It’s sounds like the plot to a ‘Bromance’ movie: two best friends leave behind their sleepy, humble, English market town for Thailand in a quest to fulfil their lifelong dream of learning Muay Thai.
Stu Jotham, 27 and James Miles, 31, hail from Stroud, Gloucestershire. An English town known more for its textiles and rolling valleys than their Mixed Martial Art dojos. Friends for over eight years, James and Stu bonded over a mutual passion of fighting. Having both trained in MMA and Kickboxing, it was the zeal to become scholars of Muay Thai that lead both men to ‘up-sticks’ from their humble origins and fly to Tiger Muay Thai & MMA in Phuket, Thailand for a three month voyage of self-discovery and training. This was a trip that would change their lives forever and lead both men into fighting two very different battles inside and outside of the ring.
To them, making the pilgrimage to Tiger Muay Thai was more than just a typical lad’s holiday in South East Asia.
“To a lot of people they think of a holiday as sun, sea and relaxing. Not me!” Jokes Stu. “Training twice a day everyday, getting beat up by some top people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world is a perfect holiday”
In May, 2010 Stu and James arrived at Tiger’s facility in Thailand and from day one they knew they were in for a testing three months of training.
“The first thing I did was tell myself I know nothing and forgot everything I learnt in the past so I could be an open book and learn from the very beginning,” said Stu. “To say I felt like falling over was an understatement. But, we both felt great that our first session went well and the trainers acknowledged we trained hard and both had previous experience.”
Over the next few months, they would continue to do battle with wits, bruises, bug bites and blisters. However, despite the arduous toll on their bodies and minds, both Stu and Matt were firmly aware of their improving skill sets.
“The training at Tiger was world class and all the trainers had a great way of getting the best out of you,” claims Miles. “My experience was the best three months of my life and it’s where I got my passion for Muay Thai.”
Not content with putting their bodies through two daily training sessions, six days per week, the boys soon found themselves making their in-ring Muay Thai debuts. James competing at Tiger’s notorious in-camp BBQ Beatdown and Stu at the world renowned Bangla Stadium in Phuket. Their months of dedication and hard work paid off as both fighters emphatically fought to pick up their first Muay Thai wins.
It was the perfect end to the perfect holiday – three months of worth of world class training culminating into their first big Muay Thai win together with countless unforgettable memories and new friendships. With all that, now behind them the pair headed back to their native England to plan their assault on the British Muay Thai scene.
Upon returning home, Stu and James continued their training the EastWest Muay Thai Gym in Gloucestershire where James also acts as Assistant Coach.
“Tiger gave me all the basics of Muay Thai to carry on when I got home and really take my training to the next level.” said James.
With their sights set on conquering the U.K scene, the boys balanced their training and coaching with full-time jobs to help bring them closer to their dream of Muay Thai gold. But for one of the boys that dream would soon come a tragic end and quickly become a nightmare that neither one of them could have seen coming.
In April 2011, tragedy struck. Whilst riding his motorbike, Stu suffered a freak accident when a former police officer’s car crashed into him at speed. As Stu fell to the ground, the car collided with his right leg, crushing it on impact. Despite the severity of the incident, he is still able to recall the incident in explicit detail.
“To be blunt, the impact of the car into my right leg basically caused it to burst open. The car ripped a huge amount of tissue and bone out of my leg. Then, as I hit the road I grounded a very large section of my leg away as I slid.”
Stu credits his years of training for how he was able to handle the trauma of the accident.
“Annoyingly, I remember the whole thing as I didn’t lose consciousness but they put that down to fitness as I was in fight training at the time. I remembered trying to stand up then I just looked at my leg. It was horrific. It looked like a shark had come up and bit a half of my leg off.”
Stu was rushed into hospital where doctors assessed the severity of the injury and quickly made the decision to relocate him to a trauma unit for immediate surgery. After initial surgery, Stu awoke to the distressing news that there was a 95% chance he would have his leg amputated that night.
Ever the fighter, he was still able hold up his guard against his new unlikely opponents – the doctors.
“I looked the doctor straight in the eye and said, ‘No your bloody not. I’ve got a fight in four weeks!’ I knew in my heart they were not taking my leg off. I told them to do whatever they can because my legs were my life.”
Three painstaking operations later, doctors were able to save Stu’s leg from amputation. Using groundbreaking techniques, they removed Stu’s entire latissimus dorsi together with rib muscles from the right side his body. The rib muscles were then attached down into his leg along with tissue from his back with skin grafts from his unaffected left leg to hold everything together. The operation was a success that came at a high price. As a result of losing a third of his knee, half his fibula and part of his femur, Stu was told he would be unable to walk without assistance for at least 18 months.
However, despite the doctor’s initial analysis, an iron-willed Stu triumphed against adversity and with a lot courage and a little bit of stubbornness, he was able to walk on his own two feet – a mere four months after the brutal accident that cost him his freedom.
“I struggled every day to try and get there. If there is one thing Martial Arts has taught me it was stubbornness,” laughs Jotham . “I wasn’t going to let a bunch of doctors write me off. I don’t give up, I always look forward and don’t stop ‘till I’m happy…or sore.”
And only three months later, a resilient Stu had a brace fitted to his leg which allowed him to return to his passion of training.
“I still only have half a working leg so I’m not going to be throwing any kicks soon.”
While aiding his best friend, James continued to train back at the gym for his next fight and who better to hold up the pads than the ultimate fighter himself, Stu.
“I joined James’s club and started training him up and helping him out. It was training for me again because I would force myself to be on my feet for more than an hour at a time.”
With Stu in his corner, James triumphed in April of 2012 by winning the Southern Area Muay Thai Title in Bedford, England. A win that James has dedicated to his inspirational best friend and training partner, Stu Jotham.
“There is not much I can say about Stu other than we have known each other for about eight years. He is the best friend a man could ask for. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I could have achieved as much as I have. He had a very promising fight career before having the bike accident. He really is my inspiration for fighting because he can’t. He has a very large knowledge of training and not just training hard – but training smart. I, like most fighters, suffer from nerves and if my head coach David Willmot and Stuart were not there with me every step, it would not be possible.”
With the Southern strap around his waist, James now has his sights set on global martial arts promotion K-1. For for him, there is not greater motivation than representing his local club.
“I am looking forward to competing more in Thai Boxing and possibly K-1. There are a few exciting fights in the pipeline and hopefully more titles for our club which I am very proud to be part of.”
As James continues to climb his way up through the fight world, Stu continues to fight his way to a brighter future. Stu currently awaits a donor leg that will then pave the way for a potential bone and ligament transfer. A rare procedure that sees him one of the first in Britain to receive.
“This type of operation hasn’t been done many times in the country so I’m a bit of a guinea pig to them. But they are happy to work on me because I’m young, fairly fit and determined to get back to a fairly normal independent life.”
Despite missing out on the fight career he dreamed of for so long, Stu is relishing in his new coaching role. Now armed with a wealth of experience in both kickboxing and Muay Thai, he now knows his mind is his deadliest weapon – for now.
“I can still explain the dynamics of kicks and help people out that way. I can still work my boxing and show techniques that my body will allow. Well it seems to be working so far as the results show form James’s last fights and others from the club. I know I will never fight again in Muay Thai, Kickboxing or MMA but I will not rule out boxing because in my mind I can do it one day”
Stu Jothan and James Miller began their journey into Muay Thai together and despite facing two very different individual battles, they emerged triumphant – together.
“I ended up taking on the responsibility of getting James ready for his last two fights. I work well with James, he listens well and works hard, that’s all I want,” said Stu. “James fights for me as well now and so I feel I want to pass on as much as I can to him and help him on his journey to become the best that he can be. It’s pure ‘Bromance’.”
“Tiger changed me to be a better man. I knew I could set goals and reach them. I learnt how to push myself more than before and I learnt how to be a better fighter. We both did. We met some lifelong friends at Tiger and we will never forget the times we shared.”