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Will fight for beer money: Kickboxer

Zuniga loves Muay Thai so much he'll scrap for pittance

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A few months ago, 'Dangerous' Dave Zuniga was paid $15 in Bangkok for a Muay Thai kickboxing fight.

Safe to say this man is in it for more than just the money.

"It was a tough fight too," laughed Zuniga, 30, who has spent about 12 months over the last 2 1/2 years in Thailand training in the combat sport. "I bought all my coaches beer so that $15 didn't go very far."

He's fought 15 times there and only lost once. At CFC 7 on Sept. 10, Zuniga will take on Cyrus Washington of Detroit in a fight that will mark the first time in two years the Winnipeg native has fought at home and the first time in his 17-year career he'll fight at home in a full-rules Muay Thai event.

"In Muay Thai, it's more technical than other forms of kickboxing and you have to choose your moves carefully. One good elbow -- it's pretty difficult to see when the blood gets in your eye -- but it scores very high in Muay Thai."

Zuniga, who has a 30-8 professional record, earlier this year spent six months training and competing at Kiatphontip, a gym near Bangkok. He roomed with other fighters, trained daily and kept his life simple. He said it's his dream to work as a Muay Thai fighter but he'd have to live in Thailand to get fights that pay.

"Marc-Andre (vice-president Drolet) and I are so excited about this main event. Dave Zuniga and Cyrus Washington, these two guys are world-class strikers, world-class kickboxers," said CFC president Giuseppe DeNatale.

"It's going to be a real battle and people are going to see some ferocious striking. They're going to stand toe-to-toe, throwing punches, kicks, they're going to knee each other and they're going to be trying to knock each other out with those elbow strikes. Dave has just a vicious, vicious high kick and fantastic boxing skills."

While Zuniga has thrilled fans with late-round comebacks in past matches, he doesn't plan to lose any rounds on Sept. 10.

"My opponent is a high-level American who's been living in Thailand, he's got about 50 fights in Thailand," said Zuniga, noting that they've never met. "He's got a taekwondo background, he throws a lot of fancy kicks, spin kicks, jumping elbows, jumping knees, very aggressive. I'm not the fanciest guy out there but I come forward, I push it as hard as I can and I'll do anything to win."

Though DeNatale jokes he's "bugged Dave for years" to switch to mixed martial arts where there's big money to be made, Zuniga has steadfastly refused.

"I wanted him to switch to MMA and be a guy like Anderson Silva. With Dave's striking skills, at his weight class at 170 pounds, Dave would knock everybody out," DeNatale said. "I've known Dave for 15 years and trained him for the last seven years. He's a local icon in Winnipeg's martial arts and kickboxing communities. Muay Thai is what's in his heart."

Zuniga, who teaches at DeNatale's gym at the Canadian Fighting Centre in Winnipeg, said Muay Thai is already paying him with a great life.

Growing up with his hard-working single dad, Zuniga had lots of free time on his hands as a youngster and was headed for trouble if not for his first Muay Thai coach.

"My coach used to pick me up at school every day when I was 15-16 and take me to the gym. In the end, my coach was a gangster and he's in witness protection now, so it's very ironic," said Zuniga, a Windsor Park graduate who studied economics briefly at the University of Winnipeg. "Did everything to keep me out of trouble but got in trouble himself. But by then, I was already a good boy and focused on Muay Thai.

"I don't fight to impress people. I fight because I love it. I've definitely made some sacrifices in my personal life that I do regret but I don't know where I'd be without it. Probably in jail."

So will Zuniga at least get more than $15 to fight on Sept. 10?

"A couple more (dollars) than that," laughed DeNatale. "We'll see what we can do."

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2011 C3

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