The first time I met Dieselnoi for real, meaning I got to talk to him rather than just a photo snapped between me gushing and him crossing a parking lot with the charisma of an Old Hollywood movie-star, was in Bangkok for our first session together for the Muay Thai Library. After showing me how to turn on the thresher and blend the life out of your opponent with endless knees, Dieselnoi sat down with his legs folded, holding his phone in his left hand and wiping sweat off his face and arms between poking his index finger onto the screen as he searched through saved videos on his phone. There weren’t many, a few clips here and there. Lots of photos, from scans of magazine pages with Japanese writing to old Lumpinee pictures, and even some snaps of him and other top fighters of the Golden Age, who I might not have recognized at the time. It was very much like someone in your family going and pulling out the family photo album to work you through the stories they want to tell you. But it felt precious. Even at that time, I could tell that what footage Dieselnoi had of his prime was very limited. And what did exist, he was very proud of it. It meant something to him.
I’m of a generation that takes this for granted. Countless times a song has come on the stereo through Pi Nu’s speakers while we’re working out together, something on a playlist he found on Youtube, that he sings along to and then recounts a story from his youth, around when the song was popular (we both like older music). He always adds that back in the day, it was something special to have a song, like on a CD or cassette tape. Now, you can think of any song and get it on your phone in a moment, for free. For Dieselnoi and Pi Nu, there were fighters who were incredibly famous but unless you saw them fight live, you never saw them. Maybe you’d catch it on TV… maybe. I also happen to be the most documented fighter in history, by my own doing, so I have this privilege of forgetting that there’s video of me doing this or that, whereas for Dieselnoi every minute of it is precious. And for Kru Nu and many others, there isn’t any at all.
All of this is to say that it was very special for me to sit down and watch this fight with Dieselnoi. I’d heard him talk about the fight before, the weight cut, the weigh in, and the moments of greatest impact for him as he drew them out of his memory for me – this was before the video surfaced. And that’s all there was: what Dieselnoi could remember from his body actually being in the ring with Samart. Being able to watch the video meant a lot of things for me, personally, as well. I’ve known Dieselnoi for years now and he’s taught me throughout that time. He reiterates the same strategies, emphasizes the same techniques and how to get the most power and balance out of his strikes – but actually seeing him do those things against an opponent who is considered by many to be the Greatest of All Time… it’s just incredible. Not only that, but watching him watch it, actually seeing him think and remember as it’s playing in front of him. And then, because he’s not only drawing the fight itself out of his memory, like before, he’s drawing memories from deeper and farther back to bring into context with the fight. I never knew that Dieselnoi and Samart knew each other for so long, from when they both were barely 38 kilos. I might never have known that, even with how many stories Dieselnoi has told me, without this experience of watching this fight, sitting next to him, as he joked about and admired his friend and opponent… seemingly more and more as the fight went on. The actual length of time it takes to watch it, and therefore how much he can remember and talk about as it plays in front of him, is more precious than I can even express. I might have gotten the story, eventually, that his own gym manager threatened to shoot Dieselnoi during the fight because he felt Dieselnoi wasn’t trying to knock Samart out – that story might have come around on its own – but not while Dieselnoi is watching the fight itself, remembering the round in which he heard this as he came back to his corner and then had to go back in to the fight. Can you imagine?
It was important to us as historians or archivists, for the Preserve the Legacy Project, to allow Dieselnoi to speak for himself. Getting a good translation for the subtitles was not an easy endeavor, but it was so important to get it right and be true to letting Dieselnoi’s expression of himself come through, we went through 2 translators. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. And it’s completely made possible because of the generosity and passion of my patrons. This is the work; there’s urgency to it. And it is overwhelmingly valuable.
special thanks to my patron Harri of Turku Thaiboxing Club who found the video, originally, and brought it to light.
Read more about the fight and this interview here:
If you want to see Dieselnoi actually teach the principals of his style as he used them in this fight, watch this in the Muay Thai Library: