Muay Thai vs. Kickboxing: The Legendary Fight That Changed History

This breakdown features legendary fighters going to an epic war in one of the first Muay Thai vs. Kickboxing bouts

Titled by my friends at Muay Thai Pros, “The Fight That Changed History” took place during a time period where Muay Thai was still relatively unknown to the west, getting its epic name due to its colossal impact on North American Kickboxing and Muay Thai.

At the time of this bout, American Kickboxing was at the height of its popularity, and it was essentially a mix of traditional karate and western boxing. Benny Urquidez, Peter Cunningham, Jean Yves-Theriault, Don Wilson, and Rick Roufus were all some very notable names under these rules, which included modified rules with no low-kicks, clinching, elbows, and knees.

Coming from a family rich of martial art roots, Rick Roufus had conquered the American Kickboxing world with an undefeated record.

Other American Kickboxing champions had ventured into stylistic fights with modified rules, with Benny Urquidez being the most notable – Japanese Kickboxing rules resembled Muay Thai much more and “The Jet” conquered it.

Despite Benny Urquidez’s legendary bouts in Thailand and Japanese Kickboxing, those weren’t bouts televised to a large American audience. Urquidez spoke of it in magazines and interviews, but the effectiveness of low-kicks wasn’t so well understood by most American fighters.

This point is best illustrated by how Benny “The Jet” Urquidez was a hero to Rick Roufus — it was during one of Urquidez’s bouts that Rick’s father gave him an identical fight name. Despite this, Rick came in unprepared for low-kicks and for good reason: the rules were announced last minute and to defend low-kicks is an art in itself.

Fun Fact: a month earlier prior to “The Fight That Changed History,” Peter Cunningham even fought the great Sagat Petchyindee, whom the Street Fighter Sagat was based on. I urge everyone to check out that fight, another great fight by two legends.

History Nuggets

Black Belt Magazine: There was one fight of yours in which low-kicks were the deciding factor. It was about 10 years ago against Changpuek Kiatsongrit from Thailand. Could you describe that fight and the events surrounding it?

Roufus: I didn’t even know there was supposed to be leg kicks. [Karen Turner] said it was going to help build the sport, to bring it to Las Vegas. Bill Wallace was our team captain. We went to the rules meeting, and they said that low kicks and knees would be allowed. I said, “Whoa! Wait a minute. I’ve never thrown a leg kick in my life.” At the time I was fighting above-the-belt rules. I said, “Bill there’s no way I’m fighting this fight.” But old Rick got talked into it. I laugh about it now with Saekson Janjira [Roufus’ current trainer] because he was in Kiatsongrits corner that night. In the rules meeting, a brawl broke out. Everyone was going to fight each other because of the rules. Karen didn’t go over any of this with us.

At the time, in 1988, Thai boxing wasn’t really known to most American fighters. So in the first round, I dropped him twice and broke his jaw. And Saekson, being the wise guy he is, throws ice all over the ring between rounds and buys another minute. During the whole thing, there were five major fouls called against the Thai fighter that would have caused anyone to disqualify the guy and stop the fight. And on top of it all Chuck Norris was there with Bob Wall and a few other dignitaries, and a big brawl broke out at ringside. It was a fiasco. But a lot was learned. There I was after the fight lying in the hospital bed going, “Oh God, why’d I do this?” My legs were purple. I was on crutches. That’s OK: I got some personal satisfaction because Kiatsongrit was lying next to me in the hospital with his jaw broken. – Black Belt Magazine

This fight was particularly notable because of all the legends surrounding this event. Saekson Janjira is a great Thai champion that would go on to have significant influence in American Muay Thai. Jeff “Duke” Roufus, would go on to become one of the most prominent striking and Muay Thai coaches in the west, coaching the phenom and UFC Champion, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. Duke even retired with a masterful displays of low-kicks, and in that sense, this story is truly poetic.

Rick Roufus is widely regarded as greatest American Heavyweight Kickboxer of all time, and Changpuek went on to defeat the great Rob Kaman three times. So many of the people surrounding this event went on to have great influence in Muay Thai, Kickboxing and even MMA. With this fight becoming “the low-kick fight,” ignorance blossomed into wide acceptance and gave birth to incredible lineages.

Anthony Pettis: UFC Champion and Protege of Duke Roufus 

Fun Fact: the Roufus brothers coached against each other in the Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis wars. Yes, they coached against each other when the “Showtime Kick” happened.

It’s so rare that we see a fight be so dramatic. With so much influence, action, strategy, technique and heart at play, it is truly one of the greatest bouts of all time.