BANFF – Maddie MacPherson was ready to leave Banff before receiving news that was music to her ears: she'd be fighting soon.
Feeling aimless in the tourism town as a server during days and bouncer at nights, MacPherson was neglecting her true passion: Muay Thai.
Something needed to change – quickly – and after a few calls were made on MacPherson's behalf, the 22-year-old fighter’s prayers were answered.
“All the sudden I went from trying to live the Banff party life to having a fight in three-and-a-half weeks,” MacPherson said.
The undefeated striker fights Saturday (Sept. 4) at the Muay Thai World Cup’s Prospect Series at Bullhead Community Hall in Tsuut’ina First Nation near Calgary.
With gloves on and staring across the ring at someone's face she's looking to break, MacPherson is in her happy place.
But practicing the martial art, its in-ring performance, strategy, and embracing the culture of Muay Thai, which uses stand-up striking and clinching techniques, has become MacPherson's life.
“It’s the one sport that’s always been different for me,” said MacPherson after listing off a number of other sports she'd been kicked out of for being too rough.
“I feel like it set me in the direction that I needed to be. It’s all I do. At night, if I’m just relaxing, I’m watching fight analysts or watching technique blogs or shadowboxing or thinking, and having a fight coming up helps because you’re focused toward something.”
Living in Banff, MacPherson travelled here like so many young adults do to enjoy the ski hills and work in town for a season.
Growing up in Kingston, Ont., the aggressive kid wasn't one to back down from a schoolyard scrap. It got her in trouble – a lot.
At age 12, something clicked with the scrappy girl in need of an outlet after she saw Muay Thai for the first time on TV.
MacPherson began studying and researching the martial art, and by age 16, began training at Hayabusa Academy in Kingston before opening her own gym with a few others called Savage Muay Thai.
Learning discipline and respect through Muay Thai, MacPherson kept her tussles at the gym.
The budding martial artist's passion led her to Thailand at 19 to learn straight from the source.
“Experiencing the art and discipline and how relaxed and calm it is there; it’s a form of mediation in a weird way,” she said. “I fell in love with it there."
Training long days at Island Muay Thai on Koh Tao – a small island in the Gulf of Thailand – it was a dream come true for a teenager. She was scuba diving most days, working at a local beach bar, and hitting pads twice a day in the tropical climate.
“In Thai society, typically they start fighting so young," MacPherson said. "Typically, you’ll see male trainers at my age with like 200 fights. The females, not so much. They tend to start when they’re between 14 and 16 so they have less [fights], but it’s so ingrained in their society.”
As a “Westerner” and a woman, MacPherson had to earn respect and bruises the hard way in the Thai boxing rings. The dedicated athlete knew the road wouldn’t be as easy on her as on her male counterparts.
The young Canadian woman's resiliency, pure grit and passion impressed the gym’s Thai trainers, who agreed to take her under their wing. MacPherson got better, stronger, and her in-ring IQ blossomed.
“The biggest thing is heart and how much heart you have is the most important thing,” she said.
MacPherson was at the point where a stiff test was needed and she would fight twice against local women, winning both by a technical knock out and decision.
Her fights were filled with butterflies and nerves as opposed to her Thai opponents, who have a breezy, nonchalant comfort level in the ring.
“It was intimidating going into something that I was so inexperienced in compared to what they had experienced, but record doesn’t really mean anything,” she said.
“Heart goes a long way and I feel a lot of the times it comes down to who wants it more.”
Although, she started feeling complacent in Thailand and "kind of lost."
Her final fight was before the COVID-19 pandemic, at which point she returned home to Kingston.
But with not much going on, her adventure bug bit again and she packed up stuff and headed west to the Rockies for snowboarding season.
While scrolling through one of the Bow Valley's social media pages, she by chance saw a post from soon-to-be Dark Horse Martial Arts coach Ki Cardinal about starting up a Muay Thai community.
She jumped on the opportunity to train in her beloved sport and has been training with Cardinal since April.
Feeling a hole left by a Muay Thai void and not being able to have something, only made her want to practice and compete even more.
"Since the pandemic hit, I've been spending every day thinking about it and wanting it," she said.
But again, there was another stalemate with not much going on competition-wise, and the nomad fighter contemplated heading south to Mexico where the Muay Thai scene is booming.
Seeing her seriousness, her coach made some calls and landed her a spot on the upcoming Muay Thai card against Saskatchewan’s Charlene Clarke in a five, two-minute round bout at 140 pounds.
In Thailand, MacPherson's fighting weight was 118 pounds, but competition is easier to come by.
“Ideally, if I got to pick the fight weight, I would cut to 130, but I want to fight,” she said.
"At the end of the day, the pandemic has made me so focused into this and I'm excited for things to open up and Thailand to come back to life because I'm finally so decided on it. I’d love to do this as a career – I just want to fight."