On January 28th, two rising professional Muay Thai fighters will fight for the USKA World Super Welterweight Title. PJ Sweda, fighting out of Rami Elite in Philadelphia, PA, will take on the technical Ben Pride, fighting out of Westside Muay Thai in Ottawa, Canada. Today, Combatreel.com sits down with the always goofy PJ Sweda to listen and learn about his training strategies, fight mentality, and the ups and downs of being a professional Muay Thai fighter.
January 28th, USKA Pro and Ammy Card, 400 Pine Street, Hamburg, PA. Doors at 7.
PJ, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. It’s your second camp now at Rami Elite, how do you feel just a couple weeks out?
No, thank you, sir. I feel like I want to get this damn fight over with—that’s exactly how I feel. But yes, this is my second camp at my new home, Rami Elite, and it’s going great.
Ben Pride is a tough opponent. Do you game plan? What kind of fight are you expecting?
Game plan? What’s that thing you speak of? Nah, of course we do. He’s a southpaw so we definitely have to work on that aspect. I feel that as fighters we ALL go in with a game plan, but it’s who can execute, follow, and adjust it during the bout that really matters. I’m expecting a battle. He moves forward and I move forward. I’m either coming back with my shield or on my shield. It’s simple. That sounds like an exciting fight to me.
Interviewers always ask the same questions so I want to delve into some deeper, possibly more unique, questions. Can you describe that feeling of sitting in the locker room waiting for your name to be called? What’s it like? Do you hype yourself up? Calm yourself down? Some fighters become almost deadpan showing no emotion. What works for you?
Warning, I’m about to get all soft and sound like ‘b*tch’. It’s the worst! The best way I can describe the feeling is an ‘emotional roller coaster’. I always think, “Why am I doing this?” I could go be a normal person. I could go out with my friends, eat whatever I want, and sleep 8 hours a night. I go from doubting myself to feeling indestructible within seconds of each other. It’s freakin’ crazy, I’ll tell you that.
In the locker room, I keep to myself. I don’t hype myself up. That’s what Rami is for and anyone who has had the honor of him being in their corner knows exactly what I’m talking about.
You didn’t have an amateur Muay Thai career. Can you explain why? Do you think this has helped or hurt you?
Correct. I fought professionally in MMA, and once you go pro in one, you have to fight pro in another. To this day, I can’t really pin point if it has hurt or helped me. Every time this gets brought up, I have different thoughts on it. In reality, it doesn’t matter. I’ve had all 3 of my pro bouts on the biggest Muay Thai stage in the US, Lion Fight, and now I’m fighting for a USKA world title. That kind of trumps whatever ‘thoughts’ I may have.
In a very short career, you’ve had some big, big wins and a tough loss. You jumped right onto the big stage. How does that feel being someone who hails from a small town with a fledgling if not non-existent pure Muay Thai scene?
It’s surreal. Some days it still hits me when someone from back home reaches out to me about it. Sometimes I’m back home with my son and someone I don’t personally know approaches me about ‘fighting’; there’s no hiding it. It feels good.
As for Muay Thai, you can map out a 100 mile circle in all directions of my home town and you will not find a single pure Muay Thai gym. Non-existent is a great way to put it. Thank goodness I found Joel Nott and his martial arts school near my hometown or I’d be a normie. [Joel Nott is PJ’s original trainer, and owner of Bloomsburg MMA. Joel, to this date, works the corner for PJ.]
Fighters are beginning to open up more about injuries, life in fight camp, and the realities of fighting at a very high level for modest pay. What makes a good training partner? How does a good team elevate your fight camp?
A good training partner is someone who will help you prepare and tell you what you’re doing right. A great training partner will help you prepare and tell you what the heck you’re doing wrong and how you better fix it.
I never realized how much a team can impact you until Rami Ibrahim welcomed me to Rami Elite. When you’re surrounded with people who have the same goals, it’s easy to improve. Having a great team behind me feels good—really good.
I heard a really good talk about ‘fun’. Someone said, the most meaningless and fleeting experiences are activities that are fun in the moment—roller coasters, Chinese buffets, video games, etc. This type of fun has no real, lasting impact on life. Real fun, meaningful experiences, are things that aren’t necessarily fun in the moment—i.e. training camps, long hikes through mountains, getting lost on a trip, etc.—but are experiences that are looked back on with deep appreciation and admiration. Sometimes, I feel like I am in a love/hate relationship with fighting and fight camps. Care to comment on this?
I agree 100%. Trust me, if I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn’t be doing Muay Thai. I know it’s getting close to a bout when I don’t want to be in the gym 24/7. Training is hard. Being around people is hard. I don’t want to talk to people. I HATE training 2 weeks out from a bout. It’s the worst. However, the minute the bout is over, I can’t wait to do it all over again. That natural high afterwards is addicting. That’s what I love and it’s my addiction. Well there are donuts too, but we can discuss that another day.
Perfect timing… I was just about to say, food is definitely another love of yours. You literally have a donut tattooed on your thigh. Top three donuts of all time?
You’re putting me on the spot, but my top 3 that come to mind right now are: Apple Crumb, Lemon Meringue, and Cannoli donuts.
Come see PJ Sweda in action January 28th as he fights for the USKA Super Welterweight World Title. Very rarely are there mismatches in Muay Thai—that’s one of the beautiful things about the sport—and this fight is sure to be a grinding, non-stop war.
By George Pitsakis