By Ryan McKinnon
Dan Sopa of TKO Fighting Arts in Kitchener, Ontario represented Canada in the 60kg male elite division at this past December’s Pan American Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Prior to his trip, Daniel competed in his home town of Kitchener at the Tri-City Fighting Series on December 8th 2018, winning an open class bout versus Patrick Armstrong in under a minute of the first round. He went 1-1 at the 2018 Pan American Championship. Below is an interview with the Kitchener native recapping his experience of the event.
Muaythai Canada: What series of events qualified you for the 2019 National Team that competed at the Pan Ams, and will be competing at IFMA events this year?
Dan Sopa: I’ve been keeping busy with competing since I started competing in 2016. In 2017 I had 10 bouts and in 2018 I had 11. I’m constantly training, and competing has kept me honest. I feel like I’ve been improving rapidly because of how active I’ve stayed.
I qualified for the National Team after competing in the 2018 National Championship where I beat Charles Chen. I won the decision and dropped him in the third round with a flying knee.
MTC: What did you know about your Canadian teammates before the Pan Ams? Obviously you and Sara Buczek are teammates at TKO. Did you compete with other teammates at other events prior to the Pan Ams?
DS: Since it’s my first year on the National Team I didn’t know anyone from the team other than Sara. I remember watching Josimar Tulloch in a 60kg tournament which he won. At the time I was only a B-class athlete so I watched the tournament thinking to myself, “This is the next level! I need to step up my game to compete against more skilled opposition.”
I also saw Nathan compete against one of my teammates, Zain Ansari at the 2018 Provincials. Everyone was a pleasure to meet and it was interesting to see so many different personalities with the same common goal.
MTC: What was your relationship like with the coaching staff? Did you work with Darwin Miranda or Vic Costa prior to the Pan Ams? What kind of advice did they give you in your bout? Did you keep in touch with your coaches in Kitchener?
DS: I didn’t have a chance to work with either Vic or Darwin before the Pan Ams but both coaches were great people to have in my corner. Vic emailed my coach Chris Greig before the Pan Ams to ask about my Muaythai style, and he was sent a breakdown which helped Vic and Darwin understand how to best work with me. I stayed in contact with Chris and my team back home. I would message them with updates.
MTC: Describe the tournament. How was it run? What was your impression of Argentina? Were there any athletes or bouts that stand out to you?
DS: The tournament ran smoothly. The bouts moved along and there were no real issues from my perspective. The only thing I disliked was that athletes couldn’t tape their gear for the bout.
Argentina was beautiful! It was great to leave the cold weather for a while.
MTC: Describe your bouts against Argentina and Juan Vasquez of Columbia. A lot of people weren’t happy with the decision against Vasquez. People felt you deserved to score a standing 8 count during the match. How do you see things going in your eyes? Is there anything you would have done differently?
DS: I competed against Argentina on Day 2. This bout was at an exhausting pace because you always have to leave an impression on the judges when competing against the hometown guy.
My bout against Columbia was tough. He was a southpaw who circled right, threw a nice lead hook + cross, and had some nice lead leg kicks. I pressed forward but my opponent stuck to his game plan by staying elusive and scoring points.
In the third round I got my opponent in the plum clinch and landed several knees to the head and body. His head gear popped off and the clinch was broken up. People argued the bout should have been stopped or an 8-count be given due to my opponent’s nose breaking from the knees. In my opinion I can’t hope that the referee will stop the bout. Though I dealt significant damage, I lost the first two rounds and I can’t overlook that.
My performance was good but there is always room for improvement. I’m happy I had this experience because I learned a lot. Next time I need to be more aware of all the things that affect my performance. For example, moving from cold to hot weather, competing with no gear to competing with gear, competing in an international tournament like this for the first time, etc.
MTC: Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you prepare physically and financially for the Pan Ams?
DS: I’m thankful to everyone at TKO Fighting Arts for teaching me all I know. Especially my coaches who always keep pushing me in the right direction. My parents have always supported me and helped me financially to travel to Argentina.
MTC: What does it mean to you to represent Canada at the highest level of international competition? The IFMA World Championships are in July. What are your feelings about competing there?
DS: It means a lot for me to represent Canada internationally, it’s something to be proud of and something to show to the people who support me. Every time I step up I get better and I’m grateful to have this experience at IFMA which I can learn from and showcase my skills.
Dan has excellent ring IQ and ring craftsmanship. He knows his body and his abilities well. Having him as a member of team Canada makes him a threat to international opponents because of his size and strengths. Should Dan continue to stay active before the World Championship, fans can expect to see a much more technical and experienced athlete in Bangkok this summer.
Ryan McKinnon is the host of The Bloody Ballet Podcast and website, found at www.thebloodyballet.com.