15 Minutes With Muay Thai World Champion Caley Reece

Martial arts might seem like a male-dominated sport, but there have always been female practitioners and competitors. One of them is Australian Muay Thai World Champion Caley Reece, who has made waves in the Muay Thai world for over a decade. With over 50 fights and impressive world titles under her belt, Caley has made a name for herself as a fighter.

Although she has recently retired from fighting, she continues to keep active and teach alongside her husband, Darren Reece, at Riddlers Gym. Today, Evolve Vacation speaks to Caley Reece, and finds out how she stays determined in the face of adversity, as well as her future plans and more.


How and why did you start martial arts?

Initially, I started martial arts because I was a little overweight. I was very athletic in school, until I turned about 17 and put on a little bit of weight due to partying, so I decided it was time to do something about it.

I went with my friend to a local Kickboxing school but I broke my wrist on my first lesson doing an incorrect uppercut, which is probably why I never box much! I waited for it to heal and went back as soon as I could. I also did ZenDoKai Karate, but my attention was drawn to fighting when I went to a big fight show in Perth. It actually happened to be Darren Reece’s retirement fight, but I had no clue about him or his career!

I was supposed to go for my black belt the weekend after I went to that fight night, but by Monday I was itching to find a fight gym and start a career in fighting. My friend told me to call Riddlers Gym as Darren was one of the best fight trainers in Perth. The rest is history!

What’s your favorite thing about martial arts?

My favorite thing is the constant physical and mental battle. Needing and wanting to be fit and needing and wanting to be mentally switched on. As a martial artist, there are so many hurdles – like injuries, setbacks – and I love the challenge of working my way around these sorts of adversities to keep myself on top of things.


What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your martial arts career?

I’ve been faced with so many challenges… I’ve always been a little bit injury prone during my career and I put it down to how hard I train. I never ever took the easy option. I would do more than expected, harder than I knew my opponent would be going, and sparred and grappled with boys that were always bigger and stronger than me. This sometimes left me injured, and sometimes I went into fights with injuries that I know most fighters wouldn’t even attempt fighting with.

I went into my first WMC World Title and my Lion Fight World Title with serious injuries, ones that I couldn’t spar or grapple with for a month before my fight, but that’s a challenge. To be there and get the win with self belief. That’s how a good fighter can build mental and physical toughness, by refusing to surrender. That in itself is challenging, and was my biggest challenge in my career.

What do you consider your biggest martial arts accomplishment and why?

This is a common question to me and I will always answer the same way. At each accomplishment, they seemed like the biggest one. My state title, my national title, my intercontinental, my first world… I was on cloud nine when I won them all. But to put it simply, my journey has been the biggest accomplishment. Singling one out would be downplaying the others, and I didn’t feel like that at the time of winning the others. Looking at what I have achieved, where and who against, molds it all into one big life accomplishment title.

Looking back on your martial arts journey, if there’s anything you could’ve done differently, what would it be?

It’s not that I would have done it differently, because where I was in life, I didn’t have the opportunity… But I would have loved to live in Thailand for an extended period – maybe a year to 18 months. Having a business and house mortgages is hard because I had other commitments which didn’t really allow me to do extended stays. In saying that though, Darren was super supportive and we made time for me to do multiple quick trips there during the year.


What do you believe are the main benefits of training martial arts?

The main benefits of training martial arts are discipline, self belief and commitment. They are the main three that have benefited me. If you are disciplined enough to commit and believe in yourself at the same time, anything is possible.

What advice would you give to someone beginning their martial arts journey?

See above.

Who are some martial artists you admire?

My husband, trainer and best mate. He trained and lived in Thailand for years when it was rare for westerners to do that. He also gave up his university degree to pursue what he truly loved, and in return has created one of the best Muay Thai gyms in Australia. Some people told him that he would never make a career from fighting or Muay Thai. I say those people are probably eating their words right now.

I admire most martial artists for their own reasons, even people I’ve fought and beaten before. If people show commitment and dedication to their art, I respect that.


You didn’t have the perfect start to your career, losing your first two fights. What was it like dealing with disappointment like that so early on and how were you able to stay motivated and determined to continue and succeed?

Actually I lost two Muay Thai fights, a boxing fight that I took on the day of the fight, and then dislocated my shoulder in another boxing fight following that a few weeks later, so really, I had 4. It isn’t the ideal, fairy tale start to anyone’s career, but I’m sure I was born with an attitude to never give up. When I know I want something, I will keep working at it until I have it.

Darren said to me that I had the goods to be a champion and I believed that, so I believed in myself. After my loss with him in the beginning, I only lost another 3 times in 55 bouts. So if that’s not an example to not give up too soon for people starting off in my position, I don’t know what is!


You have previously talked about your use of a sport psychologist during your Muay Thai career. How do you feel that helped your performance and what aspects of the mental game were important to you?

Most fighters have the skill, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the ring, as most trainers wouldn’t allow it. You can have the most skillful fighter with no mental toughness or ability, and they will surrender far sooner than one that has worked on theirs. The mental part of fighting was a MASSIVE part of it for me. Every time I trained, I would be working on myself mentally – even in the simplest things like shadow boxing and bag work, using visualization and imagining my opponent was the bag or right in front of me, rather than just go through the everyday motions of “hitting the bag”.

Things that people don’t even realize, like stopping when you get hurt in sparring or grappling… The more you stop, the more of a pattern you create for yourself, taking patterns and habits into fights. I always say how you train is how you fight. My sports psychologist would help me with my imagery and hypnosis processes before every single fight and also teach me how to do it on my own, of which I would do multiple times a day long before fight week.


In what ways have you seen women’s Muay Thai grow since you started your career? 

Wow, so much. I don’t want to call us lucky because I think we deserve it, but I’m so glad that finally we are not overlooked. I think social media has had a massive influence with female fights and videos can easily be accessed around the world… People don’t have to “take our word” for it anymore that we can train and fight like the men, because they can see it for themselves.

Do you have any future plans? Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

I’ve always got plans! Although now that I’m going to be a mom, that is my first and foremost priority – to be the absolute best I can be at that. I am still actively training both Muay Thai and Crossfit while I am pregnant, to keep fit and to keep my options open for the future. I’m not saying I will never fight again, it’s in my blood, it’s my passion… But if I ever do, it will be to prove to myself that I can do it again.

I will keep training Crossfit and working on my weaknesses. Hopefully one day I’ll make it to the Crossfit regionals. In 10 years, I think I’ll have two kids – whether they are into Muay Thai or not, it’s their choice. I will fully support whatever they want to do, but if there’s one thing I will teach them, it’s to be committed to something and not just throw it in because they can’t be bothered or don’t like it that day. I never got to where I am with that attitude, and I hope to see Darren’s and my same attitude passed on to our beautiful kids. I’m sure Riddlers Gym will still be going strong by then and I can’t see either of us slowing down in the Muay Thai world anytime soon!

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