Koi Carney, an avid Muay Thai fighter, recently became the Muay Thai Freedom Super Welterweight World Champion. Competing in a five-round Muay Thai title fight against the seasoned Russian fighter, Grigorii Zakliuchaev, Carney was able to bring the international belt to America in a bout that took place Sept. 15, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
"I held the title of the United States Freedom Super Welterweight National Champion. I have had to defend this title from others," Carney said. "Freedom Fighter Promotions (Freedom) selected the opponent, a Muay Thai champion from Russia, and we fought to see who would become Freedom's world welterweight champion."
Muay Thai – also known as Thai kickboxing – is a combat sport developed from a martial art established in Thailand. The sport uses a variation of punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, as well as limited clinching techniques.
"They call Muay Thai the art of eight limbs," Carney said. "It differs from other (contact sports) in that you also can use your elbows and knees as viable strikes, not just your punches and kicks. This is a combat sport. Muay Thai is scored based on effectiveness, not points. It's rough, it's hard and it is exciting."
Carney, 21, began his career in Muay Thai less than four years ago. A seasoned athlete on his high school football team, Carney needed to find a new outlet for his competitive nature upon graduation. He found this outlet through martial arts.
"I was looking for something to do before I went off to college," Carney said. "I was a nearly 270 pound football lineman. I was looking to trim down. I enjoyed the sport and my gym so much I just kept at it."
Since beginning Muay Thai training, Carney has shed more than 125 pounds. He trains out of Forza Combat Sports Academy (Forza) in his hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The sport emphasizes physical conditioning and endurance training, enhanced stamina, along with power.
"My style of fighting is intense," Carney said. "It is very pace forward, cardio intensive. So, I do a lot of endurance training. I run about 40 to 50 miles a week. On average, I train about three hours a day."
While specializing in Muay Thai kickboxing, Carney, a Chickasaw citizen, also trains in both traditional kickboxing and western style boxing. With his experience, he teaches all three martial arts at Forza.
"I love fighting and competing above all else, but coaching is one of the more fulfilling things I have done. While it is great to win, it is awesome to watch my teammates and students compete as well," Carney said.
"I can't really say when I officially became a coach. I just kept being a 'helping hand,' and we realized I was leading classes and coaching those around me," he said.
Coaching allows Carney the ability to instill traits in others that his coaches want to see in him.
"As fighters, we take on the personality of the gym we work out at," Carney said. "I teach the Forza system that I fight in, and the identity of the gym. Our fighters are aggressive, forward-paced fighters. That comes through as we teach. Coaching in this way helps me as a fighter."
In addition to being a fighter, Carney is also a student at Northeastern State University where he plans to attain a bachelor's degree in accounting in the fall of 2024. Carney said he receives his Chickasaw heritage from his father Matt Carney of Coalgate, Oklahoma. His mother is Danette of South Bend, Indiana.
"I have always taken pride in my Chickasaw blood, and I have been blessed for the support from my aunts and uncle," Carney said. "My heritage is especially meaningful when regarding my athletic endeavors."
"There are only a handful of notable Chickasaw athletes, and I'm honored to have represented and continue to represent the Chickasaw Nation on Freedom's global platform and in other future prestigious organizations."
Considered an amateur
According to Carney, the classifications between amateur and professional Muay Thai fighters are different outside of the United States. Unlike promotions in the United States, classification is dependent on the number of bouts a fighter has participated in, not pay. While a coach and world champion, Carney is considered an amateur in the sport.
"The last couple of years I have averaged seven fights a year," Carney said.
Carney said the top 10 United States fighters in each Muay Thai weight class is a mixture of amateur and professional fighters.
"We guess that my opponent during the title match, Grigorii Zakliuchaev, had more than 150 career fights under his belt," he said. "While I have fought professionals, I have not accepted money from a promoter. So, I am still considered an amateur."
Carney has a record of 17 and 5 in the three combat sports in which he is involved.
According to a 2021 article published by USA Muay Thai Sports, Freedom Fighter Promotions began in 2020-2021 to bring together fighters to compete under sanctioned United States Muay Thai Federation rules and regulations. The promotion has since grown international.
"Freedom Fighter Promotions is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania," Carney said. "They specialize in putting on Muay Thai events all over the world, including the Lumpinee Stadium. Lumpinee is one of the oldest and most revered Muay Thai stadiums in Thailand."