A few days before the Nov. 6th fight between Linda Ooms and Jemyma Betrian I had the opportunity to speak on the phone with Ooms and ask her about her upcoming fight. I did not get the chance to speak with Betrian due to her scheduling, but instead got insight into the match up through Christine Toledo-Badua, who recently had shared the ring with Betrian in a title bout in the US. From what I gathered this was sure to be an intense fight between the more experienced and technical Ooms and the younger, highly aggressive Betrian.
I thought a lot about the fight all that Saturday. Next morning – which with the time difference is the evening after the fight – I received an email from Ooms letting me know how the fight went as a follow-up. She was disappointed to have lost the fight and was further upset by her nose being broken early in the second round. Ooms went on to say that she believed that the knee which broke her nose – which ultimately stopped the fight – was an illegal strike and that her coach was disputing the result of the bout, asking for it to be declared “no contest” in order to initiate a rematch for the same title. I wrote back to her and asked if I could speak with her on the phone to ask more about the fight and this result; I then wrote to Betrian as well in order to hear how she experience the fight and how she might be thinking about the increasingly controversial knee strike.
When I spoke with Ooms she’d just returned from the doctor and had indeed broken her nose. She described the first round as a good one for herself and felt that Betrian was fatigued by the start of the second round. Ooms figured that had the fight gone all five rounds she would have had the staying power advantage and been the victor. She told me that early in the second round she had slipped on some water in the corner during a clinch and, as she was falling – in mid-air it would seem – Betrian had thrown a knee into Ooms’ face. When she stood up she could feel her nose was broken and, as the ref was counting to eight, Ooms indicated to her corner that she could not continue, wanting the doctor to see to her injury. The count was up and the fight was called. Ooms exited the ring to see the doctor, and Betrian was announced the victor, standing without her opponent in the center of the ring to receive the title belt.
As chance would have it, I found the fight online a few days later due to some intrepid Facebook posters and, since I was away from a computer where I could watch it right away, I emailed the link to my husband who spent some time analyzing the knee in question. The video includes some slow-motion and so he froze the frame in various places in order to get a good look at the exact moment of contact. According to the WFCA official rules of competition a fighter is “down” when she has any part of her body besides her feet on the ground or when she is not able to defend herself. In the frozen frame of when the knee hits Ooms is at the end of her mid-fall, but still in the air with only her feet touching the ground. However, there is second WFCA rule which seems to apply which states that while knee strikes to the head are legal, no kicks or knees can be delivered to the head while holding the head. In the same frozen frame it is clear that Betrian is holding Ooms’ head while delivering the strike, something that I believe is because the women had just been clinching when Ooms slipped and Betrian simply didn’t let go as Ooms fell below her; that is, the holding of the head was not intentional for the head strike. But it would appear by this rule to be an illegal blow.
I watched the fight for myself. I was impressed by it even though it was too short, and wished to have seen more. In my conversations with Ooms and Toledo-Badua both had described Betrian as a wild fighter. When I saw her in the first round I was prepared for an aggressive fighter, but I would not have chosen the word “wild” in my own description. Betrian is indeed very aggressive and throws flurried combinations, but her strikes are direct and powerful. She misses more than she lands and she puts so much of her weight behind each attempt that her body is sometimes hurled after her fist like the tail on a comet, but her jab shoots out (and back in) with amazing speed and precision that is anything but “wild.” Betrian is clearly well-trained and practiced, and though not at this point describable as a “technician” she is highly skilled. It is much less that the form of her her attack is wild, and more the case of how Betrian expresses herself in the ring, her intensity as a fighter – that is to say in describing her – that I would absolutely select the word wild.
There is about as much footage of Betrian’s victory celebration in the ring after the fight is called as there is time in the second round before the final blow. When the ref waives his hands to indicate the fight is over Betrian throws her hands up, hand-stands, and her corner leaps into the ring lifting the fighter up onto his shoulders and shouting (in Dutch) that this is the champion. Betrian is put back on the canvas and she goes over to Ooms’ corner to hug her opponant, but she is rejected at that moment by Ooms who appears distraught and is likely in considerable pain from her injury. Betrian turns directly around and goes back to the celebration. The footage cuts to the raising of Betrian’s hand and the announcement of her name when the belt is given over with the title. What’s incredible about this image (in direct contrast to the celebration just prior) is that Betrian keeps her eyes on the floor and her head tilted downward as her hand is raised. She looks very young at that moment and introverted; but as her trainers crowd around her with the belt and giant flag Betrian snaps immediately back to fighter and begins ordering the cameraman where to stand for the best shot and grins, giddy again. Ooms, the older and more experienced fighter, is notably absent from the center of the ring – clearly off-stage to attend to her broken nose. Betrian is 20 years old.
I’m not certain what the chances are of having a result like this overturned. The fight was intense from the start with Betrian chasing Ooms with multiple blows while Ooms ducked and countered. Linda Ooms last night told me that Betrian’s coach in a post-fight Dutch newspaper interview implied that she had been beat up in the fight, and had simply quit. Clearly this was not the case, though the first round did not go to Ooms. She had been unable to match Betrian’s energy, her wild, with her own intensity but was by chance robbed of the opportunity to show if her own style and experience was enough to take it back from her challenger. The finish was no less incredible than its beginning – and in a combat sport where women’s fights don’t get the same attention, credibility, money, or publicity that men’s fights do, this kind of action-movie, exciting and violent finish might even be needed for women’s bouts to get recognition. That admitted, as brutal and beautiful in form as Betrian’s knee was, its delivery appears problematic.
In the days after this fight the controversy has taken on a life of its own. An internet following has taken to forums, posting comments and reactions in North America and in Europe. This article has been linked to various female Muay Thai websites and the comments have been predominantly in favor of a rematch. Unfortunately, however, the video clip of the knee has used on various European internet forums to comment disparagingly on Ooms’ sportsmanship. This is an interesting turn, as the clip illustrates the questionable legality of the strike. I do not question the sportsmanship of either fighter and in the comments I’ve seen in N. America, posters appear to be supportive of both women as fighters and simply think a rematch would clear the air.
I have not had the opportunity to speak with Betrain since the fight, although I have been in some contact with Ooms. Linda Ooms is understandably unhappy with the result – a broken nose from an illegal strike and an unjustified loss on her record. When I spoke to Ooms the day after the fight all she had on her mind was the possibility for a rematch. Betrian has been in contact with Christine Toledo-Badua and I was able to get some of Betrian’s reaction from the fight through her. According to Toledo-Badua, Jemyma is not proud of what happened; she was completely in the moment of the fight and did not realize that Ooms had slipped until after the fact and had no intention of kneeing her while she was down, but didn’t know she was down until it was too late. Betrian said she did not want to accept the belt, but she feels that there’s nothing she can really do about it. Toled-Badua advised her that Ooms deserves a rematch and Betrian agreed that this is the best way to help resolve a complicated and messy result that doesn’t hold much honor in it for either fighter.