Translated from the original by Simon Rendon on Dragonbleu.
Rafael Llodra, 23 years old, is a young yet discreet nakmuay. What might be taken as shyness actually hides a great modesty, coupled with a profound humility. He claims humorously that it is because he belongs to the generation Dragon Ball Z.
“I tried [Muay Thai] for the first time when I was sixteen with a band of buddies,” Rafael shared.
It was MacGregor Gym in Bonneuil sur Marne, a club founded by the MacGregor brothers Nordine and Amar (called “Mamar”), two enthusiasts of Muay Thai who frequented the best Thai training camps: Singpatong, Sor Ploenchit, Attapong and the camp of the legendary brothers Payakaroon. Rafael explained those early days,
“I loved training old school with Mamar, it was very hard, very physical, very rigorous. It had to be present at each workout to be able to understand and box. I was immediately hooked on this discipline, rigorously, I gave myself thoroughly. All my buddies with whom I had started eventually abandoned it. My determination eventually paid off.”
Seven Years Later
Seven years later, Raphael will face Diogo Calado during Enfusion Live 33 in Martigny, Switzerland this November 7, 2015. Yet it’s nothing he doesn’t expect in his career as a professional boxer. But Rafael explained it wasn’t easy,
“I’ve put in effort and perseverance; physically I had a few predispositions. I have always done sports since I was small, gymnastics and many athletics, but technically it was nothingness. I was not naturally gifted, so I had to work and train harder than the others.”
And Rafael continues day after day to perfect his technique with the same desire to do well, to go all the way, as he tells it is for the love,
“I’m not someone particularly ambitious, I was not looking for success or recognition, I was doing it purely for the love of boxing, I wanted to invest my entire self. A career just happened without thinking about it really.”
Rafael defines this passion as the fuel of his motivation. Its strength is certainly his determination, his will, as he shares from the very beginning,
“When I left my mother at age 18, I had no diploma, no permits, I had nothing actually, but I had my guts. Mamar and Nordine sent me to Thailand.”
With his coach, they found an arrangement with the boss of a camp in Phuket, Rawai Muay Thai. That’s what Rafael says gave him the start,
“I was hosted and trained, and in exchange for that I boxed for him and got half of the match winnings. It was a win-win arrangement. I stayed 6 months there, it’s where I learned my trade.”
By his admission, Rafael wasn’t at a high level, but he had a strong desire to do the best possible and acheive more. On returning home from Thailand in 2012, a place opened up in a 4-man tournament with international participants: Moussa Konaté, Super X and Sofiane Seboussi. Rafael explained how he got the opportunity to join,
“Nordine knows the organizer well. I arrived as a replacement, I was clearly the underdog, nobody expected I’d do well, everyone thought I was going to take a beating facing Moussa Konaté.”
To the surprise of everyone, Rafael won his fight, before the end of the third round could go to the judges. He had literally asphyxiated Moussa, which opened the doors of the final against Thailand’s Super X. Rafael explained how it went,
“I had taken a few big shots from Moussa, an incredible puncheer. Super X had more luck against Seboussi since the fight ended in just 30 seconds due to a fracture of the tibia. So as it happened he was still fresh. Despite that, I never gave up. I’ve managed put him in a difficult position during most of the fight, so people remembered my fight that day, even though I lost in finale against Super X (In the locker room after the fight, the Thai was clearly frazzled by the confrontation). After that it gave back me my luck, people wanted to see me again. And so I got on Thai Fight and the Best of Siam, and from there I was launched.”
One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
2013 was a big year of victories for Rafael, especially against Marco Piqué, who threw in the towel at the end of the fourth round, exhausted by the incessant onslaught of a supercharged Rafael Llodra. Then it was the turn of Jakub Gazdik, Sua Dam and Panom Topkingboxing with knees to the body from the up-and-coming Llodra.
But in 2014, a back injury kept Rafael away from the ring for nearly a year, during which he worked in animation and gave boxing lessons to meet his needs.
Rafael has returned in 2015 even more motivated, and has distinguished himself in Choc des Légendes agains Kamel Mezatni with a technical knockout in the third round, and then against Maximo Suarez during Enfusion Live in Tenerife with a unanimous decision. In June, he met Samy Sana at the Best of Siam VI. They went through five rounds of war after which the decision went in favor of Rafael’s Venum teammate. Rafale shares the unique experience,
“Against Samy Sana, I put in the maximum and even more, but it wasn’t a good day. I kept going and the result was not bad considering the conditions.“
However the fight left him unfulfilled.
Rafael’s record now has 36 fights of which there are 28 wins and 19 by KO, 3 international titles and a title of the champion of France.
-2013 IKSA Muay Thai (73kg) World Champion
-2013 WBC Muay Thai (72.5 kg) World Champion
-2013 WMC Muay Thai (72kg) Intercontinental Champion
-2011 FDMA Champion of France of Muay Thai Class B (75kg)
Today, Rafael lives exclusively for boxing. Retrospectively, his meeting with Mamar was decisive in this matter. He remembers,
“It was a serious club, with discipline, and Mamar really pushed me. It is only because of him that I can transcend myself. It was that I needed to be able to express my emotions, my anxieties, and turn them into something positive, constructive.”
His use of time revolves around the opening of MacGregor Gym. From Tuesday to Friday, he begins by jogging from one hour at an average pace in the morning, or a 10 km loop. Then he trains until sunset: pads, bag, sparring, and stretching. Rafael isn’t complacent about the routine,
“The hardest thing is the pads, with Mamar, he pushes me to imaginable limits until exhaustion, and even beyond.”
And on Saturday morning, Rafel goes to the Charenton Boxing Club, to work his punching. He gives special mention,
“I have the chance to work with Noël Chanal, it allowed me to make much progress with someone really super, I take this opportunity to thank him.”
Rafael’s Secret Weapon
Apart from periods of preparation for fighting, Rafael likes go for runs in the woods on longer distances. He explains,
“I happen to run more than three hours at a time. I love it, I think I might even do an Ultra in the near future (the equivalent of several marathons in a row, a very long-distance endurance race). What pleases me enormously is to be surrounded by nature. Running around a track, it’s fine for a while, but it gets boring quickly. In Ultra Trail, what matters is the journey, getting to the end of the course regardless of the obstacles, time is only a culmination. It’s a philosophy that fits rather well to my character.”
Rafael spent part of his summer in the Pyrenees, a holiday he took advantage of to make long outings in the mountains. It’s in these expensive mountains that he loves so much and where he would like to be able to settle in the year. Rafael shared a bit of what he did,
“In a good outing, there iss at least 2,000 meters of vertical ascent and in the largest outing, I got to 2,800 metres in cumulative altitude.”
He has good legs! Running is one of the best exercises for preparing physically, and it’s ideal to work on cardiovascular capacity. The incredible stamina shown by Rafael during his battles which has led many opponents to throw in the towel, this comes from one of his secret weapons.
On the subject of food, like all athletes, Rafael is forced to be vigilant with his intake. He stays away from processed products, preferring the fruits and vegetables, organic white meat chicken, and he limits starchy foods especially in times of cutting. 75 kg is his weight, so it takes some effort to get to 72.5 kg for some fights. His occasional reward: toast with honey!
Rafael has made four trips to Thailand, in total he’s spent a little more than 10 months there. Rafael explained what this extensive travel feels like,
“It’s really like training for a job. When I came back from my longer stays, I’m ready to go on the job market!”
Simplicity Breeds Transcendence
But none of this would have been possible without the solid foundation that he built in France with Mamar, Rafael confides,
“The base that I acquired here, although we have fewer courses, favours quality. Mamar is still on my back so my movements are perfect. While in the Thai camps, they are demanding, but as long as you work hard, they are happy. From time to time if they attach themselves to you and they see that you are serious, they can teach you a few tricks and correct you more, but this is not systematic.”
This rhythm and different training methods probably explain how the French scene competes with the best Thai, Rafael explained,
“I think while in France people should focus on the quality, because they cannot train at the same frequency. However, we can compete with them, even if we are starting late, because over the years a certain weariness can settle in the Thai fighters which is detrimental to their performance, and the results are felt.”
When he evoked his best memories, Rafael said it was one of his first fights in class D. There weren’t many issues or media pressure and competition was simple, he shared,
“Some issues are necessary to live, climb the ladder, and face the best, but in my debut, it was more down to earth. I was with friends, there wasn’t the same pressure, the first few times are irreplaceable memories.”
These next few months, Rafael has some proposals in the works,
“I’m looking for challenges, to push my limits, to get out of my comfort zone. That is when you play your best, and transcend yourself.”
Rafael Llodra’s next fight in November facing Diogo Calado will surely mark he transcendence, so don’t miss it under any circumstances!