When Janet “JT” Todd first started to practice Muay Thai, she fell in love with martial arts almost instantly, but it took years of hard work and sacrifice to make a breakthrough on the world stage.
However, though opportunities were few and far between for the Japanese-American in the USA, her hard work and dedication to her art paid off when she joined ONE Super Series and was immediately given an opportunity to challenge the best in the world for the biggest prizes in the game.
Ahead of her rematch with Stamp Fairtex for the ONE Atomweight Kickboxing World Championship at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE next Friday, 28 February, the California native reveals her unusual path to a life in martial arts, and how she hopes to achieve her dream in the Circle.
Flips, Not Kicks
Todd was born and raised in Hermosa Beach, California. Her father was a mural artist and her mother, who moved to the United States from her native Japan, worked as a yoga teacher.
Although “JT” grew up in America, her first language was Japanese. However, she learned English as she got older.
“When I watch videos of me when I was little, I have a Japanese accent with my English,” the Muay Thai star says with a laugh.
“My mom stayed at home, taught us Japanese, and took us around everywhere for piano practice or gymnastics, or for my sister, it was soccer.”
Todd was a natural athlete growing up, but she did not have any interest in martial arts. Instead, she participated in gymnastics.
As she approached her teenage years, however, she realized how much time and attention the sport required.
“It takes over your life a little bit,” she says. “I wanted a social life, so I quit gymnastics in middle school and to replace that, I did cheerleading, so it meshed well.”
From Cardio Kickboxing To Muay Thai
Once high school ended, Todd stopped cheerleading and focused entirely on her college education.
She was accepted into a five-year master’s program in aerospace engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California.
Education came first, but she still wanted to stay in shape and get involved in some kind of physical activity. That is when she discovered cardio kickboxing, which allowed her to remain active without giving up important study time.
When “JT’ entered her senior year of college, she was introduced to ‘the art of eight limbs’ by her then-boyfriend, and she was instantly hooked on the martial art.
“At the time, he was just a guy I was seeing, but now he’s my husband. He introduced me to a Muay Thai gym in the central coast area,” Todd reveals.
“I loved it right away. Learning new movements was really interesting for me because I didn’t come from a martial arts background. So learning to kick was fun because my kicks were probably really [bad] when I started.
“Being able to learn new movements and then perfecting those new movements was something I really enjoyed.”
Struggling To Find Opportunities
Once she fell in love with Muay Thai, Todd could not get enough of the sport.
After practicing for so long, she finally cornered one of her training partners during an amateur bout. From there, the seed was planted for her own career.
“I got to see her fight and got to see her hard work from the gym really pay off in the fight,” the American says.
“She TKO’d this girl with some really beautiful knees, and I was like, ‘This is something I really want to do.’ She kind of inspired me to want to do it myself.”
Following that experience, “JT” booked her own amateur bout and she walked away from the ring victorious.
That would be her last taste of competition for a while. She had just completed her master’s program and was simultaneously beginning a new career. While she actively trained, her competitive Muay Thai endeavors were placed on hold.
Four years later, Todd finally had a break in her busy schedule and returned to the sport she loved so much. This time, there was no turning back.
The American tried staying as busy as possible, but she quickly ran into one of her biggest problems yet. Muay Thai is not a sport that is widely promoted in the United States, so she struggled to find opportunities where she could compete on a regular basis.
“In other parts of the world, they’re fighting every weekend, whereas down here, a promoter wants you to sell tickets [to the event], and if you don’t sell tickets, they generally won’t put you on a card,” she explains.
“The fights are once a month and if you’re lucky to get on that card, you’re fighting once a month. If not, you’re fighting every two or three months. The opportunities are kind of few and far between compared to other countries.”
Challenging For A World Title
To take the next step in her Muay Thai career, Todd started accepting matches outside of the United States and competed in tournaments all across the globe.
In 2017 alone, she participated in 14 bouts and won several bouts by knockout. She also claimed a gold medal at the IFMA Pan American Championships, as well as bronze at the IFMA World Championships and World Games.
That opened the door for her to join the world’s largest martial arts organization, where she has been one of the most exciting competitors since her arrival. After she arguably pushed Stamp harder than any opponent in her debut, “JT” won three bouts in a row, including one via sensational head-kick KO at the biggest event in martial arts history, ONE: CENTURY.
Her reward was a chance to compete for the gold against her old rival again in Singapore, and after coming so close last year, Todd is preparing to bring the World Title back home to the United States.
“I really want to prove to everyone that I’m worthy of that title,” she says.
“I always said I wanted to be the best in the world, and literally, the opportunity is right in front of me. It’s a dream come true.”