Muay Thai fighters make way onto world stage

Charles Aaron Bisset and Francis Pettit both started Muay Thai fighting and both trained together at Trail’s Pride Gym.

Muay Thai fighting is a thrilling spectacle but few would pursue it with the courage and determination that a pair of Kootenay natives have for the past 10 years in their quest to make it to the top of their sport.

Charles Aaron Bisset and Francis Pettit took two very contrasting paths to the top of the Muay Thai fighting scene, yet both started and trained together at Trail’s Pride Gym with Glen Kalesniko as their trainer.  Bisset went on to win the National Muay Thai Canadian title,  the North American Muay Thai championship, and most recently the World Kickboxing Association’s cruiser weight title.

Pettit moved to Thailand in 2006, where she trained and soon met “Boom” Thanit  Watthanaya, a Thai fighter who, with the help of Pettit, is now preparing for the WBC Muay Thai International Challenge title fight in North Bergen, N.J. on Sept. 7.

Part one of the two part series will feature Bisset’s travels from an isolated farm in the Ghost Valley of the Valhallas to the bright lights of L.A., while part two, in Friday’s Trail Times, will focus on Pettit’s and Watthanaya’s journey to make it to the top.

Charles Aaron Bissett grew up on a farm near Retalick in the Ghost Valley of the Valhallas. The son of two opera teachers, his life was a steady diet of Wagner and Verdi, training horses, and working the farm all without the convenience of electricity.

He started kickboxing when he was 12-years-old at Trail’s Pride Gym and went on to fight eight bouts, his first at age 15 against a 32-year-old opponent.

His life on a working farm prepared the 26 year old for his next wild ride.

Bisset, who was ranked fourth in Canada at the time, moved away and began working as a cowboy when he was 17. He toiled on some of the biggest ranches in North America including Douglas Lake Ranch in the Okanagan, and spent time as a hunting guide in the Northwest Territories.

““That (cowboying) is one thing i wanted to do,” said Bissett. “I was always involved with horses and always loved fighting, and I was always involved with the arts and always wanted to act. There’s always those three things . . . But behind all that I always wanted to get into some more training and always wanted to get into acting.”

So after a stint cowboying in the U.S., he picked up and moved to Los Angeles to pursue with conviction his next two goals, acting and fighting.

Bisset found a gym almost immediately, and through a series of good fortune met and trained with some of the biggest names in the UFC, including K1 and UFC Dutch fighter Anthony Hardonk who taught him the vos or Dutch style of kickboxing. He spent a few months training in Holland to further sharpen his technique, and eventually, Bisset hooked up with his favourite fighter growing up – Rob Kaman.

“He’s a living legend, so he doesn’t really train with a lot of people, but then he saw me train in the gym one day and then we started working together every day. He became my trainer, my mentor, and we’ve been together for almost two years now.”

Since then Bisset has fought 20 fights, going 16-4 with nine KOs. He’s won the Canadian and North American titles, and claimed the World Kickboxing Association’s Cruiser Weight title from British and Europen champion David Wright in Medicine Hat in April. He also recently received news that he is to fight in Glory 10 in Los Angeles, Sept. 28, an event that could generate vital exposure for the fighter.

“This past couple weeks I’ve been introduced to Jerome Le Banner, and growing up he was another one of my heroes,” said Bisset. “He’s a big K1 fighter . . . he’s fighting in a promotion called Glory and going to be the main event, and I just got put on the undercard. So it’s pretty much the biggest, most elite kickboxing event in the world . . . you’re going to be seeing a lot of the best fighters in the world, so you’re going to be seen by a lot of big guys.”

Not only has his fighting career taken off, Bisset is also making strides in front of the camera with acting roles in commercials, independent films, and a recent co-starring role in a feature starring Beau Bridges and Kris Kristofferson.

It’s a delicate balance in a very competitive market, living in L.A. and pursuing fighting and acting with equal passion, but Bisset is not prepared to give up one or the other.

“It’s hectic,” Bisset says. “It’s not easy because I get up, I train people, I’m a personal trainer, I work for Fabresio Werdum, but then I’m in acting classes 10 hours a week. I have rehearsals several hours a day, I train two times a day five days a week. It never stops and sometimes you get overwhelmed but I am a student of the fight game, I am a student of acting . . . this is what people have to do to become champions in life or anything; you have to push, push, push.”

Balancing a busy acting, training, and fighting schedule is difficult, but determination and hard work continue to be keys to Bisset’s success and good fortune, and being a nice guy doesn’t hurt either. One thing he’ll never forget, he says, is his humble beginnings at Pride Gym and the love of the sport ingrained in him early.

“I want to give Glen (Kalesniko) a lot of credit too. He has one of the best gyms in Canada and Trail and the Kootenays are lucky to have him. He really dedicates a lot of his time and energy to develop just not fighters but strong and confident individuals.”

After Glory, Bisset, who also picked up a sponsorship from Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar Rum, will next fight against 49-bout-veteran Danny “Boy” Bennett in November.