Seeing Stars

How Janet Todd went from aerospace engineer to Muay Thai champion.

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  • Written & Photographed by
    Victor Isaac Alvarez

In the short span of four years, Janet Todd has become one of the best amateur female Muay Thai fighters in the 115-pound division. Muay Thai, which translates as “Thai boxing,” is a combat sport hailing from Thailand in which fighters punch, kick, knee and elbow each other over the course of three to five rounds.

Although often mislabeled as simply a violent sport, in Thailand it’s a way of life—a way to make ends meet. For 31-year-old Janet, however, Muay Thai presents a constant challenge to improve herself in a way no other sport could push her.

Janet was born and raised in Hermosa Beach. After completing a five-year master’s program in aerospace engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she moved back to her hometown to kick off her career at Northrop Grumman.

Janet tried cardio-kickboxing during her college years but was later introduced to the art of Muay Thai by her then-boyfriend/now-husband, becoming instantly hooked by the physical and mental challenges the sport offered her. After winning her first fight by TKO, she stepped away from the ring to focus on her engineering career.

It wasn’t until four years later—when a last-minute opportunity to replace an injured fighter on a local card presented itself—that Janet would step into the ring again. This time she represented her new gym, Boxing Works, owned and spearheaded by the world-renowned Bryan Popejoy. This was a move that would change her life.

“I’m focused on self-improvement. I want to be an example for younger girls that want to get into fighting”.

A decisive victory over her more experienced opponent, winning her a championship title after only her second fight, gave Janet the inspiration to pursue more within the sport. While the victory was nice, she became most interested in the prospect of becoming a better fighter technically, mentally and physically.


“The feeling of getting in the ring and performing the way you wanted to perform—there’s no beating that feeling. I’ll do whatever it takes to get that,” she shares.

Monday through Friday at 11:30 a.m., you can find Janet rushing through the doors of Boxing Works. The sign outside the gym says “closed,” but inside you’ll find Bryan preparing for an hour-long, carefully executed training session. Accompanying them you’ll find 19-year-old fighter Jackie Buntan, the gym’s second most active fighter, already shadowboxing as Janet changes clothes, grabs a jump rope and starts warming up.

This is Janet’s lunch. The training session usually involves kicking pads, sparring, clinch training and fight-specific drills. That is only the first session of the day for Janet, however. Once they finish, she rushes back to work—only to immediately return to the gym when she’s off work, at which point she has another, much longer session.

The evening will usually involve additional technique work, more pads, heavy-bag work, a five-mile run, as well as strength and conditioning work tailored toward her quick, explosive fight style. Janet is most widely known for her balance, poise, speed, sharpness and overall beautiful technique in the ring—all of which are critical elements of true Muay Thai.

Currently Janet holds a record of 26 wins and eight losses. Since her rediscovery of fighting, she’s won 12 championship titles, including WBC Amateur Champion, and three world tournament medals, including gold at the Pan-American Muay Thai Tournament. She was one of two American Muay Thai fighters chosen to represent the U.S. at the World Games of 2018 in Wroclaw, Poland—the first games to include Muay Thai after the sport received preliminary Olympic recognition.

When asked about her success, Janet attributes much of it to her Boxing Works family and her coach, Bryan. “I appreciate the fact that Bryan doesn’t change his fighters into something else. He simply tries to make them a better version of themselves, and that’s always my #1 goal.”

It was that World Games that turned out to be the biggest challenge yet for Janet—and not just because of the top level of competition she faced in the pro/amateur tournament. When her father suffered a stroke only weeks before she was meant to fly to Poland, Janet had to make the tough decision of staying by her father’s side or moving forward with participating in the games. With the support of her mother, sister and gym family, she found the courage to proceed to the tournament and fight for her dad—confident that was exactly where he wanted her to be.

The first fight proved the hardest. A rematch against Morocco, which she had lost to in the previous Muay Thai World Tournament in Belarus just a few months back, put Janet to the test. After feeling like she lost the first round, coach Bryan reminded her in between the rounds whom she was fighting for.

“I wanted to fight my heart out for my dad,” she shares. “I wanted to fight just as hard for him as I knew he was fighting for me and my family.”

In that incredibly challenging tournament, Janet defeated Morocco, lost to Thailand and defeated Poland, earning herself a bronze medal—all over the course of three days. Despite the circumstances she found herself fighting through, Janet turned her emotional battle into a catalyst for success in the ring—choosing to fight as hard as she knew her dad was fighting to recover. While she didn’t get gold, she received bronze and won gold at the Pan-American games a few months after that.

Janet finished the year having competed in the United States Muay Thai Open (a national tournament), where she obtained three wins and added another championship belt to Boxing Work’s already packed shelves. With this tournament, she fought an outstanding 14 times in 2017 alone—a record number for a Muay Thai fighter in the U.S.

While Janet would like to turn professional, the current scene in the States doesn’t provide professional fighters the opportunity to fight as often as amateurs. Her priority is simply becoming the best Muay Thai fighter she can be.

“I’m focused on self-improvement,” she says. “I want to be an example for younger girls that want to get into fighting”.
Janet aims to continue fighting as much as possible before retiring into the next chapter of her life: having a family of her own.

Janet’s Year in Health

Daily nutrition:

“Mostly fish for protein, a serving of chicken a day, with lots of veggies and vegan protein powder for supplement. Flavor God to make the veggies and meat taste better. I go gluten- and dairy-free when the fight gets close and I have to drop weight.”

Free time:

“I go to the beach, relax, watch the waves and spend quality time with my husband, Dustin, who’s my #1 supporter and sacrifices a lot for me to live the fighter’s life.”

Guilty pleasure:

“Watching The Mindy Project on Hulu. And Sour Patch Kids. I love Sour Patch Kids.”

Fitness activity she’d like to try:

“I want to skateboard—if only I was cool enough.”

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