Paul Banasiak is tall, tall and intense. I was able to meet Paul for coffee a year ago and recently he took the time out to sit down with me for another chat. Since our last meeting, Paul has continued to build momentum with his brand and social media presence, Muay Thai Athlete.
He started creating what would eventually be his platform at a young age. “I was always into videography and skateboarding. I liked being in charge and telling my story. When I was in high school I slung skateboarding dvds. I made 50 discs and sold them for $15 each. I made my girlfriend buy it and sold it to my friends. When I started to fight that translated over,” Banasiak said.
He would go onto create a website with his ex-girlfriend attempting to stand out from the crowd. Working as a personal trainer at the time Banasiak realized that there was too much information out there and that to find success he would have to create a niche and help create a more intimate audience. He then moved into Muay Thai.
“The site was good. It was a lot of practice for what I would go on to do later,” he said. “I was able to interview Kevin Ross, Scott Kent and some others.” Banasiak’s work and emerging career as a fighter saw him frequently run into Fagan of the Muay Thai Guy who was also attempting to come up in the east coast Muay Thai scene. The two had known each other for some time before spending an extended period working together while at Diamond Muay Thai in Koh Pagnan in Thailand.
“Sean was doing the Muay Thai Guy podcast by himself. Doing shows solo can be a bit hard and sometimes people end up asking the questions of the trainers and fighters. I pitched him idea about working together after doing a few videos together. I wanted to do a program about personal experiences, past successes and failures,” he said.
The Muay Thai Guys podcast has grown and at the time of this writing has seen 60 plus episodes with topics ranging from sparring philosophy, to the reality of being a sponsored fighter to interviews with fighters like Daniel McGowan and Chris Romulo.
“There are some pros and cons of being in the social media spotlight,” he said. “I get to meet people and travel. More opportunities have opened themselves up to me and I just have a bigger perspective of things.”
Banasiak wasn’t shy at admitting the downsides though. “When you aren’t active on social media you don’t get sucked into it. Athletes that aren’t active on it can just work on their grind.”
While trying to continue to grow his business as a social media brand Banasiak has also been competing regularly and recently returned to his home town in Connecticut after a nearly yearlong trip to Thailand. Originally coming out to help with a training camp at Khongsittha, Banasiak was inspired to stay in the homeland of Muay Thai.
His first fight in Thailand under Khongsittha saw him take on a Moroccan fighter. The televised show saw him take a head-butt towards the end of the fight. “I broke my orbital and my nose. There was an S curve to my septum. It didn’t impact my breathing so I didn’t have surgery for it. It caused a lot of problems with my family and my then girlfriend at the time. They wanted me to come home and take care of it medically. I wanted to keep fighting,” he said.
Feeling cut off from his family and having split from his girlfriend Banasiak decided to continue to pursue his dream of fighting and for a short time was sponsored by legendary fighter Namsaknoi who recently opened a gym in Southern Thailand. The experience was dramatically different for Banasiak as his social media credibility wasn’t a concern. “Namsaknoi had zero care for blog. All he wanted was someone to represent the gym,” Banasiak said. “I had three fights out of the gym. It can be a bit hard to match up guys of my size.”
While his first bout was equal in terms of size his second bout was not. Nevertheless he was able to win both bouts via knock out in the second round. “My third bout was a test. I took the bout on a few days’ notice. He was about 20lbs heavier and had a Dutch style. I had a lot of injuries at the time but still used a Thai style to win. After that I did some travelling,” he continued. He would go onto visit an interview established female fighter Tiffany Van Soest in Bali.
Returning home from his experience abroad Banasiak is set to square off against Brett Hlavacek at Lion Fight 36. The two had coincidentally trained for a brief time together at Khongsittha. “We did our own things. We knew we were matched up though. I got to see him do pad work. I tried not to pay attention. I saw him one time though. I’m faster. I’m more well-rounded and have more weapons. He has more experience though but every time I come into the ring I come in as a different fighter,” Banasiak said about his future opponent.
The pressure is on for Banasiak as Hlavacek is a well-regarded veteran of the sport. There is also the stress of the social media spotlight. “I need to live up to everything I do. The greater the heights the greater the fall and I haven’t lost in 16 fights. Everything is being tracked on social media. People expect me to win,” he said. “I just hope he’s taking this fight seriously. I hope he comes in shape. Of course, there is a time when everyone falls but I’m fighting against that,” Banasiak concluded.
Paul Banasiak will take on cruiserweight Brett Hlvacek on April 28th at the Foxwoods Casino. Lion Fight 36 will be aired live on Axis TV.