In three short years, Tamworth teen Josh McCulloch has risen from a novice muay thai fighter to a state champion. At present, he is honing his considerable natural talent in Thailand ahead of his first Australian title fight. This is his story.
Josh McCulloch may go on to have a long and celebrated muay thai career. Or the 17-year-old may hang up the gloves before diving too deep into this ancient, brutal sport and then purse something else with the same intense, joyous vim that has underpinned his 13-fight resume to date.
Whatever he decides, one thing is certain: At this very moment, on a tourist-mecca island lapped by the warm waters of the Andaman Sea, he is having the time of his young life as he experiences for the first time a Thailand-triggered sensory explosion while preparing for his debut international fight.
On Wednesday night at Bangla Boxing Stadium on Phuket, the Tamworth High School Year 12 student will face an as yet unnamed opponent. Although his trainer, Scott Chaffey, says whoever enters the ring will be a “great step up” in class for the newly crowned 58 kilogram state champion.
What a ride McCulloch and Chaffey have experienced since the youngster wandered into Chaffey’s Black Belt Academy in Tamworth some 12 months after a 2014 accident in a school science lab left him with third-degree burns to 18 per cent of his body, left him in hospital for a month and left him in need of a confidence boost.
With Chaffey’s father Clint also in McCulloch’s corner, the teen has enjoyed a rapid ascent marinated in the ingredients needed for a genuine feelgood sports story. He will ride a five-fight winning streak into Wednesday night’s contest, which he and his team hope will be the exclamation mark for an annual two-week training camp organised by the Academy and featuring a host of fighters.
“It’s been great,” McCulloch said. “I’m having an awesome time training in Thailand and experiencing the Thailand dream.”
“It’s been a few hard years,” he added, “but going to Chaffey’s made everything so enjoyable. I have much more to come [in the sport] next year, especially after I finish school.”
It’s all happening so quickly for McCulloch. In only three years he has gone from a neophyte in the sport to a potential Australian champion. On August 11 in Toukley, he will fight Joe Florence for an FTR national belt. So far, McCulloch only has two blemishes on his record.
He’s looking forward to returning home and “showcasing” what he has learned in the Kingdom.
So is Scott Chaffey. “It’s great to see Josh training in Thailand,” he said, “and this [Wednesday night] fight will be a great step up in competition for Josh and will be a great lead in for his upcoming Australian title fight.”