Sunday, April 11, 2010 | 12:42 p.m.
Six-time world kickboxing and muay thai champion Ray Sefo has earned many accolades in his prolific career. His upcoming induction to the Masters Hall of Fame will surely add to the list.
“I was actually in his house staying with him in Vegas when he received the letter,” said fight commentator Michael Schiavello. “He opened the letter and a big smile crossed his face. He handed it to me and I was so proud of him. I think it’s been a longtime coming.”
The induction is June 19, with the Las Vegas resident joining the likes of past inductees such as UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu founder Helio Gracie and UFC President Dana White.
“There are a lot of great martial artists that have been inducted, but it never crossed my mind that I would be one of them,” Sefo said. “I was completely blown away.”
The 39-year-old established his reputation with more than 80 professional fights in kickboxing, muay thai, boxing and mixed martial arts with a combined record of 69-18-1 and 54 knockouts.
But fighting isn’t the only aspect of martial arts he excels in.
“He’s known for being phenomenal in the ring, but outside of the ring as a teacher Ray has a special gift that is very rare,” Schiavello said.
Sefo has lived in Las Vegas for five years and has spent the past two years training at Xtreme Couture where he shares his kickboxing and muay thai techniques.
“He’s like Yoda and I’m like Luke Skywalker,” said Jay Hieron, a Xtreme Couture fighter. “I soak up everything he shows me. He has 20 plus years in the game and he’s just so knowledgeable of the sport it’s incredible.”
Sefo took up martial arts at the age of 12 when he was inspired by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan films.
But for a young Samoan boy living in Auckland, New Zealand, and growing up in boxing family, martial arts were an unconventional hobby.
“My great-grandfather boxed, my grandfather, my father, cousins, uncles, you name it, everybody boxed,” Sefo said. “So when I wanted to start martial my family were like ‘what are you doing?’ I was thinking why just use your hands? Why not learn how to use every part of my body?”
Despite his family’s chagrin, Sefo broadened his martial arts repertoire when he took up muay thai during the mid 1980s.
Sefo had no desire to compete, but when one of his training partners had to pull out of a fight after being diagnosed with asthma, he was filled in.
“This guy challenged me and I don’t know why because I had never fought before,” Sefo said. “He probably thought, ‘OK I will just pick this guy and I’ll blow him out of the water.’ Unfortunately for him I ended up dropping him in the second round.”
Sefo turned that fight into a career, going undefeated as an amateur and turning professional in 1990.
But it wasn’t until 1996 that Sefo became a star after joining Japanese kickboxing promotion K-1. In just his third K-1 fight, Sefo brutally knocked out Jerome Lebanner, one of the league’s more accomplished fighters, to announce his arrival amongst the sport’s elite.
“He was the type of guy like a David Beckham in soccer, or Roger Federer in tennis,” Schiavello said. “The golden boy, that the promotion could push everything off of, but Ray was the first one who could pull that off and back it up by being a killer knockout fighter.”
In 2007 and 2008, Sefo’s career entered a lull as he found himself embattled by illness and personal tragedy. In that same period he lost six consecutive fights.
“He doesn’t make excuses for it, but there was a lot going on in his private life that obviously would take its toll on someone,” Schiavello said. “He had family pass away, he had his dad diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Stuff like that that Ray doesn’t like to put out there because it’s personal stuff.”
After taking a year off of K-1 in 2009 and focusing on his training at Xtreme Couture Sefo feels rejuvenated.
“I haven’t been sick for the last two years,” he said. “I have the right people I’m training with like Jake Bonacci who’s my strength and conditioning coach. I’ve never had a strength and conditioning coach before in my whole career. Having people like that it has completely brought me back in the game and made me even more hungry to compete.”
But perhaps most important to Sefo is the inspiration he has found in Xtreme Couture’s patriarch.
“Randy is such a great inspiration to me, the guy is 46 and still a machine,” Sefo said. “Again I go back to my saying, ‘if he can do it I can do it.’ So here we are.”