It was time for T.J. to get off the couch.
A sophomore at San Francisco’s Sacred Heart Cathedral in 2005 with his basketball career having stalled, T.J. Arcangel was spending a bit too much time perfecting his video game technique.
After six months of physical inactivity, Arcangel’s parents set their plan in motion to extricate the teenager from the couch of their Portola district home.
“Go get your shorts,” he recalled being told. “I didn’t know where we were going. I just went along.”
Their destination was World Team USA on Ocean Avenue where the Arcangels had learned from a family member about muay Thai martial arts training.
“My parents dragged me out of the house, brought me here and left me here,” Arcangel said after a recent training session, days after being crowned amateur light-welterweight world champion.
His love for muay Thai was at first sight.
“The instruction, intensity, discipline, something caught my interest, something I really wanted to do,” Arcangel said.
Content with the conditioning benefits of muay Thai, Arcangel had initially not considered competition. He was inspired to enter the ring from watching his instructor, Mike Mananquil.
In 2009, Arcangel won all six bouts and captured his first title, the California IKF muay Thai kickboxing light-welterweight belt. He defended the title in his first fight in 2010 before experiencing his only loss to date later in the year.
Convinced that he didn’t wish to repeat that devastating post-defeat feeling, Arcangel’s determination strengthened.
“I had to change the way I fight,” he said. “I trained harder. I went to work on my conditioning and strength.”
Arcangel recaptured his California title at the end of 2010 and went on to become the U.S. champion last spring.
His opponent for the world title on Oct. 8 at the Oakland City Marriott was Canadian John Hamm, a fighter with 20 more bouts under his belt than Arcangel.
The less-experienced fighter executed the game plan set out by his trainer of six years, Kru Sam Phimsoutham: be the matador and not the bull.
“He was fighting elusively,” Kru Sam said of Arcangel’s strategy. “He made the guy miss and he made him pay.”
Hamm never recovered from a first-round straight left that bruised his right eye, and Arcangel won the bout by unanimous decision.
The 23-year-old world champion has not returned to his parents’ couch, but he has maintained his childhood passion. Arcangel is studying at the Art Institute of San Francisco and hopes to become a video game programmer.
WHO: T.J. Arcangel
WHAT: Amateur IKF muay Thai kickboxing light-welterweight world champion
HEIGHT-WEIGHT: 5-foot-8, 140 pounds
WORLD TEAM USA: Muay Thai training facility, 2575 Ocean Ave., S.F.