Kevin Ross has been a staple of the muay Thai and kickboxing world a long time and has beaten some of the elite of his weight class. He’s not a household name by any stretch of the imagination, but those who follow the often overlooked sport know that “The Soul Assassin” is the real deal.
At 35, though, the Las Vegas resident understands that his time in the limelight won’t be here that much longer, but he is eagerly anticipating what lies ahead. Bellator Kickboxing is set to launch on Saturday in Torino, Italy, and Ross is one of the featured combatants on the marquee. The sport has been languishing in the shadows in America for decades but Ross – and Bellator – believe a critical corner is about to be turned and over time, the masses will be flocking to venues to watch kickboxing just like they do for big-ticket boxing and MMA events.
Ross (41-11, 13 KOs), who holds wins over the likes of Coke Chunhawat, Matt Embree and Malaipet Sasiprapa, couldn’t be happier with his position in Bellator. A longtime veteran of Lion Fight and a captor of eight different world titles, Ross said he nearly signed his Bellator contract through the phone when Scott Coker contacted him.
“I’ve known Scott Coker for 10, 12 years but I’ve never had the opportunity to fight for him,” Ross told Sherdog.com in a recent interview. “I’ve always known him to be an amazing promoter and he really is passionate about the sport. My biggest [issue with contracts] is being able to be active. When he contacted me and we spoke, he told me that if other fights came up, by all means, please go and take them. He wants me to go and do muay Thai. He wants me to be able to fight for other kickboxing promotions. As long I don’t have anything lined up with Bellator Kickboxing, he actually wants me to stay active even if it’s not with him. He wants me/us fighters to be active, to stay out there. When he told me that, I told him that I would sign with Bellator [immediately].
“That is a rarity when it comes to other promoters because they don’t get it a lot of times,” he continued. “If I am out there fighting and doing well – or any fighter for that matter – my stock becomes that much greater. My skill level will improve as well. If I’m just laying around without a fight for long periods of time, my skill will not be able to stay at a high level compared to when I’m actually training and fighting regularly. Over the years it’s been so hard for me to stay active and I’ve suffered because of it.”
If everything goes according to plan and Ross is able to stay active not only for Bellator Kickboxing but for other promotions, then one of the most crucial elements of building a massive fanbase will already be underway. Kickboxing has been struggling mightily to catch on in America for a myriad of reasons and Ross says he knows exactly why that is and what needs to be done to correct the many mistakes other promotions have made countless times.
“It’s all about that much-needed exposure,” he stated. “It’s about building fighters, building personalities all the while building the promotion. Too often we’ll get a promotion come along and their attitude is that they’ll do this huge event from the get-go but the reality is that you can’t do that. You’re never going to get the return on the investment and after one, maybe two events they are done. You have to be in it for the long run. You have to start small; you have to build it from the ground up like you would any company.
“You need the right promotion who has the vision and the patience to build it up slowly over the long haul,” he continued. “You need the fighters with talent and personality. And you need the right TV contract so people can actually watch it. There have been too many promotions over the years who have some of the pieces but not all of them. Like, for example, they’ll have the right fighters but they don’t know how to promote it or they have the right promotional skills but the fighters are garbage. Or, they have the right promotional angle with the right fighters but they have no TV contract so nobody is able to see it.”
And, Ross said, this is exactly where Coker and his Bellator Kickboxing come into play.
“I feel they have literally everything that’s needed for this to eventually become huge,” he said. “I always thought muay Thai and kickboxing would get to the point where it is today, which is right on the cusp of becoming legitimately huge in America. But never in a million years did I ever think it would be while I was still fighting. When this sport will really explode into something huge I’m not really sure, but I feel it’s coming.”
The initial steps toward building a monolith begin on Saturday in Italy. Ross, who is coming off back-to-back losses, needs a victory to stay relevant in his beloved sport. Standing in his way is Matteo Taccini, a local fighter with a lot to prove. Virtually nothing is known about him outside of the kickboxing inner circles, but Ross says he knows enough and is expecting the bout to be a tough one.
“He’s going to bring it,” Ross said. “He’s a young, tough, aggressive guy and he knows that beating me would be huge for him. He is not going to hold anything back. I expect that whoever I face to be the greatest fighter of all time regardless of what it says on paper. I expect nothing less and I am prepared for literally anything.”
But when an opponent isn’t too well-known and all of his fights aren’t easily accessible, is it harder to prepare for someone like that? According to the Pennsylvania native, it can be.
“It’s one of those things where you know that you’re better than him but you can’t afford to lose or look bad against him,” he revealed. “What if that happens? That’s actually worse than losing to someone who is considered an all-time great because there is no shame in that. It’s that added pressure that makes these kinds of fighters that much more difficult.
“With someone who is less experienced or not well known, they are very unpredictable and you don’t always know what’s coming at you,” he added. “With the elite guys, you kind of already know exactly what’s going to happen. You may not block it in time or see it coming, but you at least have an idea as to what to expect against the best. But with someone who isn’t quite yet on that level, you never really know what is coming at you. I liken fighting new people or less experienced people to playing someone in a video who has no idea how to play; they are just button smashing. And these guys are beating you because you can’t get a good read as to what they are doing because they don’t know. It can be very tough, as crazy as that sounds.”
If Ross is to finally able to get to the next level in kickboxing, he can ill-afford a loss to Taccini. It’s the ultimate crossroads battle for the veteran but he is ready to take that plunge and if everything works out, Ross will be able to live out his dream of seeing his sport finally explode into the mainstream.
Though the Bellator Kickboxing: Torino action will go down on April 16 inside the Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy, Spike won’t televise it until Friday, April 22 at 11 p.m. ET, immediately following the live broadcast of Bellator 153.