the days were 8-9 hours and because of Thai culture. Permits and everything were more unstructured and there were no contracts,” he said. “We were able to shoot in Rajadamern stadium though. They basically gave us the keys to the stadium. Everyone was gone. We were in an empty Rajadamnern stadium. It was really surreal.”
Since Hlavacek has been around the sport for a while he has seen Muay Thai develop in concert with social media. “It’s given a spotlight to people that have put the time in over the years world wide. Especially older fighters and trainers who deserve the attention. A lot of people are getting savvy to it and people’s businesses doing so much better.”
Not everything is roses with the growth of the internet. as “On the other end you can be a great fighter but the promoter’s first question is how many followers do you have on Instagram? Can you sell tickets? That’s part of the game but you can have a guy that has a social media presence get more opportunities than a guy who busts their ass who is technically a better fighter… Sometimes I Instagram the hot dog I eat for lunch. It’s incredible to see some people. People that have never fought but post photos of themselves doing padwork and sparring. It’s a bit overkill.”
The other problem with social media according to Hlavacek is the lack of quality control. “You get people doing tutorials on Instagram, just trying to get people’s money. The sport is being McDojo’d. There is Ajarn Adam and Kru Kens everywhere. They “teach people” and take their money.”
Social media also allows for people to check on their opponents as well and Hlavacek has been able to view Banasiak from his proverbial armchair. “I see Paul train everyday on social media so I don’t need to see him train every day in person. I know what I’m expecting. He has solid technique. He has a lot of Amateur belts but how many has he defended? This is what is 2nd or 3rd pro fight? Paul has also been in Thailand for the last 6-7 months so I’m expecting him to be a lot better than he has been. No one goes to Thailand and gets worse… actually that’s not true.”
With a professional record of 17 wins and 4 losses. Hlavacek has as many professional losses as Banasiak has professional fights. He also had a successful run as an amateur with 26 wins and only 1 loss.
Ultimately Hlavacek is determined to continue to grow with the sport. “It’s given me a future and so many opportunities. I have a network of people worldwide and a second home in Thailand at Khongsittha. I’ve also begun to start teaching at Anderson’s in SOHO which has been a big opportunity for me.”