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Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu

Kingsanglek Tor. Laksong - How Top Thai Fighters Progress in Today's Muay Thai (video included)

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This highlight compilation of Kingsaklek Tor. Laksong was posted on one of the Thai Language Muay Thai pages I follow. The titling is mine, I added it somewhat unnecessarily as he's always the red corner, but you never know whether links will be shared with the same context that an original share writeup offers.  (Unnecessary information, but maybe you find it interesting: he's likely always the red corner in these chosen clips because the red corner is often (not always) the opponent who the odds favor before ever stepping in the ring. That means if it's a rematch, generally the red corner is who won the last fight. Or the more famous fighter between the two. Odds change all the time, at the drop of a hat, at a drop of rain, if a fighter looks left instead of right when he gets in the ring (meaning almost arbitrarily or even superstition), so for the "favored" fighter to be red, that means the odds favored them upon the making of the program and might no longer be the case by the time the fight starts.)

There are a number of things to learn from this highlight, the first of which is that, without the indication of which fighter he is in each clip, you'd still be able to figure out which he is because highlight edits are designed to show the dominance of one side. That's one of the reasons I don't use or trust highlights for myself - they never tell the story of a fight, which is what I like about watching fights. Even the great OneSongchai tapes that are responsible for nearly all the Golden Age footage that most of us have seen on Youtube, they often edit rounds 1 and 2 together and then quickly get to the "action" of the important scoring rounds of 3 and 4, and the resulting "conclusion" of round 5. Often I'm frustrated by this, yelling at the screen about the edited first two rounds because, I mean, I want to know "how did we get here?"

Kingsaklek is clearly very, very skilled. He's amazing and he's been so since he was just a kid. By the age of 14 he was already commanding a 140,000 Baht fighter fee. I'll put that in context: a mid-level fighter of decent skill and fame could command around 20,000 - 25,000 Baht fighter fee, maybe 30,000 Baht if they're the main event.  And he was 14 years old 7 years ago, so that amount was even more impressive, taking inflation into account. I'm not arguing in any way that his talent is not superlative. But the edits, you'll note, are very quick. This means he's explosive, but likely not aggressive and relentless, the way the end result of this highlight video conveys. To be sure, there are a good handfull of moments within a single fight that can be clipped out and put together to make a really exciting highlight, so he is able to have many of these "highlight worthy" moments in a single fight and, indeed, a number of them are knockouts. But, as I yell at my TV screen, "how did we get here?" All those moments within the context of actual rounds and fights, where his opponents are also doing something to him, is much more impressive - in my eyes - to see how he was able to have that moment of dominance while the whole machine is on, rather than in a vacuum, so to speak. 

And finally, this is the most important point for me and one that Kevin and I have maybe touched on in a Muay Thai Bones podcast episode when talking about phenomenal "child" fighters. These fights span Kingsaklek's development over the years. Most of the fights are at Rajadamnern, the one where they're in yellow is at Omnoi and was likely a tournament of some kind. You can see his opponents get a bit better as the compilation goes on, indicated by how long the edits from each round are (meaning they went the distance, even with his dominant moments), and some have actual exchanges where the opponent gets a few good strikes in on him before he shuts them down. But something else you can see, if you have eyes for it, is how he becomes a bit more conservative as the compilation goes on. Yes, part of that is that his opponents are solid competition, but much of it - and I say this out of an estimated assumption about how money and Muay Thai work together in high-level stadium Muay Thai - has to do with the stakes. His flamboyance of movement in the first couple clips, when he's just a teenager, are outstanding. He takes risks and they pay off. As he gets bigger and visually older, he's more conservative; he's still confident, but takes far fewer risks so it's less performative. This is very illustrative of the progression of superstar "child" fighters to headline young men in stadium Muay Thai. Gambling, while a very important part of Muay Thai, is entirely at fault for this "cooling off" of young talent. 

Right now Yodpetek is probably the number one child fighter in Thailand. He's turning 13 this year, so near the age that some of these clips of Kingsanglek are. But he looks much younger than his age, Yodpetek still fights sub-40 kilos, meaning he's not allowed in the National Stadia yet. Since he's still fighting on the outskirts, the gambling is definitely already in place - in fact, the side bets are announced and boasted about in every single fight - but much of the money is coming from small-time or even de-centralized players. Once you hit the National Stadia, the money is huge but it's coming from bigger guns. It's a bigger deal if you lose, and so the flamboyant performances simmer into a more conservative fighting style. People watch Yodpetek and say he's the next Saenchai, so good at such a young age, imagine where he'll go! But look at Kingsanglek as the precedent, and he is one among countless: he will not stay what he is as he grows. Part of that is that his opponents will become better (fighting at 38 kg means most of his opponents are younger than himself and extraordinary talent at 12, 13 years old is more rare than the top fighters at higher weights and of more similar age and experience at the stadia), and part of it - a big part of it - will be the restrictive pressure of gambling money.

I have no "conclusion" for this post. I just had all these thoughts while watching this pretty incredible highlight compilation and wanted to share what I see and think, the context I put it in, so you all can watch it with those eyes and contexts as well. To me, the progression of a "child" fighter is far more interesting than the out-of-context flare of a highlight video. I absolutely enjoy watching how amazing and skilled Kingsanglek is, no doubt, but I always prefer to see that skill in its "natural form," in the context of each actual fight. So, to youtube I go to stalk the origins of these clips, haha.

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