By Sandra Bastian, IFMA Female Commission Canadian Rep. Intro by Michael Reid. Edited by Laura Grande.
As the the Youth World Championships in Bangkok dies down and the Canadian team takes stock of the full experience as they pack up and fly home, another athlete picks up her bags to fly even further from home. Trinidadian born Candice “Candi Crush” Mitchell, currently based in Thailand out of Phuket Top Team, re-enters the world of amateur competition by being the lone athlete from Canada to make the trek to Korea for the inaugural Cheongju World Martial Arts Masterships.
Tell us how you started in Muay Thai and when did you first start?
CM: I was in a lot of pain emotionally and spiritually when I first found Muay Thai—or, rather, it found me. I was at a very low point in my life when I noticed a gym near work. The sign read: Toronto Kickboxing & Muay Thai. I thought it would be a great distraction and help me release the pain I was feeling. Punching and kicking something seemed like a good idea.
I started my first Muay Thai class in October 2012—and I was addicted right away. I was so tired after my workouts that when I got home I forgot all my worries. Six months later, I had my first fight in a TBA tournament in the US. I lost the fight; however, it was one of the most defining moments in my life. Up until that moment, Muay Thai was only a hobby. It wasn’t until after that first fight that I realized I wanted to fight competitively. I felt like I belonged in the ring. I started taking my training more seriously and I was at the gym every day.
Would you please tell us your record and how long you have been competing for?
CM: I’ve been competing for more than two years. My amateur record is 9-2-0. I had my first pro fight a few months ago in Phuket, and most recently for the Queen’s Birthday in Bangkok where I won a WPMF title. My pro record is 4-0-0.
What do you think it will be like to fight in an amateur tournament after have competed professionally?
CM: I am still new to the professional league and bridging the gap. I don’t really think of myself as a professional as yet. More like a Pro-am. A fight is still a fight for me and I enjoy having the opportunities to compete.
To date, what has been some of your biggest obstacles?
CM: Coaching and training has been most challenging. It’s hard to stay motivated when you feel like you’re not improving. But not every training session is perfect. I had to grind through a lot of bad training days to come out on top.
What does representing Canada on an international stage mean to you?
CM: Representing Canada is the dream. Its been a goal of mines to compete and represent Canada in the IFMA World Championships for about 2 years now, and I’m still working towards that goal.
How do you feel about traveling alone for competition?
CM: I don’t enjoy it. Its very lonely even though you meet people and trips its not the same as having your team there with you.
Can you describe your training regimen before a fight and does it change much when you don’t have a fight coming up?
CM: When I don’t have a match coming up, I try my best to train once a day, four days a week. But sometimes work gets busy and I miss some sessions. If I have a fight coming up, I train twice a day, five days a week. I get in the gym at 6 a.m., then head to work, and train again at 6 p.m. I also incorporate running and one-on-one sessions with a coach.
How do you think you stand out from your competition? Is there anything you do that separates you from them?
CM: When I want something badly enough, I go after it 100 percent. I want to prove to myself that I’m the best at what I do. And I think the crowd can sense that, which means my competition likely can, too.
What has been the best piece of advice you have received so far and from whom?
CM: The best advice I’ve received so far is from my boxing coach Carlos Varela Jr. He said, ”80 percent of the fight is won in the gym.” You have to work your ass off leading up to a fight. If you don’t put in the work, don’t expect to get the results.
Is there anyone you would like to fight next? And why?
CM: I used to have a top five list of women in the community I wanted to fight. Among my team, it was known as my “hit-list.” It’s sort of silly now, when I look back. My goals have changed. I want to be the World Champion and I’ll fight whomever I need to in order to achieve this.
How do you financially support yourselves in amateur competitions?
CM: Prior to moving to Thailand to train full time, I worked in IT doing tech support in a bank. I was fortunate to have a supportive school (TKMT). They usually pay for their fighters to fly to a tournament, along with their accommodations and registration, so the only thing the fighters had to do was show up. I’ve only had to pay for a tournament once, and that was when I left the school’s fight team to fight on my own as an independent.
Have there been any challenges that you’ve faced that make you second guess why you are doing this?
CM: I face struggles and challenges on an almost daily basis. The past two years have been tough. But nothing has made me second-guess my decision—everything I’ve experienced thus far has made me even more motivated.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
CM: My Grandma. Growing up, I would come home from school and tell her about my encounters. She said to me, “if someone hits you, you hit them right back.” That was the awakening of the fighter in me. I learned to be strong and stand up for myself in any situation. My grandmother was scared at first when I started fighting competitively. She was worried I’d get hurt, but she supported me regardless—she could tell I was passionate about it.
How do you feel training in a sport that is dominated by men? Do you think there are many misconceptions about women who train Muay Thai?
CM: I feel like I have to train harder and work overtime to get noticed and to get ahead, but I accept the challenges. There are a lot of misconceptions that women are the “weaker sex”, but I’ve proven that I’m able to fight just as hard as the guys. I’ve shown up to practices where guys refuse to spar with me because I’m a woman. Or even worse, they go light or move super slow like they’re training with their grandmothers. And nothing pisses me off more than that. I’ve had to beat up some guys in training just to get them to take me more seriously. I’m not here to play; I’m here to work just like anyone else. I hope to see more women grow in the sport. Now is our time!