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USA Muaythai is headed to Greece for the 2024 IFMA tournament and their athletes are out for blood.

USA Muaythai is headed to Greece for the 2024 IFMA tournament and their athletes are out for blood.

Two teammates from Los Angeles versus the world.

By Dashiell Chaiyasen

“I felt like everything I worked hard for, everything that I envisioned, everything I thought was gonna pan out, went to dirt… I didn’t get what I came for. Yeah I dominated, but that was it for me.” - Donavan McKiver 

“Taking a loss is never anything you want, especially at IFMA where I feel like I put most of my energy towars…I was devastated. I needed to step away and be with myself and process it.” - Caia Knoles

These are both quotes from USA Muaythai athletes that competed in the prestigious International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) tournament held in Bangkok, Thailand last year. They both earned bronze medals, but leaving the motherland of Muay Thai without gold left a bitter taste in their mouths.

McKiver won his last fight of the tournament, but was forced to exit the competition due to a fractured orbital that he suffered in the second round.

Knoles lost her final bout in a split decision with a scorecard that teetered on the edge of victory and defeat.

The teammates fighting out of the Boxing Works gym in Torrance, California returned to the qualifiers this year with a renewed focus and refined will to win.

Photo by Victor Alvarez

Knoles’ fight camp was just like any other, but she focused on maintaining a composed demeanor and winning mindset.


“The main [challenge] for me is mental. Just getting into the mindset that I need to be successful,” she said.

The weight cut was smooth and she even showed up to weigh-ins an hour early.

Photo by Pari Aryafar

The road back to the qualifiers was anything but smooth for her counterpart.

McKiver suffered setback after setback. After taking three months to recover from the fractured orbital, he struggled with personal issues and soon after suffered a shoulder injury.

“It was a lot of adversity, obstacles, and time for reflection,” he said. “I was trying to figure out what the next steps were and one thing I can say is I felt discouraged. I felt hopeless, angry and confused.” 

Photo by Victor Alvarez 

He turned to God and poured all his faith into Him. He focused on the things he could control and change the narrative and his perspective.

“I started to steer my energy and direction towards that and got a fire out of it. It helped me transform all of these emotions to something bigger and greater for these qualifiers. It was a different hunger, a different why,” the 24-year-old said.

McKiver believes the adversity was necessary in crafting the fighter he has become today.

“You hear those quotes saying ‘pressure can bust pipes, or it can make diamonds’ and every time something happens in my life where I didn’t plan it out or envision it, I always think ‘Man, why did these things happen to me?’,” he said.

Along the journey he found the answer. In his offtime, the mental and physical therapy gave him the upper hand. It made him stronger. He used this opportunity to study his past fights and fortify his mental strength and confidence.

“Everything that I had to go through panned out to be for the better. Coming into the qualifiers I felt like there was a new sense of confidence. Skill wise I felt a lot stronger, a lot faster, and a lot wiser,” McKiver said.

Photo by USA Muay Thai 

This struggle made everything all the more sweeter.

“The two victories meant a lot more just because of everything that I went through this past year. I’m always blessed for my wins and accomplishments, but I felt like this one hit home and it hit harder,” he said.

For Michael Corley, the current president of USA Muaythai, the IFMA tournament in Greece represents something slightly different. 

“With muay thai finally being recognized by the International Olympic Committee, it's cool to go back to where the Olympics first started,” he said.

Corley was in the same position Knoles and McKiver were years ago, but has noticed a stark difference in the level of talent between athletes then and athletes now. 

“When people drew USA 10 years ago, they were like ‘Oh shit, this is an easy fight.’ Now you draw USA you’re like ‘oh damn, this is a tough fight’,” Corley said.

Corley is excited to see the return of athletes who have competed at IFMA before like Knoles and McKiver, but is especially keen on seeing McKiver return to action. He noted that McKiver looked a lot sharper and made a lot of improvements at the qualifiers.

 Photo by Dashiell Chaiyasen

Regardless, both athletes are eager to make their return to the ring and prove themselves worthy of gold.

“I go into the ring knowing that I’ve seen some of the strongest people in the world and that I can stand with them for sure,” said Knoles.

Photo by Manying Ng

“I’m trying to get my get back,” McKiver said. “For me, the job wasn’t completed. Glory to God I came up with two victories and I made a statement, but that wasn’t the mission. The mission was to capture gold and I didn’t get that done.” 



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