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With All Her Might: Maria Kritikos Taking Muay Thai to the Next Level

  • Maria Kritikos, a fighter with Baan Muay Thai Academy, stands in the ring on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, at the academy in Lebanon, N.H. Kritikos is 7-0 as an amateur fighter and the owner of several weight class title belts, including a recent unanimous decision for a straw weight title in Massachusetts. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mark Klemm, left, of Lebanon, N.H., trains with Maria Kritikos, a fighter with Baan Muay Thai Academy, on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, at the academy in Lebanon. Kritikos is 7-0 as an amateur fighter and the owner of several weight class title belts, including a recent unanimous decision for a straw weight title in Massachusetts. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mark Klemm, left, of Lebanon, N.H., holds pads for a kicking Maria Kritikos, a fighter with Baan Muay Thai Academy, on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, at the academy in Lebanon. Kritikos is 7-0 as an amateur fighter and the owner of several weight class title belts, including a recent unanimous decision for a straw weight title in Massachusetts. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Maria Kritikos, a fighter with Baan Muay Thai Academy, stands in the ring with her three title belts on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, at the academy in Lebanon, N.H. Kritikos is 7-0 as an amateur fighter and the owner of several weight class title belts, including a recent unanimous decision for a straw weight title in Massachusetts. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2017

Lebanon — It didn’t take long for budding Muay Thai fighter Maria Kritikos to prove she can take a punch. Since then she has demonstrated so much more. 

Kritikos, 31, is now 7-0 as an amateur in the discipline of Muay Thai, a centuries-old style of combat originating in Thailand and incorporating all of the body’s limbs.

Kritikos trains with instructor and pro fighter Mark Klemm at Baan Muay Thai Academy in downtown Lebanon, where she also leads classes. The walls in an area of the gym are adorned with various 115- and 120-pound title belts Kritikos has earned since the second-degree Karate black belt made her Muay Thai fighting debut 2½ years ago. 

Most recently, Kritikos kept her perfect record intact with a unanimous decision over 19-year-old Damiana Andrello in a straw weight (115-pound) clash in Melrose, Mass., in late October. Kritikos moved down a weight class after the originally scheduled fight, a rematch against Brandy Young, was cancelled because of Young’s rib injury. Kritikos and Young had squared off previously at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino.

“I was actually a little nervous because I was familiar with Brandy and I’d been training to go against her for about six weeks,” said Kritikos last week prior to leading several classes at Baan Muay Thai. “All of a sudden I was preparing for a new fighter I didn’t know anything about.”

In the Oct. 28 bout, Kritikos withstood the newcomer Andrello’s speed and leg flurries for the win. “I think she had a kickboxing background, because she came out with a lot of kicks and knees,” Kritikos recalled. “I was able to beat her with a lot of elbows, which is one of my favorite things to use.”

It’s not the first time Kritikos adjusted swiftly for a fight. Six days after a spring 2016 unanimous decision over favored Kelsey Adkins in Wichita, Kan., Kritikos returned to the ring for a title fight against Kristina Lafferty in Burlington. Not wanting Lafferty to prey on a bruised thigh suffered during the Adkins fight, Kritikos and Serena Klemm, Mark’s wife, covered it in makeup. Kritikos won by way of technical knockout.  

“I think it worked; I don’t think she noticed,” Kritikos recalled with a smile. “(The makeup) was actually Serena’s idea.”

Kritikos had to adapt to changes even for her very first fight after her originally scheduled debut in St. Albans, Vt., was cancelled when her opponent withdrew late. Even though Kritikos had already grunted and sweated through her first “fight camp” — weeks of physical and sometimes verbal abuse at the hands of Klemm, a U.S. Navy veteran who’s 8-1 as a pro Muay Thai fighter — she had to wait until the following month in New York City for her first fight.

Since then, Kritikos has time and again responded well to the punishments of fight camp and the ring.

“One thing about Maria that stands out is that the day after a fight, she’s right back in the gym and ready for another one,” said Mark Klemm. “She keeps herself in prime shape. A lot of fighters, they go through fight camp, they have their fight and they usually want to take a little break, pig out and usually gain the weight back that they lost while training. Maria gets right back into the lifestyle and I think that’s helped her get a lot better and stronger.”

Kritikos says her innate toughness came through during childhood scuffles with older brother Konstantine. Both siblings went on to excel at Karate, and Maria Kritikos wanted to keep pushing herself into new combative realms. 

“I really enjoy the full-on sparring of Muay Thai,” she said. “It’s more contact oriented and it’s a more aggressive form of fighting.”

While Kritikos’ technical aggressiveness serves her well, she’s most effective when her emotions aren’t flaring.  

“I really don’t like fighting angry. I think that’s when you get sloppy,” she said. “I enjoy fighting so I’m actually happy when I’m doing it.”

Kritikos also enjoys instructing, whether it’s Baan Muay Thai’s “Lil Thai-gers” class for kids under 12 or the gym’s “strike fit” women’s cardio kickboxing courses. Baan Muay Thai’s students have been receptive to Kritikos’ style of teaching, Klemm noted. 

“I think it’s a good balance for the gym, because I tend to yell a lot. I’m kind of intense and in-your-face, and Maria is much more patient,” Klemm said. “She’s more laid back, but she’s still effective because she does it in a way that’s motivating.”

As for Kritikos’ future in the ring, Klemm envisions a professional career in due time. 

“She’s not that far away, but she does need some more experience,” Klemm said. “There’s no prerequisite for the number of fights you need or anything like that, it’s just up to the coach and the fighter. But once you turn pro, you can’t go back to amateur fighting. So we just need to be patient and know when she’s ready. I think we’ll both know when she is.” 

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.