I Saw Stars And I Loved It!: The Mind Of A Teenage Muay Thai Champion

A champion of almost any sport could be labelled as “talented”, “brave” and “determined”, but what if they were described as having “heart”? This was a word that Tanko athletes Dakota Ditcheva, Lisa Howarth and Panicos Yusuf all used to describe what a real fighter needs. You need heart to get back up after being punched and kicked. You need heart to be a combat sports champion.

If anyone knows what being a combat sports champion is all about, it’s Lisa Howarth. A world champion in three separate fighting disciplines, Lisa knows that winning in the ring is about more than talent and perseverance. “To be a combat sports champion you have to have that special thing” she told Tanko. “Anyone can train the physical, but you have to have the heart and you have to have the strength of mind”.

In many sports, gritting your teeth and getting down to work will put you in the driving seat. In Muay Thai this simply won’t cut it. Muay Thai champions are fighters with unparalleled heart and resolve, but also with a unique sense of spirit and fearless devotion. They immerse themselves in the Muay Thai culture, making the discipline part of who they are as a person. They don’t go for the glitz and the glamour. They don’t have fame and fortune in their sights. They are humble characters outside of the ring, and ruthless winners inside it.

Tanko uncovered the inner workings of the mind of teenage Muay Thai champion Dakota Ditcheva during an exclusive interview with her and her mother Lisa Howarth. We asked them about what they thought a Muay Thai champion was all about, and Lisa referenced when Dakota was hit hard for the first time. Dakota’s long reach and natural talent meant she wasn’t hit often in her first few junior fights, so when she eventually did get struck forcefully, Lisa wondered how her daughter would respond. Dakota’s reaction was one Lisa couldn’t have envisaged. The fifteen-year-old looked up and said, “Mum, I got hit so hard I saw stars…and I loved it!”

Champions are exceptional human beings. Their physique and ability can be built through sheer hard work and training, but the specific mind-set of a champion is something that cannot be created in the gym. It’s something you’re born with. To be a combat sports or Muay Thai champion, you’ve got to be like Dakota Ditcheva – you’ve got to love seeing stars.