Two years ago, a 10-year-old Eddie Gonzalez sat in his elementary school’s gymnasium, mesmerized by a local Muay Thai tournament unfolding in front of him.
“I have got to try this,” Gonzalez, an Avondale resident, muttered to himself.
Fast forward two years, and Gonzalez, 12, has remained true to his word. Not only did he try the sport, which is similar to the jiu-jitsu he had been practicing, but he’s quickly maneuvered up the ranks in the Muay Thai community.
Muay Thai is part of the martial arts family, a sport consisting of stand-up combat using the arms and legs. Its origins in Thailand date back to the 18th century, but it has since seen a spike of interest in Arizona in recent years.
Gonzalez, a seventh grader at Tolleson’s Fine Arts Academy, has become enamored with the sport. He already has training and competition matches lined up through July, some that will take him across the world.
He will first compete in the United States Open, held in Phoenix from April 25 through April 28. In June, Gonzalez will board a flight to Des Moines, Iowa, to partake in the Thai Boxing Association Classic, which is “the largest Muay Thai amateur event in North America,” according to its Facebook page.
Weeks after his mid-summer outing in Iowa, Gonzalez will be shipped off to Thailand for the month of July. There, he’ll spend weeks with just his coach. Together the pair will train every day, with some competitions sprinkled in during his stay.
“I’m super nervous,” said Gonzalez’s mother, Krystal Grado. “He’s never been away from me, so this is going to be hard, but I don’t want to be the reason that he misses out on that opportunity.”
Echoing the sentiments of his mother, the opportunity for Gonzalez to spend weeks in the country where Muay Thai was born was too rich to decline.
It’ll hopefully parlay into an opportunity for Gonzalez to fulfill his bucket-list dream in the sport, which is to make the U.S. Youth Muay Thai team.
Though just 12 years old, there is an opportunity for Gonzalez to already qualify for the team. If he wins the TBA Classic, he’ll be granted a roster spot, he said. All ages make up the youth team, “as long as they’re the best in the United States out of their age group,” Grado said.
In addition to cracking the U.S. roster, Gonzalez will also earn a trip to Turkey, where he’ll train and compete there.
“My favorite part about competing is to show how good I am,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez just returned from a tournament in San Diego. He competed in Mexico prior to that, according to his mother.
He currently trains with coach Jerry Laurita at the Sentosa Martial Arts gym in Avondale. From Monday through Friday, Gonzalez is in the gym polishing his craft, spanning several hours per night, his mother said.
There were reservations from his mother about letting a young, 10-year-old boy join a sport as rigorous and physically-demanding as Muay Thai.
“When I was pregnant with Eddie, doctors had to induce me because he was sick from his kidney,” Grado said. “He had a double ureter, the little tube that goes down to the bladder from the kidney. He had one that would come back up to the kidney and it was rotting the bottom half of his right kidney. Right now, he only has a kidney and a half.”
His mother acknowledges that, yes, her son has taken a great deal of body shots – a la kicks and jabs – and certainly more are on their way. While she was initially nervous about the notion of him taking shots to his kidney area, she said Gonzalez has done an exceptional job of “protecting himself.”
“We haven’t had any problems,” she said.
Gonzalez is aware of the successes that have mounted before him since joining Muay Thai competition two years ago. Now, he’s got an eye on the bigger picture, which just so happens to be another big goal on his agenda.
“I want to fight in the Olympics,” he said.
That becomes a possibility at 15 years of age, he said. For now, as Gonzalez carefully eyes that Olympic appearance from afar, he’ll focus on sharpening his skills and traveling the world while doing so.
All while just 12 years old.
While in Thailand, Eddie will also make tennis shoes for less fortunate children in need of new shoes.
For those interested in providing the family with the funds for this trip, donations are accepted at gofundme.com/help-eddie-become-a-muay-thai-champion.