23-year-old Zoe Putorak works hard in the vineyards of a winery all day, then steps into the ring, showcasing her talents as one of Australia’s most dominant and beautifully violent professional muay thai fighters. Zoe has amassed accomplishments many athletes dedicate their lives to achieving, all whilst working a full-time job.
Some of Zoe’s most recent accomplishments include being the 2020 IFMA gold medalist and world champion, 2020 World Games gold medalist, 2022 World Games gold medalist, WMC super lightweight Australian champion, WMC super lightweight Australian champion, WBC welterweight Australian champion, and the newly crowned WBC super lightweight Australian champion. These titles are simply just the most recent achievements on top of Zoe’s impressively stacked resume.
I’ve trained with Zoe in muay thai and we caught up recently to discuss her most recent fight on Muay Thai League 6 in the Gold Coast, where she won her 2nd WBC Australian title within 6 months. Zoe also talked about the difficulties Australian muay thai fighters face in supporting themselves financially whilst being an athlete, and the role of the Australian media within the sports of muay thai and boxing.
Q: How was the prep and your fight camp leading into Muay Thai League 6?
A: The prep in the fight camp went pretty good. I felt that there was just that added bit of pressure for me to perform because of all the bells and whistles like the cameras. When you’ve got that on you, you need to switch on, so I found that actually really helped with my camp and with my pads. The rest of the training was pretty good. I tried to do a lot of my own bag stuff. I’d done what I had with my coach and then I had to take it away and apply it myself rather than have him making me apply it on pads.
Q: That’s really interesting, actually, like the cameras and stuff. It makes sense. All of the pressure. Was it good for motivation?
A: Yeah well it’s like, you don’t want to look like shit on camera. When I was doing pads with my coach Lee in front of the cameras up in the Gold Coast, it was probably some of the best pads I’ve done in a fight camp, ’cause my head can be very up and down with fights because of pressure. But you can’t think of any of that you can’t argue, you can’t cause a scene or cry ’cause you’ve got cameras on you.
Q: So how was the fight and the experience of winning?
A: Obviously everyone likes to win, so that was pretty fucking good. The fight itself, I knew it wasn’t gonna last for the five rounds. I was obviously trying to get that head kick knock out within the first three but I wasn’t stepping forward quite enough. But being able to sort of solidify the thought that I am the best in Australia was great, like I’ve fought everyone who’s been at a higher level. So now I’m fighting the ladies who are stepping up to this level, which is awesome. Being able to win against someone who’s trying to take you out whilst stepping up is a really cool place to be.
Q: The fight show was a female only card that amassed a huge audience. How did it feel to be part of that?
A: I felt very privileged. Not only that it’s like a female fight card, but the amount of skill and talent that the ladies brought was next level. It was really awesome to be a part of that and to be the Co-Main event for the card was incredible. It was fight number 31 for me, I was finally a main event!
Q: So this is your second WBC Australian title fight within six months, did winning this super lightweight national title feel any different to winning the welterweight national title back in August 2022?
A: Yeah, they were very different fights. So the welterweight title I was fighting Steph Glew and I was rematching her. So I lost to her a couple of years back. I don’t want to make excuses for it, but I took it on short notice. I was younger, and I hadn’t filled out in my body yet or anything like that. So Steph simply was just the better fighter in that fight. So I wanted to get redemption. And this fight had been in the works for like a really, really long time. I’ve been wanting that redemption for a really, really long time too. So when it finally happened and we fought, that was a really big moment for me and especially to win against her. She’s a really good fighter so I knew I had to hold my own.
With the one that I just had, the super lightweight title fight, there where different pressures because Jessie Geyl was stepping up. I had to make sure that I performed at the higher level. If I didn’t, then I hadn’t done my job. So that was playing on my mind a lot that day that, that I had to show that I was better. If not, I’ve wasted the chance. But winning that one was also a big deal. I was in a different position, with different pressures.
Q: You have represented Australia in multiple overseas tournaments and competitions. Where does this fight rank in terms of your career highlights?
A: I would say the fight show itself ranked up really high because that was just such an awesome experience to be on that show. Just the way that it was run, it’s sort of like second to none that I’ve been on. It was just really, really good, definitely because it was run by women. The fight itself was a good fight, Jessie has won against strong ladies before, she’s got a big muay thai body and she’s got elbows that can cut. I have had fights that I would rank higher as the level of aggression between myself and by opponent has really tested by skills. But it was awesome to get the win by stoppage, I’m always proud of that. I respect Jessie because she took the fight. I’ve had ladies who are fit and ready to fight keep dodging me, so it was good to just get in there.
Q: You are one of Australia’s most accomplished professional muay thai fighters, but you also work full time at a winery in Murrumbateman. What are your thoughts surrounding muay thai fighters having to work to support themselves financially despite being elite athletes representing their countries?
A: Can I swear? It’s fucking bullshit, dude. It’s crazy. Like for us to be elite athletes and to put in the hard work, the dedication, put our bodies fucking through it, you know, and then you see what like footy players and soccer players earn. I’m not saying that they’re any less, I think if you are performing at an elite level at anything, you’re good as gold dude. But you see them getting paid so much, and then you see people like fighters who put in so much, put their bodies on the line, and there’s no recognition or anything like that.
Like we have to have the Australian Government logo on our tracksuits when we go to the IFMA’s World Championships but then have to pay for the tracksuits out of our own pockets. That’s next level dude, like to not have the same level of respect, it actually hurts you know.
To put it in perspective as well, there’s been times when like you go over to the IFMA’s and Australia is one of the only countries that doesn’t have incentives for medals. I suppose it makes people realize that if you’re from Australia and you’re a serious muay thai athlete at the elite level trying to pursue a career, it just shows how much you want it. Because we’re coming from such a privileged position where we don’t have to fight to send money back to our family or fight because the gym houses us so we can eat and live. I think it just it shows that bit of dangerousness, it shows our Aussie athletes have such a high level of commitment, motivated by a want to do it.
Q: Historically muay thai has been a sport that traditional sports media outlets in Australia haven’t covered. What are your thoughts surrounding the coverage and attention that combat sports are currently getting in Australia?
A: Well I suppose, when you have such big organizations like the UFC, and boxing, people are used to seeing that. The coverage of it has been around for a long time and because it is sort of similar, it can help with the coverage of muay thai being bigger in the future hopefully. Not too many people still know about muay thai. It’s super interesting because it’s boxing but it’s more, there’s kicks, elbows, clinching. Perhaps that’s why people don’t like it. It’s more violent you know, there’s blood, its brutal. People just aren’t used to seeing that sort of stuff. Though MMA is brutal also, but I guess because there’s grappling and fights can end in a submission or tapping out, it tones down how barbaric it can seem.
It’s interesting going from fighting in the muay thai world to fighting in the boxing world, seeing how different they are with all the talk and what not. But that sells. For instance, the people behind Muay Thai League said they’re happy to have me on the card because I’m marketable, ’cause of the way I talk. When I talk, that’s not me trying to, you know, bullshit. That’s just my mentality, it’s actually how I feel. People like to hear that shit, and if they don’t like it, they want to see you get knocked out. It’s bringing an audience either way. But muay thai is a beautiful sport and it deserves more coverage, and there’s a lot of Australian world champions that deserve a spotlight.
Q. You’re only 23 years old, what is next in the future of your fighting career?
A: We’re trying to get a WBC world title fight lined up. We’ve been trying to get a WMC world title lined up for so, so long now. But I don’t know if that will happen because it is a lot harder to get the WMC to happen. I’m a big fan of both organizations, and I see how they both have merit. I don’t know if either of them would agree with me saying that haha. Both of them are fucking awesome. And to be Australian champion for both is wicked. I would love to be world champ in both. So that’s what we’re trying to go for. Short term goal, I’ve got the IFMA world’s coming up in May, so getting the gold medal in that and taking out as many ladies as I can during that comp is what’s next.
Original photos by Tilly Bell