MUAY THAI is Lucas McAdam's passion so winning his maiden Siam Cup Oceania crown in Queensland, Australia, this month comes as a timely endorsement for his aspirations at the world championship in Thailand early next year.
For McAdam, Thailand is the Mecca of the martial arts denomination whose origins can be traced to the mid-18th century battles between the Burmese and Siam, the former name of Thailand.
"Muay Thai is a national sport over there," says the 15-year-old from Napier after he beat Jesse Jones, of the Gold Coast, by unanimous points at a promotion in Beenleigh, a town half an hour out of Brisbane, on December 2.
"If you say here, 'I do Muay Thai', and they go, 'What's that?'," says the Year 12-bound Napier Boys' High School student who reveals mentioning Muay Thai in Thailand receives an acknowledgement reserved for the All Blacks in New Zealand.
McAdam says his first visit to Thailand was a cultural shock.
"Compared to life there everyone in New Zealand has flash houses and all that so over here we are like trying to win to make money and over there they live in shacks."
The Jackals Gym member of four years had competed in Thailand in March this year, returning with three gold medals and a silver from one defeat.
The receptive youngster says the Thailand exposure works as a catalyst for him, spurring him to toil even more rather than taking things for granted in a relatively sheltered upbringing here.
McAdam is hoping the Queensland victory will open more doors for him across the ditch after beating the Aussies in their hometown.
In 2016, the teenager had fought twice in Australia, winning on a technical knockout in the first round in a non-title bout and losing the second one on points for the bragging rights of a South Pacific crown over five rounds.
"It means the world to me because I had finished my exams and I was training two to three times a day with Andrew so I had really worked hard for it and it paid off in the end," says McAdam of his Jackals Gym trainer, Andrew Banham.
The win over Jones has fuelled his confidence.
"I gave him a count in the second round," he says, stunning his opponent with a flurry of knee hits to the ribs to leave him winded in the 5 x 2-minute round bout.
However, Jones showed resilience, sucking it up and taking the Bay fighter the full distance.
"It was only my second time going into five rounds because normally I only go up to three rounds so I was super fit and I had conserved my energy in the rounds earlier on."
McAdam says fights of that ilk are good for his template because as he makes the incremental transition to the higher echelons better fighters are starting to emerge and have the endurance to go the distance.
Jones, he says, came into the ring on the foundation of winning two Australian titles for their under-58kg division.
"We were exactly the same height, build and weight."
McAdam says Muay Thai isn't about just entering the ring for an all-out brawl.
"There's a lot of respect behind it," he says. "You'll hit each other and then after that you're just good mates."
Ringcraft is essential in Muay Thai, often referred to as the art of eight limbs because it employs the use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes.
McAdam, who also had his father, Glenn McAdam, who runs a fire and security services business, reckons his power kicking and his ability to grapple on the foundation of a sound level of fitness is giving him an edge.
He learned the art from his father, a former exponent, who started training McAdam from the age of 8.
The Bay View lad had joined the Highlanders Gym in the Onekawa but when it closed in 2015 he enrolled with Jackals in the same industrial area.
Other Jackals members also flew the Kiwi banner against other Aussie state representatives in Beeleigh.
Two-time national age-group champion Ropata Lewis, 15, lost on points decision to Brisbane fighter Alfie Smith for the Siam Cup International Title.
Last Saturday three junior exponents competed at the Karikari community hall in the Far North.
Alec Paenga won the Siam Cup New Zealand belt against a resolute Sonny Trego from the East Coast Muay Thai club.
Paenga, who will be a Year 7 pupil at Peterhead School in Hastings next year, won by points in the 3 x 1.5-minute round fight.
The 11-year-old is a seven-time age group jiu jitsu national champion after taking up the martial art at 6. His 30-year-old father Jason Paenga is a kaitiaki (guardian) at the Flaxmere Community Centre.
The youngster started kickboxing at 4 with his dad before joining the Zero Tolerance gym.
"The first time I saw it was when I was watching the UFC on TV and [I liked] the movements and the belts so [I thought] when I grow older I want to inspire people to do kickboxing and all that," says Alec Paenga whose father, a martial arts exponent since 22, also helps Banham mentor youngsters.
While grappling is his forte, Paenga is also a budding rugby player after starting with Tamatea last year before switching to Hastings Rugby and Sport where he captained the ninth grade this year. He also engages in boxing.
Jason says his son definitely fights well above the ability required for his age.
"He's advanced and probably a few levels higher than the average."
The father says Alec is showing a passion for all codes he's involved with.
"Jiu jitsu has a lot of wrestling and take downs and he wrestles with a lot of bigger kids so that's where his confidence comes for rugby," says Jason who sees Alec graduating toward mixed martial arts but suspects boxing may come into play as well.
"Regardless of what he chooses I think he'll be a champion at it," says the bloke who finds martial arts mentoring helps him build a better rapport with children in his council-sanctioned job.
Seven-year-old Izayzah Kaos Roberts (the grandson of Andrew and Leighann Banham) won his first match at Karikari.
Tyrone Terure, 10, went down in a points decision against a more experienced opponent.