By Ruthanne Minoru
The Friday Night Fights in New York City series continues April 29, as Joe Sampieri, the head instructor at Renzo Gracie Muay Thai in New York City, faces Harris Norwood from Atlanta, Georgia. One of New York City’s premiere Thai boxers, Sampieri has fought twice on Renzo Gracie’s Pit Bull Team for the International Fight League, was two-time professional WKA world champion, and fought twice at the Muay Thai World Championship in Thailand for Team USA. He is currently ranked as one of International Kickboxing Federation’s top ten muay thai fighters in the world.
Sampieri last fought in December 2010, at “Fight for Humanity,” an event to benefit the Somaly Mam Foundation, an organization dedicated to ending sex slavery worldwide, with which he is very involved. Although “Fight for Humanity” was less than six months ago, people are calling his upcoming fight, “The Return of Joe Sampieri.” It’s a bit of a misnomer, considering Sampieri hasn’t gone anywhere–he began training muay thai in 1994, fighting in 1999, and now trains daily at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City.
“There’s something to be said about ring rust,” Sampieri says, but adds, “I feel great: really strong and fit. My skill level is a lot higher than my last fight.” And at this point in his career, the preparation is just as important to him as the fight itself. “Fight camps are where you progress and where you grow,” he says. “Sometimes the fight you don’t really remember.”
His favorite part of fight training is the relationship he builds with his trainer, in this case Jamie Crowder, who has trained him for most of his muay thai fights out of the Gracie Academy. “He knows exactly what I’m capable of, how to push me, and what point to push me to,” says Sampieri. “And sometimes he knows he needs to play that role where I hate him.” It’s all part of getting riled up and ready for a fight.
He also works closely with John Danaher, who is the head Jiu-Jitsu instructor for George St. Pierre, and works with many UFC and other professional MMA fighters. Despite Sampieri’s extensive muay thai training both at home and abroad, it is John Danaher who has had the greatest influence on his clinch game. Sampieri has trained with Danaher for the last five or six years and says, “I’ve learned more from him about clinch than I had with my Thai boxing coaches.” Even beyond martial arts, Sampieri says, “[Danaher] is an encyclopedia of knowledge. We can sit down and talk about anything, from dinosaurs to world history . . . to everything . . . he’s a huge reason why I’m at the [Renzo Gracie] Academy.”
After his fight against Norwood, Sampieri hopes to fight at least three more times this year. When asked how much longer he plans to continue competing, he speculates, “Maybe another year or two.” Beyond that, he says, he will fight if it’s for something important to him, like the “Fight for Humanity,” this past December. “I’m really interested in fighting for charity,” he says, “something that’s bigger than myself.”