Canadian Muay Thai champ has local roots
Derek Jolivette rises to the top after Calgary tournament
A Westlock-born athlete has risen through the ranks of his sport to find himself leading the pack in Canada.
Derek Jolivette recently took first place at the June 9 Journey Fight Series 6 in Calgary, which qualifies him for an international tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia this September where he hopes to bring home gold for Canada.
Although he moved out of the Westlock area in the late 1980s, when he was just six years old, he has spent a lot of time back visiting.
“I still have lots of family out there. I’m in Westlock quite a bit actually,” he said.
Now living in the Edmonton area, the 27-year-old Jolivette has been training in martial arts since he was 20. He started with Brazilian Ju Jitsu, a style of wrestling, but soon discovered Muay Thai was a better fit for him.
“I just fell in love with it. I dropped out of jiu jitsu and stuck with Muay Thai,” he said. “It just appealed more to my nature. I’m a bit of a firecracker; I’m outgoing and spontaneous, so it was a better place for me.”
At first it was just a hobby, but it wasn’t long before he dove in head first, quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of competitive Muay Thai.
Now, eight years into his career, Jolivette has made it a full-time gig.
“Two years ago I stopped working a day job in order to train full time. I teach private lessons and do boot camps and seminars and all these others things in order to make the money I need,” he said.
The Calgary tournament marked somewhat of a highlight in his competitive career so far, as it is the first time he has risen to the top of the pool in Canada, and there was an enthusiastic crowd at the event to match the prestige of the victory.
The kind of crowd that comes out for a competitive Muay Thai event like that one, however, is of a different character than the average mixed martial arts crowd, which has a lot to do with the tradition and culture surrounding the sport.
Jolivette performs a dance called the Wai Khru before every match, putting more of an emphasis on the tradition of the sport rather than the modern competitive aspect.
“I get on my knees and bow before I get into the ring, then when I get into the ring I seal off the ring from all the evil spirits, do my dance, and wish the other people luck,” he said. “It’s something your grandparents can watch.”
Even within Muay Thai, there are some very different styles that fighters practice. Jolivette has spent a lot of time training in Thailand, and said he much prefers their approach to the sport than the one commonly found in North America.
A big difference is how the fights are structured. In North America there are three-round fights with two-minute rounds, whereas in Thailand they do five-round fights with three-minute rounds.
“They cater more to the crowd here, and they cater more to the fighters in Thailand,” he said. “It’s more about respecting each other, feeling each other out. You win at the chess game instead of coming out and smashing each other to show the crowd you can hit really hard.”
Jolivette has taken that passion for the culture and tradition of the sport and tries to apply it to his fights in North America — his aim is to make that the basis of his reputation as a fighter.
“I want to be known as the respectful guy, the guy that wishes people luck and just goes out to do his own thing regardless of the other person,” he said.
That approach has got him in trouble in the past, however. In one of the fights he lost, Jolivette said his style was functionally superior but technically lost him the fight.
“The guy was hurt bad and I was clearly demolishing him, but he scored more points,” he said. “He ended up seeing the doctor after and I danced out of there.”
Although he ended up uninjured in that particular fight, Jolivette has experienced first-hand the risks associated with his chosen sport. While training for his first fight, he sustained a serious injury to his leg that many called a “career ender.”
He tore two muscles in his left thigh, ended up in the hospital for a week and couldn’t walk for three months.
“They said I would be lucky if I could ever take a kick to that leg again,” he said.
Through some dedicated hard work and rehabilitation, he was able to get back into the game and has ultimately succeeded despite that setback. He acknowledges the sport can be a brutal one, but for him that is part of the allure because with fewer limitations, a fighter has more options to respond to any given situation in the ring.
“In Muay Thai you can elbow to the top of the head, you can kick to the back of the head, you can elbow the spine, you can kick to the knees, you can elbow the throat, you can kick to the neck or the eye… you can do whatever you want,” he said. “It has the potential to be brutal, but it’s just raw and that why I like it. You can do pretty much anything you want and just give’er.”
Jolivette compares the sport to a game of chess, and said for him the thrill comes from being backed into a corner and discovering a way to maneuver his way out of it.
One of the biggest challenges he faces, however, is funding his training and his travels. In particular, he expects the coming tournament in St. Petersburg to put a significant dent in his finances, so much so that he has gone back to working a part-time day job to help fund it.
Anyone interested in helping out, or just learning more about Jolivette or Muay Thai, can visit www.derekjolivette.com.
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