Clovis News: Sports

Clovis fighter 'kept moving forward'

Yia Mua's nickname couldn't have been more appropriate.

The former Muay Thai kickboxing champion from Clovis -- who died Jan. 15 from complications following a seven-month bout with liver cancer -- was called "The Bull" because of his always-on-the-attack style in the ring.

"No matter what, even if the other guy was hitting him, it didn't matter," said friend and former business partner Matt Smith, who runs Pacific Martial Arts gym. "Yia just kept moving forward. He was really, truly amazing. Like anything, there are a lot of people who do it, there's a few who do it really well, and there are a really, really few people who have a gift from God. That was Yia."

Mr. Mua, a Clovis West High graduate, became a celebrity in the Hmong community for his fights -- including some televised on ESPN -- and later for his work in feature films. He was 34.

Services are scheduled for 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. today and Sunday at Hmong Memorial Chapel, 741 W. Belmont Ave., in Fresno. Mr. Mua's burial will be at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Peter's Cemetery, 264 N. Blythe Ave., in Fresno.

After turning professional at 19, Mr. Mua went 32-2 in a 10-year career that saw him earn four championship belts in the United States and one in Thailand.

While he never was able to launch a career in professional mixed martial arts because of a string of injuries and eventually his cancer diagnosis, Mr. Mua did train and spar with local fighters such as former World Extreme Cagefighting champions Doug Marshall and Cole Escovedo.

"Before we started sparring, he was the happiest, nicest guy you'd want to meet. He had a big, huge smile, he'd want to know about your day," Marshall said. "Then when we amped up, his demeanor kind of changed. Then out of the blue, here comes 'The Bull.' He was no joke and all business when it came to sparring. I learned a ton from that guy. He was a great, great competitor and an awesome sparring partner -- when he wasn't making me eat canvas, that is."

Mr. Mua worked as a financial adviser for First Financial Services and as a marketing director for World Lending Group. He also dabbled in acting, playing a role in the Hmong feature film "Daim Duab," which was released in 2009, and the yet-to-be-released film "Finding Hope Now," both shot in Fresno.

Smith got to find out firsthand how revered Mr. Mua was to the Hmong community when they attended a Hmong New Year's celebration together at the Fresno Fairgrounds.

"Everywhere we went, everyone was saying hi to Yia and wanting to take a picture with him," Smith said. "He was like a hero. But that kind of attention never went to his head. It didn't make him believe he was any better than anyone else. He was always trying to help people out."

Because of fan interest that stretches from Fresno to Southeast Asia, Mr. Mua's services will be podcast. Mr. Mua's family also released information about his death on the Web site YouTube.

"People are flying in from different countries for a guy who's here from the Central Valley, that's how big he is," said Khetphet "KP" Phagnasaykp, owner of KP's Actors Gym in Fresno who worked with Mr. Mua on "Finding Hope Now."

"Anything he does in the Hmong community, it sells. He is a celebrity and a role model to a lot of the young Hmong men and women."

Donations can be made in Mr. Mua's memory at Bank of the Sierra, 636 E. Shaw Ave., in Fresno.