Muay Thai teenage national champions and siblings Skye and Zeke Branson take their fight to the world stage
Clay Branson is incredibly proud of his children, driving them back and forth to their training gym and keeping a watchful eye as they jog around the neighbourhood in the early morning.
His daughter Skye, 13, and son Zeke, 14, from Mandurah in Perth’s south, are ranked in the top five Muay Thai fighters from around the world in their age brackets and train five days per week in the combat sport.
“At first, it’s really nerve-racking but when you get in the ring, you know you’re going to have fun with it,” Skye said.
The siblings began their journey in Mixed Martial Arts before switching to Muay Thai two years ago, quickly making their way to the IFMA World Youth Championships in Malaysia in August 2022.
They followed up their international representation with gold medals in their respective divisions at the National Championships in Queensland in October.
“Zeke is currently in fight camp so he is chomping at the bit and will get himself out of bed, he comes and wakes me up,” Mr Branson said.
“Skye isn’t as much of a morning person but there’s no issue getting them to the gym in the afternoon.
“They love it and they put everything into it.”
Young guns with strong work ethic
Muay Thai originated in Thailand and is characterised as a stand-up striking sport, with competitors throwing punches, elbows, knees and kicks at each other.
The Branson siblings are coached by Andrew Nelson, who says it’s not often that young athletes show such a high level of commitment in the gym.
“Usually kids that age are not going to put in the work that these two do,” he said.
“They’ve improved dramatically since they came home from Worlds [World Youth Championships].
“They both won their divisions at [the] Nationals quite convincingly and the progress and the improvement has been huge.
“They’re quite supportive of each other, they don’t bicker too much but like most siblings, they are quite competitive.”
Zeke agrees that having his sister in his corner is definitely an advantage.
“It’s good always having Skye there to help me out and she holds the pads for me at training,” he said.
For Skye, getting to take on her big brother in the sparring ring is a bonus, and training so often isn’t as hard as it sounds.
“It’s just nice to get out there and train and it leaves you feeling good for the rest of the day,” she said.
The sport of Muay Thai secured Olympic recognition in 2021 and could feature in a future Olympic Games, something both Zeke and Skye have set their sights on.
They will be travelling to Türkiye in September to once again represent Australia at the Muay Thai Youth World Championships.
Mr Branson said as well as having a fit and healthy lifestyle, confidence and discipline were the main benefits his children got out of the sport.
“They’re good kids and they are very respectful because they’ve grown up in a martial arts gym,” he said.
The social perception of combat sports in Australia was changing, according to Mr Nelson, who said Muay Thai was starting to see some long overdue recognition.
“We’ve got coaches from my era that have dragged it out of the pubs and clubs and into the sporting arena and we’ve got some big sporting platforms that are supporting it,” he said.
“Getting your kids involved in this sort of thing, letting them learn that they are capable and that they can conquer adversity is a really healthy thing.”
Mr Branson said safety was of high concern when it came to young Muay Thai competitors.
He said they wore headgear, chest guards, shin guards and elbow protection and there was limited striking allowed in their age brackets.
Mr Branson said if any child looked to be struggling during a fight, the referees would call it off immediately.
“The referees are very safety conscious and the athletes’ wellbeing is paramount,” he said.