International Kickboxer Magazine, Vol. 19, No.2
Darren ‘The Riddler’ Reece has been one of the key players in Australian Muay Thai. He began as a distinguished fighter and progressed to training some of Australia’s most skilled and most popular fighters. Last issue we spoke to Eugene ‘Boom Boom’ Ekkelboom, and this issue JARROD BOYLE sat down with Chris ‘Tiger’ White to talk world titles, bronze medals, winning big in Thailand and the changing of the guard.
Chris ‘Tiger’ White has given approximately half his life to Muay Thai, originally becoming involved as a way of cross-training for AFL football. “A senior player asked me if I’d be interested in picking it up. I was keen… I loved it so much I stopped playing mid-season. Thinking back, I’m pretty sure I made the right choice. All the other guys were getting bigger and I found myself being the smallest guy at the bottom of every pack, trying to get that ball. I got hurt. A lot!” Thai boxing meant that Chris could compete against people in his own weight range of 165 pounds. Over sixteen years, he has amassed a total of 75 fights for 45 wins, 25 losses and 4 draws. ‘The last decision is still pending’, he says.
Tiger has a respectable record, but he is a prime example of a person for whom fighting has been a passport to all kinds of travel and adventure. “I was flown toPolandto fight for a WKN World Title in 2002.” (The current WKN world heavyweight title holder is our own Nathan ‘Carnage’ Corbett). “I fought a Belarussian who I TKOd in the first round. It was a big shock to both the promoter and the trainer as I’m sure I wasn’t expected to win. I held the title for a year.”
In addition to fighting in Poland, Chris has also spent a lot of time in Asia. “I have trained a lot in Thailand, of course. I had my first training trip in 1998, staying at Lanna Muay Thai in Chiang Mai. My longest stint was in 2000, where I lived and trained, fighting six times in the space of six months. In the last three years I have trained numerous times at Sagmorakot in Bangkok, alongside fighters like Pinsiam and Koa Deng. I tend to go and train for two weeks or so and then fight at the end.
“My last fight in Thailandwould have been, by far, the highlight of my career,” Chris enthuses. “In December 2010 I was given the opportunity to fight on the King’s Birthday Eve Fight Show against a very good Thai opponent and we fought to a draw. I got the chance to rematch him in February of this year at Om Noi stadium. I went out hard in the first round, but found out in that first break that I was doing too much and needed to slow down. The second round was easier and came to a draw.
“In the third round, as all Thais do, my opponent came out at me hard, walking forward, trying to put the grapple on. He didn’t give me much room to do anything but lock him out. I lost that round and I’m sure the gamblers had given me no chance to win the fight.
“The fourth round started off pretty much the same, but I sensed he was getting tired. That’s when I felt the change; I started pushing back, landing hand combinations, and in the later half of that round I started using my legs more. I thought I must have been back in the fight by the last break, because the gamblers were going crazy! In the fifth round I stepped up my kicking. I landed scoring kicks, then locked him up when he came forward. Towards the end of the fight I focused on keeping him away with push kicks. After the bell had gone, I discovered I had won both the round and the fight!
“I must have made someone very rich that day,” Tiger muses. “After I had left the ring, I was ushered to the grandstand where one of the gamblers tipped me 16000bht ($530). As anyone who has been to Thailand knows, that’s a lot of money for anybody to part with, let alone a Thai.”
It appears that Chris has always been a solid bet. He seems to have developed an approach to Thai boxing that his AFL experience may have inspired. He prefers to rely on skill and guile, rather than brute force. “My style of fighting is relaxed, a little bit tricky with a lot of countering. I find that if I get into the angry, slugger style of fighting I almost always get hurt, get KO’d or just plain lose.”
Training at Riddler’s Gym has meant that he has received a mix of both modern and traditional training methods. His Thai boxing training is more traditional, but the strength-and-conditioning side of things is a little more progressive. “Darren makes sure we have plenty to do. He’s pretty well read-up on all the latest techniques and exercises.” Mixed Martial Arts training has made a significant impact on fighting sports, and Reece spends a lot of time researching the latest exercises and techniques. This is good for not only keeping his fighters in top physical condition, but ensuring they stay mentally stimulated.
“Darren’s my trainer, but he’s also my friend,” says Chris. “I’ve been training with him for eight years now, and he always tries to get the best out of me.”
Indeed, The Riddler plays a significant mentoring role in the lives of his fighters. “The idea of retiring came to me nearly 2 years ago but I wasn’t one hundred per-cent sure about it,” says Chris. “I mentioned it to Darren not long after and he said, ‘You’ll just wake up one morning and know’. I kept it quiet for awhile, and it wasn’t until after my fight in Bangkok on the Kings Birthday Eve Show that I knew it was time.
“The gym is getting busier, we have a growing stable of fighters, I’ve been fighting for nearly 16 years and my last fight was number 75 (a good round number to finish on, I think). Had I decided to retire [earlier], I would have felt I wasn’t done. I’m pretty sure I would have [tried to] make the ‘Rocky Balboa comeback’, but I would not have been at my best. I would have been disappointed.”
Reece has been working to help Chris make the difficult transition to life after fighting by keeping him involved in the activities of the gym. Obviously, a man of Chris’ experience has a lot of hard-won advice and insight to offer. “Over the time I had been thinking of retiring, Darren started getting me involved as an instructor and also taking on the occasional personal training session. When the day comes for me to retire, I can just slot straight into the gym as a trainer and pad-holder. I’ve been in the sport for too long to just walk away from it. It’s been my life; I have a wealth of knowledge and experience I can pass on to others.”
Talking to fighters at the conclusion of their careers means we can ask the absolute questions; and the one we all want to know is, who was their toughest opponent? Who was it that tested their mettle most of all?
“My hardest opponent would have to have been Mod Ali Yakuub,” Chris responds. “When we first fought he damaged my face badly in the first round. I managed to go the distance though, at which time the judges decided we had fought to a draw. I wasn’t happy with this decision. I grabbed the microphone and proclaimed that Ali was the winner. In response, the crowd gave me my first – and only – standing ovation!”
Chris discovered after the fight that Ali had fractured his eye socket, nose and cheek bone with a step-up elbow. “Against the doctor’s advice (I do not recommend anybody do this,) I continued to train and fight.” Given that retirement was around the corner, Chris chose to train through the injuries. He won his next two fights without incident and found himself re-matching Ali nine months after their initial meeting.
“Would you believe it,” Chris says, “Ali got me with the same move, step up left elbow in the first round! He reopened the old scar and because of the previous damage, the area around my right eye blew up. It swelled so badly that not only did it completely close my eye, but it swelled so much that I could see it past the bridge of my nose with my left eye!”
“After the first round ended I went back to my corner and Darren called off the fight. He knew there was no way I could continue in my condition and being the great trainer that he is, he put my safety first.”
Few fighters can claim such a climax to a career that has spanned sixteen years. Riddler’s Gym will now have the stories – and the expertise – of Chris White worked into the fabric of its future champions.