Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- What: Lion Fight 7 Muay Thai
- When: Saturday, October 13, 5 p.m.
- Where: The Joint at Hard Rock
- Tickets: $25 to $95, Ticketmaster
- Live stream of fights available at lionfightpromotions.com
Hundreds of teenagers have popped into Nick “One Kick” Blomgren’s local muay thai and mixed martial arts gym looking to learn how to fight over the past 20 years.
Not many of them have the audacity to kick Blomgren, who won multiple world titles as a muay thai fighter, in the face on the first day and even fewer possess the natural power to make it hurt.
That was how a 13-year old Anthony Castrejon introduced himself to Blomgren. It was like an eighth-grade student meeting a college math professor and diving into complex trigonometry — the perfect first impression.
Blomgren continues to tell people at One Kick’s Gym about the encounter. Blomgren also left Castrejon with something he will never forget on that day — words that Castrejon can still recite.
“Quit hanging out with all the people you’re hanging out with and I’ll make you a champion,” Blomgren told him.
More than eight years later, Castrejon is on the verge of proving Blomgren correct. The 21-year-old lifelong Las Vegan fights Andy Singh for the vacant 118-pound division WBC muay thai title Saturday at the Joint inside the Hard Rock as part of Lion Fight 7.
Climbing into the ring for the championship fight will serve as a seminal moment in Castrejon’s transformational journey. Before discovering combat sports, Castrejon had slipped into the notorious pitfalls associated with living in one of the city’s roughest areas in northeast Las Vegas.
At 12 years old, he stopped attending school and started hanging out with gangs. He said most of his peers were selling drugs and robbing houses.
“I got shot at hanging out with them on a few occasions, nothing too crazy,” Castrejon said matter-of-factly before adding he never went to jail.
Ask Castrejon what counts as more “crazy” than ducking for cover with bullets buzzing by and he’ll explain.
“I guess being a kid and someone trying to kill you is a big deal,” Castrejon said. “But when you’re that young, you don’t realize it. You think you’re good and you only see what’s around you. You think nothing is going to go wrong — you’re not going to die, nothing is going to happen. You get older and look back on it now and its like, ‘wow, I could not be here today.’”
Blomgren took Castrejon off his destructive path by implementing rigid structure in his life. Castrejon had to promise to train twice a day. He would be so tired by the end of his nightly session, which usually concluded around 11 or midnight, that he had no energy to get into any trouble.
Others at the gym — from well-known professional fighters to those training recreationally to stay into shape — began looking out for him. Castrejon tried to take away wisdom and technique from everyone, especially trainers like Thai coach Lookchang Sitchang.
Sitchang joined One Kick’s a couple years after Castrejon arrived. The two have worked together extensively ever since.
“He’s now a really good boy,” Sitchang said. “I had seen him before and he didn’t have the respect all the time. Now he bows. Everything goes well for him.”
The rest of his life improved with the direction, too. Castrejon held employment while he fought in muay thai as an amateur.
He just recently quit a job as a server and food runner at Firefly when he received the title fight. Now he’s extended his hours in the gym, training alongside a more stable group of companions than those he once ran with.
That includes 21-year old Genesis Bravo, who fights Miranda Cayabyab in a 110-pound amateur bout on the undercard of Lion Fight 7. Castrejon met Bravo through fighting three-and-a-half years ago.
They’ve become inseparable since, both as significant others and training partners.
“He’s a great guy and works so hard,” Bravo said. “But sometimes, he needs someone to push him. He needs some motivation, someone to make sure he’s doing the right things.”
Castrejon admits as much. It’s a good thing One Kick’s Gym has a handful of people who can influence him, even beyond Blomgren, Bravo and Sitchang.
“We’re like a big orphanage,” Castrejon said. “Nick kind of takes us all in and adopts us. We all grow up together as a family. Nick is a second father to me. He’s always kept me on track.”
The lone downside to Castrejon’s fight this weekend will be the absence of Blomgren. The trainer left town Sunday morning to fly to Rio de Janeiro, where he’ll corner Stephan Bonnar in his UFC 153 main event bout against Anderson Silva.
Blomgren is mostly incommunicado until he gets back, but he’ll turn on his phone Saturday night. He had five words for Castrejon before he left.
“Text me when you win,” Blomgren told him.
That’s one of the first things Castrejon will do when he gets back to his locker room. He wouldn’t have made this far without Blomgren.
Castrejon shudders at the thought of where his life might be without One Kick’s Gym and Blomgren.
“He promised me something and I promised him something,” he said. “I didn’t want to say something and then take back my word. He let me train for free, let me be there for free. He didn’t ever charge me gym dues and gave me clothes for free. Everything I’ve needed, he has given to me. I couldn’t take all that and throw it in his face. Not everyone gets this opportunity.”