It’s that kind of dedication that has lifted “The Reaper” to new heights that included the co-main event spot of Lion Fight 36 where he’ll take on Brett Hlavacek in a cruiserweight battle. Their clash takes place on Friday, April 28 at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, and live on AXS TV Fights in the United States plus Fight Network throughout Canada, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
The 24-year-old from East Hartford, Connecticut, recently took some time out from training to do a Q & A profile for LionFight.com.
Q: For starters, do you do anything else as a profession on top of fighting?
A: I fight for a living. I pursued a profession as an anesthetist, but after two years of pre-med classes and a year of clinical practice, I dropped out of college directly after fighting at Madison Square Garden. Thereafter, I finished as first in my class with a Health and Exercise Science degree, all to make my family happy. I pursued fighting full-time throughout all of these endeavors. I sleep in the gym, I train, I train fighters, I train those with a limitless and relentless mindset. I have been a sponsored fighter in Thailand for close to a year. I left everything – relationships, family, work, money, love – to get to the next level. I have been ready for the professional rankings for a long time now. Muay Thai is cut throat at my weight class. Once you cut through the guys at the bottom, you are thrown in with the legends, veterans, and the best of the best. My first fight back in the States is no cake walk, but after my time living and training with the Golden Era legend Namsaknoi, I am beyond ready.
Q: Do you have any past experience with Lion Fight?
A: I have fought and won for Lion Fight in the past. It was my last fight as an amateur and my last fight before moving to Thailand. We are coming full circle now.
Q: Can you give fight fans a rundown of any past championships, titles, tournament wins, and winning streaks you have enjoyed?
A: Two-time Muay Thai World gold medalist for Team USA in two weight classes (wins over England, Spain, and the Netherlands); four-time North American national champion in two weight classes; nine-time overall amateur champion; 15-fight win streak in Muay Thai (four as a pro); Golden Glove boxing finalist; and I was a headliner at Madison Square Garden and I got the win by decision.
Q: For those that haven’t seen you fight before, can you talk about your best attributes in the ring and where you think you have your biggest advantages over an opponent?
A: Adaptation. I am never constant. You see a different version of me every fight. I have trained raw in the boxing gym for months. I have trained with Dutch fighters. I have lived in Thailand. I possess the ability to bring the pressure, the ability to snipe you from the outside, to grind you in the clinch, or to sit in the pocket and trade. The choice is yours. Whatever your weakness is, I will expose it and see if you can hang. I also have my home team. I have my trainer Ed Thornton, who has stuck with me from the minute that I walked into his gym. He believed in me and my attitude before I even began to compete under him.
Q: What is your take on the upcoming bout against Brett Hlavacek where you’ll be representing Hartford and Connecticut against a rival from New York City?
A: I have been representing Connecticut for a long time in the city, in New England, on the East Coast, in Europe, and in Asia, always fighting away and being booed. I have fought long enough now to have a following even in Brett’s home of New York. The energy is going to be unmatched when our names are announced. I felt what it’s like to have the crowd behind you versus always working against it the last time that I fought for Lion Fight. It elevates the show and it will elevate our performance. I am very familiar with Brett. He is a veteran of the sport, and I have watched him beat names like Cyrus Washington. When I was starting out I was competing against his students from The WAT and now we are coming full circle. We trained within the same camp in Thailand. People know exactly who he is and people know who I am. Let’s find out how the young assassin does against the veteran. We both have a technical style. It’s going to be a spectacle to witness for the fans. This one is for the fans.
Q: The cruiserweight division is often so overlooked, but do you feel a big win here could put the division in the spotlight with you and possibly a soon title shot, maybe against another rising star like Chip Moraza-Pollard?
A: I don’t remember a single fight that I have been a part of that wasn’t exciting to watch. It’s just being put on a larger spotlight now to be recognized. I believe with the following that we both have it’ll shine the light over the division. You guys are instigators and I say that with a smile on my face. Chip is a past training partner of mine coming from Sityodtong Boston as we are the Sityodtong CT (Connecticut) affiliate. We have traded in the past. We are both undefeated up-and-coming boxers in the rankings. One of us has to eventually take that title, but first we have to cut through the rest of the competition. I hope that Chip keeps picking these guys apart, and that if we do meet, we meet at the very top. I have nothing but love for the Sityodtong La Famiglia. They were a major part of my come up as an amateur. One body at a time.
Q: You are truly a connoisseur of Muay Thai – a fighter and an instructor, and someone who has a website and podcast that talks about the sport. Can you fill us in on your website and podcast and what it has done for you and promoting or talking about Muay Thai?
A: During my time going to school full-time, working full-time, training and fighting full-time, I was also writing. I began MuayThaiAthlete.com as a way to inspire others to live a ‘Limitless Life.’ I owe who I am to Muay Thai – my resilience, my mental fortitude, and the stubbornness that I possess that does not allow me to quit. I don’t believe everyone gets to hear the whole story of many fighters. Interviews are always the same set of questions. The lead-up to the fight displays only the surface of a fighter’s life and character. What I find interesting is an individual’s real story. We each have one if you dig deep enough. Muay Thai Athlete is my vehicle, my way to spotlight the stories that haven’t been told in full, to skip the ‘5 Steps to Quick Success’ bullshit and to give the real facts behind what it truly takes to be great and to be happy. Fighting is a selfish endeavor. Personal goals only go so far in terms of drive. The eighth title doesn’t feel the same as the first. I can’t take any of this to the grave with me, but what I can do is use Muay Thai Athlete and the Muay Thai Guys Podcast with Sean Fagan to model a positive example in an attempt to live a happier, more fulfilled life. The following of close to 200,000 people enables me to travel and train with the best in the world. It not only benefits my knowledge as a fighter, but it gives me perspective as a human being. It is a self-reflecting journey in a way. I only hope others can use it as inspiration to chase their dreams, whatever they may be.
The Banasiak-Hlavacek bout is part of the Lion Fight 36 card topped by the main event pitting reigning lightweight champion Sergio Wielzen in his second title defense as he takes on Thai legend Lerdsila. More bouts for the card will be announced shortly.
The Lion Fight 36 main card will air live on AXS TV Fights with a start time of 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT. with commentary from renowned duo “The Voice” Michael Schiavello and UFC Hall of Famer Pat Miletich plus ring reporting from veteran MMA journalist Ron Kruck.