Looking for his third win of the year since returning from an extended layoff, Melbourne lightweight Liam McNeill (17-5-0) is quietly confident in the leadup to his bout with the high-flying River Daz (15-0-1) tonight on Rebellion Muaythai 17.
With a unanimous decision over New Zealander Dominic Reed in June at Warriors Way 19 and a tough split points win over the experienced Thai Kiw Jarupa on Rebellion 16 in August, he has put himself in a strong position to end 2017 with another win and gold around his waist as he looks to claim the World Muaythai Council (WMC) Victorian professional title.
Fighting since the age of 15 and now with 22 fights under his belt, the journey to professional fighter and trainer hasn’t been an easy one and like most roads taken in life, its had its ups and downs along the way.
With a razor-sharp commitment to training during his teenage years, he was well placed to make a name for himself in the competitive Melbourne muay thai scene. Training almost every day and fighting as much as he could, McNeill was well on his way to big things.
Following completion of his high school studies he took a gap year and made the journey over to Thailand to live and train at Kiatphontip gym in Bangkok. While most of his friends were back home enjoying their new-found freedom like most do after high school ends, he had taken a different path fighting seven times in just nine months and soaking up as much of the experience as he could.
“When it comes to training and fighting nothing can compare to Thailand. It’s obviously the mecca for muay thai. All you do is eat, train and sleep. You can fight at the drop of a hat and when you’re training twice a day, every day, the improvements in skill and fitness are significant” he told Fight News Australia.
With such a heavy training schedule throughout high school and beyond, the bump in the road was bound to come and following his time in Bangkok, McNeill returned to Australia with a problem that many young fighters must face sooner or later – motivation.
“I was burned out. Non-stop fighting and training for years had taken it’s toll on me mentally and physically. I had just turned 18 and all of my friends were out partying and going crazy, so there was that to distract me. I just found it hard to be motivated to fight anymore”.
Like many fighters at that point in their lives, the gloves are hung up – some permanently and some temporarily. For McNeill, it would be temporary as fate and injuries would eventually take him back into the muay thai ring.
“Not long after I hung up the gloves I discovered Absolute MMA and wanted to start BJJ again which I loved as a kid. Through that I discovered MMA and oh boy did I love it”.
“It just feels so natural and nothing is more fun for me, but the injuries that came with it are crazy. I ended up cracking my sternum which put me put me out for pretty much a year. Next thing you know I haven’t fought in two and half years. Finally returning from that injury, I decided to put MMA on hold and come back to muay thai to achieve what I can before making the transition back to MMA”.
The opportunity to focus on one ring craft now, before potentially making a change to another is something that is made possible by training at a gym such as Absolute MMA who offer high-level training in almost all combat sports.
“We actually couldn’t have it any better at Absolute. It’s just a buffet of world-class coaches in all disciplines with world-class facilities. It’s bloody amazing, I wake up every morning really thankful for the position I’m in. I feel invincible with the knowledge and different styles of my coaches Tao and Laos Toohey behind me”.
“The management at Absolute are always looking to build and improve, always bringing in amazing new coaches and awesome fighters. We get taken care of so well, they really put their fighters and coaches first”.
The versatility and depth of coaching offered at Absolute provide him with a unique opportunity to further his fight career and move onto bigger stages.
“I would love to fight under K1 rules on Kunlun and eventually Glory Kickboxing. To be honest I’m already drifting towards that style and away from my traditional, technical thai style. I just have more fun being aggressive, throwing hands and combos and trying to hurt my opponent. We can blame MMA for that”.
But like any smart fighter with goals, McNeill chooses not to look too far beyond the challenge in front of him and Daz represents just that. Still undefeated after 16 fights, the incredibly talented Daz comes to Rebellion 17 with a win in early October against the tough New Zealand fighter Joey Baylon. Coy on his gameplan going into the fight, McNeill hinted that it could be his reach and strong clinch game that will set him on the course for a momentous win.
“I think the key to beating River is to put pressure on him and break down his movement. But you’re just going to have to wait and see”.
Whatever the result, it’s clear that Liam McNeill is on a unique journey, one that has seen him grow not only as a fighter but a person.
“I’m smarter, older and more mature now. I understand myself better and have learned from my mistakes. I now know this is what I love and what I want to do”.