Fighting Stance Media spoke with CFFC professional lightweight “Iron City” Mike Wilkins (7-2 MMA) at regional promotion Iron City Muay Thai Kickboxing. Wilkins attended the event as a coach from Stout Training Pittsburgh- Renzo Gracie Team for the gym’s six amateur kickboxers who were fighting on the card that night.
Wilkins shed some light on his experience as a multi-sport high school and college athlete and his transition into the world of mixed martial arts, explaining that MMA was “the next logical step” to continue to use what he essentially earned his degree in: wrestling. When asked to identify a quality he sees as most important for athletes starting out in MMA, he answered readily, “Without a doubt, consistency.”
Wilkins also shared with us his potential transition to the UFC and the strong possibility of a title fight for CFFC. Since the time of the interview it has been confirmed that Wilkins will be fighting for the lightweight title against Mike “Popezilla” Pope on December 17 at CFFC 62 in Philadelphia.
[Watch the full interview with Mike Wilkins above.]
When I asked Paul to describe himself as a fighter in just one word, his answer wasn’t quite what I was expecting:
“Adaptable. Whatever the situation may be…when it comes to competing against a specific fighter’s style, when it comes to life in general. Survival is directly correlated with the ability to adapt.”
Rather than choosing a word that brims with bravado, his self-assessment takes a refreshingly humble and intelligent approach. This seems to sum up the character of Paul Banasiak. He is motivated by passion, a competitive spirit, and the constant drive to improve—a drive that has served him well so far.
From Backyard Brawls to Madison Square Garden
Born in Poland, Paul moved to the United States at the age of eight. His earliest “fights” took place in backyards just for fun, but after some time he was ready to learn real martial arts. It was in 2010 that he began training under a Sityodtong fighter who held practices in his garage. The training was brutal.
“My first day I was thrown in a shark tank for 10 minutes without any experience, a new fighter coming in fresh every minute. This continued every day that I trained; watching martial arts movies and having no real comparison, I thought this was the norm.”
Fast-forward a month and a half: Paul took his first fight, and a consuming passion for Muay Thai developed from there. Just four years later he would find himself fighting and knocking down one of America’s top Muay Thai boxers at an event in Madison Square Garden, and later embark on the World Championship journey with Team USA. He recalls being part of the energetic, hardworking, and dedicated team as one of the highlights of his athletic endeavors so far—that, and “traveling the world to do Muay Thai has been pretty cool too.”
Transitioning to Thailand
One of the biggest questions I had for Paul was why he made the move to Thailand two months ago. He explained that not only was he looking for a new challenge, mentally and physically, but the energy and respect surrounding the sport in that country is something you can get nowhere else.
“When you walk out as a fighter on a serious show in Thailand, you are respected for your work, you are respected for your technique, and most importantly, appreciated by the fans. It’s a complete presentation of the sport of Muay Thai…You feel as though the people watching you understand you, and that’s what we all look for: to be appreciated and understood.”
Paul finds that the path he has chosen receives less acceptance and understanding back home. Though his friends are now a huge part of his support team, he was initially met with doubt and low expectations; this only fueled his determination to “grind in the dark and let the results speak for themselves.” He also reports that his relationship with family has suffered through his endeavors. As a top student who grew up under the influence of a mother who was a teacher (and now a clinical instructor), Paul’s Muay Thai pursuits are largely met with confusion and questioning. When asked about the negative side of his martial arts journey: “The tears I’ve seen in people’s faces, the worry it has caused in those close to me when they think about what I do.”
The Rise of Muay Thai Athlete
It was through the Muay Thai Athlete social media channel that I first discovered Paul’s motivational articles and videos, so naturally I had to ask how the website first came about. He attributes the start of the website to his lifelong habit of filming the hobbies he pursued, from snowboarding and skateboarding to eventually martial arts.
“I study myself day in and day out: my physical movement, my demeanor, my mind. Muay Thai Athlete has been my vehicle to travel and to communicate with the world, to express these studies and experiences…The people I have met and connections I have made through this platform have been MuayThaiAthlete.com’s most rewarding aspect.”
There has been some collaboration along the way. Paul gives credit to his good friend, “Muay Thai Guy” Sean Fagan, for tempering his overly analytical and calculated approach when it comes to creating the content for his website. He also cites Sean as being the catalyst in putting in the extra hours required to make his project take off.
“Witnessing me attempt to live my life in a limitless fashion, he offered to guide me through the process of making it into something serious…We are very different people that have a similar mindset on life which only complements the work that we do.”
What is the work that they do? Paul and Sean’s mission is to help others evolve past their limitations, whether they are aspiring fighters or not. They do this through informational and empowering articles, blogs, videos, and the Muay Thai Guys podcast. And in return, Paul draws his motivation from the messages and emails he receives from people of all walks of life.
“Their stories have given me different ways of viewing the world. So, going back to the question about motivation—your stories have been my motivation.”
To learn more about Paul “Reaper” Banasiak and his Muay Thai journey, visit his website and follow him on social media.