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Temps de lecture : 10 minutes

Interview of PAULO TOCHA

by Serge TREFEU (2012)


Serge TREFEU: Hello Paulo and thank you very much to have accepted this interview. In what place of the planet you grew?

PAULO TOCHA: I grew in Mozambique then in South Africa. Later, I lived in Hong-Kong, then in Bangkok and now in the United States. I’m half Portuguese and half Italian.

I grew in the country for South Africa. In Mozambique we had a multi racial society ,I always got along with everybody, I love people, people full of kindness, normal people, but as soon as I became an immigrant things started to change. I got involved in a heap of problem with all the anger and the madness refugees and new immigrants face everyday and I lost a part of my youth, expelled from schools. Later because I was in one of the most powerful gangs in Johannesburg, it was gang warfare. In those times in South Africa it was hard to be an immigrant, we clashed many times. Eventually we all made peace. I made a name for myself. But it lead to a great deal of problems and usually stories like mine end in prison or in the mortuary. Eventually I had to make choices and left my crazy life, best friends and country, I left my family, my people, I returned to South Africa only 14 years later, when President Mandela was freed and a new government was in position. It started to change to a new country and I was happy

How you discovered the boxing?

I started at about 9 years old my Dad would teach us, then in the community center when I was about 14 and later on I met a great champion Willie Toweel (Bronze Medal in the Games Olympic of Helsinki in 1952 ) who was a big Trainer of Boxing Champions in South Africa. Mr. Willie Toweel, intervened in gang problems and made us an offer by saying to us ” Instead of killing each other why don’t you guys, a few chosen ones, came and learn to boxing and spar with your enemies and real boxers, see what you really made of, we have amateur and pro’s, try and be somebody, try your future as professional boxers? “. I made his team, I was learning amongst the best names in boxing, my life began to change, I learnt a lot, everyday before training and after, we all prayed in a circle, we soon stopped killing each other, made Peace

And Muay Thai how you discovered him?

I was approximately 9 years old when I heard about Muay Thai. In the capital of Mozambique, where I lived, the fighters had made a demonstration, I liked at once this Art!

I could not believe how these skinny guys like me were so strong and dangerous at fighting. Muay Thai stayed in my head a long time, I left for Asia to discover this Art…

Who attracted you in this sport?

The power, the style, the simplicity, the power of the knocks. The kicks, the elbows, the punches, the power of knees were also real as in the street, it was real…

Your first fights you made them where?

I fought in Asia. In Hong Kong, Macao, China and Thailand, Bangkok. I was strong, well trained but without ring experience, green, low technique but ready to learn, in 1985 and I was one of the first “Farang” (foreign) to fight in China. Nobody had fought before there since 1949. I won my fight, became 147 lbs China open International champion, I fought a Thai that time Nikho , 7 countries competed. Then I fought in Thailand, in Macao and in Hong-Kong…



You were a professional fighter?

Yes for a while, but I did not fight for the money, I fought to learn because I was a young person and a madman in this time, I needed something hard and special, I liked Muay Thai for its tradition, the pain and the sacrifices in the training, I have never dreamed to become a great champion, I was not him, I learnt, and when I won I was very proud, I was never knocket out, never. When I beat one Thai fighter, I was full of enthusiasm. But I learnt not to become crazy about my ego, to think that ” I am a world champion “, because if you know Muay Thai, you know how it is hard to become a real champion, a Real Champion of the Lumpinee or the Radja, those for me are the real Muaythai Kings of the ring, everywhere else in the world is second class…



What technique you loved most in fight?

Low kicks and knees, and my professor gave me fighter’s nickname, it was ” Sharp LEMB ” (The top of the head of the Buddha), because of my abillity to think, of my left shin and my nose…


How many fights you have make?

I have make about 39 fights. My last fight was against Worawutnoy Kiatchaiyong (N° 8 of Radjadamoen Stadium) at Yoralat, he was North east Champion, I lost, he was a young 22-year-old champion, I was 40 years old and my last fight, it was a red bull sponsor show, big, for me just personal to say goodbye and thanks to Muaythai, I never have make easy fights. I never chose an opponent, never know who or what he does best, never really talk to them, in those days it was different



You fought in which weight?

In 145, 147, 150 lbs 

You are one of the first foreigners to come to train you in the famous camp Sor Thanikul in Bangkok, tell us how you discovered this camp?

It is Ajahn, Master Peng (Mr. Pairut Lavilas), the main trainer of the Sor Thanikul and my professor that contacted me, he offered me the chance to train there after one of my wins to come to train in his camp. He said to me generally foreigners were not to accept. In that time the Sor. Thanikul camp was one of the most powerful and most respected, considered a factory of Champions in the country, there were 21 champions of the Lumpinee and the Radja, and about fifty fighters of top levels, it is an honor for me to come to Sor Thanikul. Ajahn Peng is a great man, as a father figure for me, he took care of me, and always showed me the straight and narrow, and the secrets of Muay Thai, I love him!




There were many of great champions in this mythical camp, you trained with which champions?

Yes many, a lot, and most came from Isaan, the Northeast of Thailand, good people. There was Boonlai, there was also his brother Boonloeng, Sombat, Lom Isarn, Kitty, Dieselnoi, it was great champions. Kitty, a world champion was my first friend whom I had in Sor Thanikul because he spoke a bit of English, I was the favorite sparring partner of Sombat particularly for knees because of my size. There was also big trainer Khru Toy and Khru Mueg who taught me a lot…





Khru Kleo Sor Thanikul, great promoter and owner of the camp was respected in the world of the Thai boxing in Thailand, he regrettably knew the tragic end, you can us spoken about him and about your relation with this big sir?

Kleo Sor.Thanikul was murdered, he was the most powerful promoter ever in Thai history and an owner of one of the best camp in Thailand. A business man, entrepreneur, many books were written on his life, as well as TV documentaries. He allowed me to represent Sor Thanikul, both in Bangkok and abroad, to be an ambassador of the Muay Thai. He spoke to me. One of his dreams was to export Muaythai all over the world, his dream came true…




In the time what is what there were the other foreigners who trained for Sor Thanikul?

There are some foreigners who came to Sor Thanikul but they have never stayed for a long time. In that time it was not as today, it was pro only , real, techniques engineered by a special team. the foreigners were not welcome because they were not faithful to the camp and to master. They were soft. The training was very hard, at the beginning my feet were full of blisters, pus and wounds, difficult to describe, you have to live in the third world to know this way. Later many fighters came to Sor Thanikul, English, French, Dutch fighters but I was the first foreigner to be allowed to fight for Sor Thanikul, to fight with the colors of the camp on my pair of shorts with my nickname given by the master, a big honour in those days. Never met another foreigner like that for a long time



Several former French champions were to train for Sor Thanikul such as Guillaume Kerner, Dida Diafat, Khaled Hebieb, you know them?

I do not remember names very well, Dida I saw him fighting, maybe that he it is a little trained in our camp, there were many, they came for a few months, most came for a week or two, they do not belong to our family but they are friends

Do you know French fighters?

Yes I know many French fighters, I like them, I know Farid Villaume, I know Kader Marouf who was in our camp in Sor Thanikul, I prepared him later for the world championship in Los Angeles, I also know the fighter of the Contender, the good boy, who fought against Yodsanklai in Pattaya he had lost by KO, later trained in the camp Chuwattana (Rafik Bakkouri), nice guy, strong

And fighters of today?

I know Damien Alamos, those brothers fight good, he represents one gym, but if you look at the big fights of the 90s you do not see many French or many europeans making Wai Khru, because they do not represent a thai camp, they don’t know how and feel emberassed, not confortable, it is simple, look at old fights. Now only some French are really in Muay Thai and him do well, Farid Villaume is the good example of a great French champion but there is the others also. If you are a real Muaythai fighter you do the Wai Khru, no matter what, the Thais do it no matter what, never mind the promoter, its about your life, your Teacher, Your God, your faith, do it. Represent our way…

In the movie of Jean-Claude Van Damme, “Kickboxer”, there is a scene who is shot in the camp Sor Thanikul in Bangkok, is what that is you which advised to Jean-Claude this camp in particular?

Yes it’s me who is told to the producer of “Kick Boxer” and to Jean-Claude Van Damme to go to the camp Sor Thanikul., maybe others also, before Mark DiSalle produced the movie ” Bloodsport “, Jean-Claude Van Damme was with me in Bloodsport, in the movie I play “Paco”, a fighter of Thai Boxing, and I wear a shorts in the name of Sor Thanikul, if you can read the thai, you will see, it was a message for all those whom we represented and other camps. And it was Ajahn Peng him even, my professor, who plays the role of the trainer in the scene of the thai camp in Kick Boxer!





Your Paco’s role in the movie ” Bloodsport ” makes henceforth left the cult characters of the movie, how you were contacted to play the role of a nakmuay in this mythical movie about the martial arts?

I had debuts in Jackie Chan’s movie ” The Protector ” as stuntman in Hong-Kong and other small Ninja movies that were popular in those days, I liked doing crazy stunts and I was there at the right place at the right time. I was actually starring with Jet Le in a big film in China when they called me to audition for the character of Paco in Bloodsport. It was specially created for Bloodsport by me, I was an immigrant of the Third World in whom many persons could identify with, many loved my acting and character, it pleased a lot of people. And Paco exported and made Muay Thai or Thai boxing acceptable to the western young people, it was the first time which we saw Muay Thai in a movie so important, it represented the sport


The Tournament Kumité in the movie Bloodsport it is a little the ancestor of the Free Fight and the tournaments UFC?

Bloodsport it is the beginning of the MMA, all the styles of time were present, it was a big moment of shooting, there were lots of fighters who had been chosen to represent their art. During the moments of repetitions for the sequences of fight, each did not want to lose and to show that his art was better, the Kung fu stronger than the Karate, the Tae kwon do stronger than the Kung fu, it was fun. I represented Muay Thai, and all the world in Asia knows Muay Thai and it is very respected because they know that when you rise on a boxing ring to fight in Muay Thai, it is better to be ready to fight, and I did not try to invent another style, I remained real, they saw my performance, it was to represent Sor Thanikul, my camp colors of which I wore on my shorts


After your fighters’ career you became trainers, what are the champions that you formed?

Yes, I teach in Los Angeles and around the world, I do seminars all over, I teach techniques realities of Muay Thai, knees, elbows, strong punching, I teach how to defend and prepare exactly in front of solid attacks, I train the fighters to win. I trained many, Chris Reilly who gained a victory during the King’s Birthday in 2004, Chris was the first American to win in this big event, then we obtained the title ISKA of California. I prepared the French champion Kader Marouf for its world championship in 1997, in 1998. I trained Coban Lookchaomaesaitong for its world title in the United States which we won again, that was a great honor, as well as Malaipet Sasiprapa, I also trained Ekyothin Pongsan for his world championship in 2000, Title that he then kept twice. Coban was the biggest and the best, a big warrior, a legend, it was an honor to prepare him as well as Ekyothin and Malaipet. I train as well Joe Davidson for his Championship fights, trained champion Denise Mellor, also the heavyweight Maurice Travis, and many amateur and pro fighters, sorry but I forget, many all levels and nationalities.

I am now training 14 x World Champion Julie Kitchen. I trained in Muay Thai also great champions of MMA, I liked the formation of Rikson Gracie, the best fighter of Jujitsu to the world, I helped him in Muay thai, as well as Jean-Jacques Machado, a great champion of Jujitsu, they are real legends, and great friends, I also prepared Stefano Miltsakakis who gained the championship MMA-Vale Tudo in Jamaica!

American Muaythai has been around for a long time, with great names, now its growing again but with a big head, we need to be humble. We need to continue learning from the best and compete with the best in order to be the best one day




You involves in many actions humanitarian whether it is in the United States or in Asia, it is something important for you to give the well to the persons in difficulties?

Yes, I began to help Thai fighters, then started to help the Karen people in Burma,they asked me to help and I did, one more time I answered to my human duty to support the faceless, the refugees, the under previledged, those who I love and whom I admire, we made a documentary that’s taken five years on the fighters of the KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) and those of the council KNLA for the peace also, the 7èmes and 6èmes special strengths of the brigade, I brought medicines for them, as they underwent attacks and difficulties, and the malaria kills everything on its passage over there, the conditions are horrible inside Burma, it is terrible and very dangerous, there are many sorts of diseases, bugs, landmines, snippers, it is one of the worst jungles of the planet…

You can speak to us about your career in the cinema?

I have make approximately 50 movies as an actor, worked with 8 Oscar director winners and many great actors. When I began I had to acquire some experience, I have make a lot of “shit” and later some really good movies.
I love “Bloodsport”, because it began the revolution of the MMA, I introduced Muay Thai in the American cinema and in the western cinema, ” Blood in Blood Out “,” Stone Cold” was great, it was also a big movie, “In Hell” was fun, and “Death Warrant” also, I like Van Damme, he’s a good person, he gave me of many opportunities. I speak several languages and my last employment was in Hollywood where I was one of the main actors for directors Michael Mann, an Oscar winner and the best director ever which I respect a lot, I broke my leg, the knee, during the shooting of this movie commercial. I worked with eight prize-winners of Oscar, which includes Taylor Hackford, Kathryn Bigellow, James Cameron, I am very proud of it, as I like working with the best quality by playing big characters. These last years I worked as filmmaker to make a special television series which I produce on Muay Thai. In 1999 we won a price to the Festival of New York for a video PSA (Public Annoucement service) which is called “Prisoner”, we beat all the bigwig of companies with 16.000 entrances, yes anything is possible in America, we can believe in it, the subject is the fight against gangs in Los Angeles, it is a call to the awakening to stop the madness of ” home boys “…






You want to add anything?

Continue to put good articles Serge. Support Muaythai, Represent, tell the truth. Life is about choices, life is an incredible scenic railway, full of ups and downs. I made a commitment to fight against evil and live positive, its hard work but it works for me, its my life. I have seen a lot of good and bad, that is why I believe in good and in God, war is the evil, it destroys families, damages for ever, war is when the devil is having a party, sick people create wars for their profit, but fortunately the Karma catches up to most of them sooner or later. For me, the most powerful weapon in the world is LOVE.

Muay Thai saved my life, that is why I love it and respect it, the elders, the power, the Karma, so it will never stop.
We opened “TOCHA Fight Gear ” made by the fighters for the fighters and professional trainers, made in Bangkok, Thailand. Quality custom hand made leather for Muay Thai, Boxing and MMA.

I cannot see people kicking plastic pads and worse, different energy. I like the old style, the feel of leather, high performance, the sound, that is why I am often in Bangkok and to learn also, now specially referee and judging in Lumpinee stadium the Mecca of Muaythai, I learn a lot there, I’m taught by the Masters there the right way, our way, they give me Carte Blanche. I would be May 4th in Lumpinee for Champions’ belts, I will sit ringside with Masters of the MuayThai as they continue to teach me and explain the rules and lifestyles of Muay Thai, this art which has thousand years.

I want to make something special with the new fight gear, so we can promote and pay fighters in Muay Thai what they really deserve, I have over thirty years experience in this great Art. Thanks for the support, yes PACO is back (Laughter), God bless you, God bless you Serge!



Thank you very much for this interview


Paulo Tocha is a man fascinated by his Art, Muay Thai, from which he defends the values with love and respect, an enthusiast also of the culture Thai, until be tattooed “Sak Yant” (Tattoo Traditional) in his flesh. In the United States it became a figure in the world of Muay Thai, it was the first American to be elected World member of council of Muay Thai (WMC), as well as the first American referee and judge in the WMC. He is Vice-president of the Association of the United States of Muay Thai (USMTA) who is the biggest association of Muay Thai of the United States. And since 2001, Paulo Tocha was accredited as judge and official referee by the WMC in Bangkok, as well as by the World Boxing Council of Muay Thai (WBC). It is also authorized as referee for the MMA by the commission of State of the Nevada. In 2009 he received the diploma from ” Trainer of Champion of Muay Thai ” by the famous organization ” Masters Hall of Fame “!

Today, he teaches Muay Thai in Hollywood. But it is also the man of heart who makes a commitment in social missions to help the persons in difficulties. He worked with the “GAP” (Gang Alternatives Program), one of the biggest associations of preventions against gangs in Los Angeles. From part his own experience of gangs, Paulo Tocha knew how to inculcate to the hardest members of gangs, the respect, the discipline and the customs. And it thanks to the learning of Muay Thai to these young teenagers in difficulties. Paulo Tocha would deserve a movie about his weird life, his adolescence lived in gangs, discovery of the boxing which has him allowed to take out of the street, its refusal to serve in the army the South African not to go to fight against her brothers in Mozambique, its long life in Asia, its experience in Thailand within the biggest camp of Thai boxing of time, its matches in Thai boxing, its humanitarian aid in Burma to the side of the KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army), his way as actor in the action movies from Hong-Kong to Hollywood, and its passion for the culture of Muay Thai…