Sparta native Daniel Roque competed in his first fight competition, taking home the championship belt after taking on much weightier opponents.
Days before the WKA USA National Championships Tournament, Daniel received a letter from the WKA that the 135-pound division for 14- and 15-year-olds in Muay Thai kick boxing that he registered for was canceled due to lack of opponents, so they were bumping him up to the 140-147-pound division for his age group.
The drama continued at weigh-ins, with his only opponent dropping out. The next option was to compete in the 148-plus-pound open division. The championship was held Aug 27-29 at the state fairgrounds in Delaware.
Daniel trains under Amr Ibrahim, owner of Pharaohs Muay Thai Academy, and striking coach for UFC future Hall of Famer Jim Miller, also of Sparta.
Daniel was always involved in combat sports with both older brother, Evan Roque, and father, Aldrin (Al) Roque, exposing him to Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) and Muay Thai at an early age. It wasn’t until about two years ago, at the age of 12, that Daniel began his formal training under head-striking coach Amr at the former Miller Brothers Gym in Sparta.
Over the next two years, Daniel began hard training and sparring. He expanded his fight IQ by studying videos of fights online and in-class training sessions recorded daily by his father. Having seen Daniel’s potential, Amr told his father that he wanted to “take him under his wing.”
This inspired and motivated Daniel to work even harder. Even through the Covid lockdowns, his skill and knowledge base continued to improve exponentially.
Daniel was the youngest student at Pharaohs Muay Thai Academy but earned the respect of all his adult training partners who shared their knowledge and treated him like an equal. The dojo’s motto is “iron sharpens iron.”
Amr agreed to Daniel’s request to enter his first competition. Although a great fight camp saw him peaking physically, nothing could prepare the 14-year-old for the psychological and emotional distress fighters experience before a match. Additional complications leading up to the event, including last-minute fight schedule changes, opponent drop-outs, and delays further compounded the stress.
Later came a bombshell — the open division would consist of four other fighters, all 15 years old and officially weighing in at 150, 160, 240, and 260 pounds, respectively.
After driving four hours, spending hundreds of dollars in hotel and registration fees, not to mention months of intense training and prep, Daniel’s new goal was to try and secure one “fair” fight. This is where you need an experienced coach like Amr.
Although the team had never competed in the WKAs, years of coaching fighters at similar events and at the UFC paid off. Amr spoke to the WKA president, and ultimately pressured the committee to expedite the elimination brackets for the tournament. Knowing the potential matchups allowed Amr to devise an interim plan for Dan to have at least one fight, and forfeit the finals where the weight disparity could be as high as 120 pounds.
Amr worked behind the scenes, taking care of contentious situations. He goes a long way to reassure and mitigate pre-fight jitters, fears. and self-doubt among his fighters.
On Aug. 29. Daniel advanced through the final bracket elimination rounds and won the entire division, despite being the youngest and lightest competitor. His highlight reel offers a glimpse of his spectacular technique along with his signature spinning back kicks.
With the support his coach, his training partner and cornerman Steve Krzanowski, and a Sparta hometown crew at the event — consisting of his closest friends Gavin Sloginski, Justin Knapp and Luke Doster — the WKA journey became a rite of passage and a learning experience, sure to carry Dan through the rest of his life.