I was privileged to learn muay thai alongside of some of the country’s best fighters, several who went on to become world champions. Of those fighters, there’s only one guy I know who’s still at it. So, for today’s blog, I present to you a Q & A session with Dangerous Dave Zuniga, professional kickboxer!
Q: Why did you first decide to learn muay thai? How old were you?
A: I first started training in muay thai when I was 13. My dad got me a membership at a west end gym. At that time, the UFC had just started, and my older brother and I spent a lot of time play-fighting each other, and watching martial arts movies. We were just really interested in fighting, and I was getting picked on in school because I was really skinny. Looking back, it seems to me that I was looking for a better way to protect myself.
Q: What was your first instructor like?
A: He was a big influence for me growing up. He would pick me up from school, or from my house, and take me to the gym to train. He was like another father figure for me. I was raised by a single dad with two other brothers, so my dad spent a lot of time working. My old coach did his best to keep me out of trouble, which I did. If you knew my old coach though, you would think that statement is kind of ironic. Either way, he was the first trainer to bring muay thai to Winnipeg. In the early 1990s he spent time in Los Angeles at the Benny The Jet center, which was run by a famous kickboxer named Benny Urquidez. Benny was one of the first American Style, full contact kickboxers to competed in low-kick and muay thai fights. From there, my coach went to train multiple times at Thom Harnick’s Chakuriki gym in Holland. Thom had many famous Dutch fighters at that time, including Peter Aerts and Lucia Rijker. Thom Harnick’s son actually came to Winnipeg and did a seminar when I was 13. From there, my old coach went to Thailand to train and learn. I think he trained at Lanna Muay Thai in Chaing Mai, but I’m not certain. Anyways, my first coach was a pioneer in bringing muay thai to Winnipeg.
Q: How has muay thai training changed over the years, in your experience?
A: For me, muay thai training has greatly changed over the years. From clinching, to pad work, to sparring, everything that I do now is alot closer to the way training is done in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s no comparison from training here to training in Thailand.
Q: How many fights have you had? Record—wins, losses, ties?
A: To be honest, I don’t know exactly how many fights I’ve had. In amateur kickboxing and boxing, I’ve had between 60 and 65 fights, with about 15 of those being in amateur boxing. I lost around 10 times. My professional record is 25 wins, eight losses, with 10 of those fights being full muay thai; no elbow pads.
Q: Where do you train now?
A: I train at the Canadian Kickboxing and Muay Thai Centre, run by Giuseppe Denatale. When I go to Thailand, I train at Kiatphontip gym, just outside of Bangkok.
Q: What has been your worst injury?
A: I’ve had many injuries, so it’s hard to peg one as the worst. The most painful injuries after a fight are to my legs. My shins and thighs can be seriously bashed up after a tough fight. The most serious injury health wise might be a deviated septum in my nose that started to affect my breathing, especially when I had a cold. I had it surgically straightened, then had it busted up again a few months later. I’m used to it now, but when I’m done fighting I’ll have it fixed again.
Q: How did you know you were ready to fight? What was that experience like?
A: When I first started training, I would go (to the gym) every single day. After six months, I had my first fight. They asked me if I wanted to fight, and I said yes. I personally think that you know that you’re ready to fight when your coach asks you if you want to fight. That means that your coach either sees that you’re ready to fight, or that you will be ready to fight in the future. Anyways, I lost my first fight by disqualification. In the third round the referee grabbed my arm really hard, and I jerked my arm away from his hand. I remember being really upset after that fight, but I had another one right away. I lost an exhibition to a teammate that weighed in at around 150 lbs. I was around 110. After that, I think I won around 15 or so straight.
Q: What is the best part about muay thai?
A: The best part about real muay thai for me is the way fights are scored in Thailand. Punches and low kicks score very little, if at all. Middle kicks, clinch work, and knees score high, and a cut from an elbow scores really big too. Also, I don’t fully understand this part, but it seems whoever is winning the fight after the 4th round doesn’t engage in anything in the 5th round. It’s like they’re trying to show the judges that they know they’ve won. And if the opponent knows they’ve lost, they don’t do very much either in the 5th. It’s like a mutual agreement that the decision is what it is, and further punishment to both parties isn’t necessary.
Q: What is your “day job”, if any? Is it difficult to work your training around it?
A: I’m currently self-employed. I have a van that I do courier work with in the winters, and I have a french fry truck that operates in the summer, spring, and fall.
Q: What diet, if any, do you follow?
A: I don’t follow a strict diet, but I do eat sensibly. I don’t drink pop, and I try to stay away from junk food. When I have a fight coming up, I do eat more carefully, and drink lots of water.
Q: How many days per week do you train? What’s a typical training session consist of?
A: When I don’t have a fight coming up, I only train two-three times a week, and I’ll go for the occasional run. When I’m training for a fight though, I’ll train six days a week, and I do a five mile run three-four times a week. In training, I’ll start with a quick warm-up, then bag work, pad work, play spar, clinch, and body conditioning. When I’m training for a fight, a workout lasts around two hours. When I’m in Thailand though, I train a lot more. Being a fighter out there is a full time job. Out there, we’d run 10K every morning, followed by bag work, then bag work drills, then body conditioning. That takes about three hours. In the afternoons, we’d run around three or four kilometers, then skip rope for about 15 min. After that, I’d do five or so rounds on the bags, then five rounds of pad work. We’d do boxing sparring on occasion. They clinch around 30 min. after that. Then body conditioning. The afternoon session is also around three hours.
Q: What is the most important characteristic one needs to be successful in this sport/art?
A: For myself, the most important characteristics that have made me successful in the ring are control and patience. To tell you the truth, I never mastered those traits until I started training with Giuseppe at CKMTC. I used to just go out full bore right from the start of a fight, and if the fight went the full distance, I would occasionally fizzle out. Being patient has allowed me to focus more on the faults of my opponents in the opening rounds, and then capitalize on them in the later rounds.
Q: Have you ever considered quitting? If so, what drove you to that point?
A: Yeah, there were a couple of times where I did consider retiring. I’ve had a couple of really tough losses where I lost confidence in myself. I even took a year off when I started university to concentrate on studies, but it’s very difficult to stay away from something that you love so much and have been doing for so long.
Q: Is it ever difficult to strike someone else? If not, was it difficult when you started?
A: It has never been difficult for me to hit another person. I think I enjoyed hitting people the most when I first started.
Q: What is on your mind when you first step into the ring to fight?
A: I’m always completely relaxed before entering the ring. When I was younger I would sometimes get nervous. Nowadays, I tell myself that no matter who’s in the ring with me, I’ve always found a way to succeed through tougher times, tougher fights.
Q: Have you ever had to use your training to defend yourself outside the ring?
A: Rarely. I am a bit of a hot head, but I don’t need a criminal record because I punched someone out in the streets. I try my best to avoid confrontations.
Q: What were some of the main differences between muay thai here and muay thai in Thailand?
A: In my personal opinion, you know very little about muay thai until you’ve been to Thailand. I’ve spent six months of my life out there living In a gym. I’ve had nine fights in Thailand. I still don’t know very much about muay thai myself. There might be a handful of Canadians that can call themselves a full time muay thai fighter. In Thailand, it’s a common occupation. I think that’s the main difference. Canadians only practice for fun. We have full time jobs, bills to pay, and personal lives. The Thais live in the gym they train at, and send their money home.
Q: What quality would you say sets you apart from other fighters?
A: I think my heart sets me apart from the rest. I have many come-from-behind wins where I took a fair beating early on, and kept the pressure on, pressed on, and came back to win. In every fight that I’ve ever had, I’ll fight on right to the end. I’ll never quit. I’m not scared to lose. Honestly, I’d prefer to get knocked out than lose on points. If I lose on a decision, I feel like I could have done more to win. If I get knocked out, it’s like I have closure. I did everything I could, and I lost fairly.
Q: Who is your personal hero?
A: I don’t have a personal hero. I have some favorite fighters though: Saenchai sor Kingstar, Manny Paquiao, Ramon Dekker.
Q: What would you say are the “secrets” of your success? Has it been a certain mentor? A training regime? Spill! 🙂
A: I think the “secret” to my success is something that some people are born with, and some people aren’t. You can’t teach a person what to do when they smell blood, that’s instinct. When a fighter gets knocked down, it’s up to them to get up, no one else. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to figure out how to recover quickly when I’ve been knocked down, or how to finish a fight when I’ve got him on the brink.
If you have another question for Dave, please leave it in the comments section and I will ask him to answer it for you.
Many thanks to Dave Zuniga for the wonderful interview and photos.