What Taking Fights Means
I have a fight scheduled for June 28th on a fairly big card put on by Thakoon of Sasiprapa Gym. When my parents were here I fought twice in two weeks in order to show them my realistic fighting schedule, as well as to give them a chance to see me in two different fight venues and, of course, to have a better shot at letting them witness me winning. Before this fight at the end of June I wanted to squeeze in two fights, probably on the 8th and the 15th, which would give me time to recover from these last two fights as well as giving me time before the “big fight” to heal up my shins or whatever. I proposed this do Den and he nodded the way he always does, then came back to me a day or two later and told me he wanted me to fight only once before the June 28th card in order to make sure I felt “perfect.”
I was a little pissed. I don’t like when “big fight cards” lead to suggestions of me fighting less frequently. But I told Den he would have to let me fight four times in July if he put the kabosh on June. Apparently he thought I regularly fight every week, which has become more frequent of an occurrence but is still not the norm. That same morning he had run his heel down the front of my shin during padwork, which I hadn’t been kicking on since my last fight due to a knot, and I almost threw up from the pain. I hadn’t realized it was still so painful because I hadn’t been using it, but Den and I were both a little surprised by the response and he used this as ammunition against me now to demonstrate how I would need more time between fights. It was Thursday, so my last fight was five days prior. Fair enough, that should be enough time to heal a shin but it can also take a number of weeks, depending on location and depth of the knot.
As it happened I wasn’t feeling too hot that day. Sometimes I get flu-like symptoms without actually being sick, something to do with my nervous system being hilariously unpredictable. So I figured I’d finish out training and go to sleep, maybe sleep in the next day to see if I could beat any sickness that might be creeping in or at least let my crazy-Victorian-woman-nerves settle down. I asked Den to knee me in the stomach 50 times, which he was happy to do and comically lost count, then headed home.
Kevin and I decided to go see “Fast and Furious 6” since I would be taking the morning off and during dinner I texted Den to let him know I’d miss the morning training but see him in the afternoon. As I was perusing English-language magazines in a bookstore prior to the start of the movie Den called me, asking if I was okay. “I’m fine,” I said, “just feeling like I might be getting sick so I’m going to rest and see if I can avoid it.” Den asked if I had a fever, I said I did not. Then he launched into a drawn out explanation of the promoter calling him and asking if I could fight this Friday because they had already stated they would have a Farang on the card but this other Farang had pulled out. “If you can’t, it’s okay,” he kept saying. I asked him if by Friday he meant tomorrow and he laughed and corrected himself, saying it was actually Saturday that he meant. That gave me a full day to sleep and get whatever was in my system out. I agreed to fight and Den asked if I was sure three or four times before finally hanging up. I was happy because it solved the Sylvie-needs-to-fight-less conversation without an argument. It demonstrated that I am a valued worker at the gym, someone who is ready to fight so the gym looks good and shows a good face to promoters, making business good for everyone. It also means I can fight again before this June 14th cutoff and have time before the end of the month fight card without going against Den’s wishes, as well as still get my two fights in. It also flies in the face of the “you have a hurt shin so this is evidence that you need more time off” because I was, in fact, now fighting with this injured shin.
The next day I slept; just slept, nothing else. Kevin got me up to go eat and I was pissed about it, but in the grand scheme of things he was probably right. On fight day I got up for breakfast, slept some more and then got my oil massage and shadowed, ate some dinner and got back into bed. One of my favorite things was when I was at the gym shadowing and Rodrigo, who has been at Lanna for maybe 5 years and works at the university and just had a baby boy with his Thai wife, asked me how I felt. I honestly told him I was sick and feeling a bit achy and tired. He asked if it was the flu and I said that it might be but that I was on the border of whatever it was, so I was either going to crash into it or just skirt around the outside and miss that horrible center. He asked who I was fighting and I said I didn’t know. He nodded and we kept shadowing. There’s no, “maybe you shouldn’t fight, your body needs rest,” speeches in Thailand. At least not from people in the game – it’s a job, it’s a way of life. Sometimes you fight when you’re not at your best and it’s just an experience you learn from.
When I got back from dinner and crawled into bed I started feeling awful. My joints ached and I was covered by a heavy blanket but was still chilled, despite sweating a great deal. I took a few hot showers, which seemed to help, popped an Advil and an Immodium and it was time to head out the door for the fight.
At the stadium I saw on the card that the girl I was facing was from the same gym I fought last time, but we were listed at 60 kilos. Sometimes weights just don’t get changed when the program is moved around – this happened to me once before when I knew I was facing a girl bigger than I am (47 kilos) and when I looked on the card it said 65 kilos. It was an error; she was really 54 kilos and they had just rearranged the names. But since I was a replacement, there was no way of knowing for sure if I was facing the same opponent the other Farang was supposed to fight or if it was a typo or error or what. I pointed it out to Den and he remained relaxed about the whole thing. On such short notice as this fight was, I assumed I’d be facing one of two fighters I’d already faced – either Nong Kwang who appears to be a call-her-when-you-need-her type fighter or the girl I fought last week in a rematch because somehow that seemed reasonable in my head.
About a half-hour before the fight I was called over to stand next to two different women. One was tall with huge thighs and a short haircut, the other was only slightly taller than I am, slimmer than the other but still bigger than I am, and looked upset and had wet hair. I stood next to both and this crazy-looking Thai guy started asking me, “ow mai? ow mai?” which means “do you want?” and indicating toward the taller, heavier fighter. I knew what he was asking, but I didn’t like him and told him in Thai that I didn’t understand and went to grab Den. I scooted backwards and called to Den, who stopped playing “Connect Four” for a second and got up on his knees on the sofa to face me. He listened to the two Thai men, then translated to me what they were saying. The one girl was probably 60 kilos and had fought one of my teammates a few weeks ago, Sarah – it was Sarah’s first fight – and was “okay” by Den’s description; the other girl was Nong Ying, who I have fought before and she had just come from another fight at a different stadium. This would be her second fight of the night. Den then stopped talking and looked at me. I had understood that the men wanted me to choose my opponent but I was surprised that Den was simply translating this fact to me rather than, you know, taking control of that decision. I stared back at him, “you‘re my trainer,” I said, “what do you think?”
Den looked at the two Thai men and they had a few exchanges, only the last bit of it was understandable to me. Den wanted me to fight Nong Ying and the men wanted me to fight the bigger one. Den shook his head and smiled, then said, “jep maak” meaning hurt a lot, or intense pain, I guess explaining why he wanted me to fight the smaller one. Then Den turned to me and reminded me to keep my hands up because Nong Ying has really good hands. And with that he slumped back down onto the sofa to continue his game of “Connect Four.”
I didn’t need reminding. I remember my fight with Nong Ying clearly because it’s the most panic-stricken I’ve ever been in the ring. She’s bigger than I am and pretty fast, but more than any of that she’s aggressive and she had beat the shit out of me for two rounds before I got her with a clean knee and knocked her out. In a way aggressive opponents are best for me because I respond well under crazy pressure and can wear them down – it’s hard to absorb and adjust to someone running from me. But I never think, “oh good, she’s beating my ass,” while it’s actually happening. Having thought to myself that I would be facing someone I knew – and having selected only two possibilities, of which this was not one – I was not mentally prepared for this turn of events.
And here’s the lesson: I’m not special. Because I’m from the west and I choose to come here and live this life I kind of peer at it from a side-view. I get to feel all proud of myself for taking a fight on short notice and being a good worker for my gym, for being ready “anytime, anywhere, [for] anyone.” But here’s where the side-view obstructs the reality – feeling all proud of yourself for taking a fight last-minute when you’re sick ’cause you’re just that cool does not mean they roll the red carpet out for you. Sure, I’m doing the promoter a solid by being his replacement Farang so he can keep up on his ticket sales and that looks good for the gym, but that doesn’t mean they owe me anything or that my favor will be met with an opponent who is conveniently matched for my situation. What is more realistic, the straight forward view, is that on short notice you have less reliability on who you might be matched against. It is less likely that your opponent will be your own size or skill level and more likely that they’re just grabbing someone who could also make it to the venue that day… possibly straight from another venue.
Nong Ying didn’t want to fight me. In fact, what had happened was that Den pointed out to the promoter that the weight was listed at 60 kilos and I am, in fact, 47 kilos and the promoter kind of made an effort to find someone closer to my size. That meant calling Nong Ying over from her 5 round decision at another stadium. I’m all proud of myself for taking a fight on two days’ notice and this chick is answering her trainer’s call while changing into regular clothes after already fighting five rounds! If she hadn’t been there, I would have fought the 60 kilo girl without any of this discussion taking place. Nong Ying having already fought that night and me being sick kind of levels the field a little bit, but not really; not in a way that anybody cares about it. What mattered was that the show went on, that two fighters were present to get into the ring and put on a fight, which has nothing to do with whether you’re sick or injured or tired or already sweaty from a fight you just left. All that is background. And none of that makes you special or entitles you to some kind of match-making favors. When you say “yes” to a fight, you are saying yes to a million impractical possibilities and the only thing that you can feel good about yourself for is continuing to say “yes,” even when the scales start tipping away from you.