For those old enough to remember, the Tyson-Spinks fight of 1988 was the preeminent first round knockout. The savage assault that Mike Tyson unleashed upon Michael Spinks startled the sporting world. In ninety-one seconds, Tyson landed eight punches and flattened Spinks to the canvas. In so doing, Iron Mike won the undisputed heavyweight championship.
There’s a kid in Bothell who’s having similar success. Jet Benjaminson competes in Muay Thai, otherwise known as Thai Boxing. He trains at United Source Muay Thai in Kirkland. And the 12-year old is gaining a reputation.
In 2015, Benjaminson won the US World Thai Boxing Association National Championship. He repeated as champion in 2016 and 2017, because no other fighters were willing to step up and challenge him.
“We had two kids who registered then dropped out,” said Erik Benjaminson, Jet’s father. “He has been successful in knocking out kids in less than a minute.”
Benjaminson’s strong suits are his left kick and rear punch. His rear knee (left knee) is his secret weapon. He uses it to target the kidney and rib areas of his opponents.
He’s currently in Bangkok, Thailand, preparing to represent the USA in the upcoming International Muay Thai Youth World Championship. It will take place in August. Over 800 athletes from around the world will compete.
His mother is originally from Thailand and grew up in the rural province of Isaan. Jet has spent several summers visiting his grandparents who are rice farmers. They live a simple life without running water, cars, internet, or TV.
Jet has been training this summer at a gym called Wor Watthana. It is located in the small town of Phutthaisong. The gym is a non-profit charity founded by a couple of Canadians. It is 100% funded by the generosity of American donors. Their mission is to provide a path out of poverty through Muay Thai for impoverished children and families in rural Thai villages.
Benjaminson not only trains at Wor Watthana, but also serves as a mentor to the kids. Interviewed last week via Skype, he talked about being a role model.
“I have helped the kids find structure in their lives by coming to the gym every day,” Benjaminson said. “They see me at the gym so they will come as well. I serve as kind of an example. Sometimes they won’t show up, and those kids don’t get better.”
But despite all the accolades and future promise, Jet is still a kid. He brought three skateboards with him this summer from the USA. “The kids started playing with them and they were hooked,” Benjaminson said. “They use them every day way longer than I use them at home.”
Benjaminson was also asked a two-part question: When in Thailand, what does he miss most about America? And when back in the USA, what does he miss most about Thailand?
“When I’m in Thailand the thing I miss the most is the ability to speak freely with other people,” he said. “Because I speak [limited] Thai. When I’m in America I miss being able to run around in the jungle in Thailand. There are a lot more animals and things to do in the jungle. You can catch lizards and snakes. In America, the woods are more like parks. There isn’t much wildlife and things to discover.”
As he prepares for his competition next month, Benjaminson was asked what Muay Thai has brought to his life.
“One of the biggest things is that it has taught me not to quit,” he said. “When I quit it makes me feel weak. But when I continue to do it, it makes me feel strong.”