April 23, 2016 – Wat Chaiyo, Ang-Thong – full video above, video with commentary below
As we walked toward the ring, set in the flat open field of temple grounds, I held the phone to my ear and listened to it ring for what seemed like a very long time. “Shit,” I said to Kevin, “he’s not answering.” We didn’t know where the team was, as they’d arrived at the venue before we did and we were meeting them. The show was supposed to start fairly soon and I was the second fight on the card, so that meant I had to be ready quite quickly. All of a sudden, right as I was pulling the phone away from my ear to hang up, Pi Nu’s voice comes through the other side. I tell him we’re here, looking at the ring and ask where he is. He tells me to go find Filippo (an Italian former fighter and trainer of some visitors to the gym) and start getting ready, adding that I can find Filippo at the table where the announcers sit.
My heart sinks a little bit. I was pretty sure that Pi Nu was coming to this event, because we have two other boys on the show and he’d implied he was coming. But he also hates to leave home for anything other than errands around Pattaya. He’s only 43 years old but he’s exactly like Master K was, at 73 years old, when I was training with him in New Jersey and he thought that driving 20 minutes was simply too big of an ordeal. It’s okay, the times that Pi Nu has actually been present at one of my fights is only a handful of times, so it wouldn’t really be a problem at all… just a bummer because I love when he is there.
We spotted Filippo and the group of boys who had come along to help with cornering. Dtee already has his hands wrapped and is glossy with Thai oil. He’s the first fight and he looks ready to step into the ring. I guess we had less time than I thought. Filippo asks me if I have the stuff to wrap my hands and I tell him I do, then add that I can wrap them myself and he gives me a nod of approval while I sit down to get to it. As I’m finishing up my first hand Pi Nu approaches from slightly behind me. We’re on the edge of the field, bordered by some scraggly young trees and a building that is probably classrooms. I’m shocked to see him and kind of fumble with holding the second wrap in my hand as I wai to him; he’s grinning and walking with his son Bank and his uncle, Alim. Apparently they had gone over to the big temple just behind the festival stalls at the other end of the field. Pi Nu is a very observant Buddhist and, indeed, revisited the temple after Dtee and I fought, prior to Alex closing out the show. But I was stoked that he was there. I guess he didn’t answer his phone straight away when I called earlier because he was in the temple.
Once I was all ready, both Faa Chaing Rai and I were seated side-by-side at the foot of the stairs leading up to the catwalk out to the ring. Well, 30 feet away from the stairs. But we could watch Dtee’s fight in the ring as we sat there. She had a friend with her, a very tall young woman, and they chatted to each other as I sat there holding my breath and letting out small sounds of cheer in response to the events in Dtee’s fight. Somewhere near the third round the tall friend asked me a question and I answered her, which kind of opened the window to me engaging with the pair, rather than just sitting awkwardly next to the opponent I’m about to enter the ring with. Faa is from the North of Thailand and I lived up there for 2.5 years before coming to Pattaya, and I still fight there, so I was curious to know if she’d fought some of the bigger opponents I’d struggled with. “Have you ever fought Cherry?” I asked. “Gor Twin?” she clarified and I nodded. Then she launched into this very fast speech pattern of how big Cherry is, how Faa has fought her five times already and they had one draw but Cherry is so big. I started laughing and joined in as my experiences are quite similar. Then we talked about a few other fighters we’ve both faced and what we don’t like about fighting with them. We were just gabbing, it was kind of funny. I reckon I’m one of the fighters that Faa doesn’t particularly like fighting, but at this moment I kind of had to marvel at the beauty of Thailand: our gloved hands resting on our laps, the light of the stage reflecting off our oiled limbs and faces as we shoot the shit about shared opponents in the minutes leading up to our entering the ring to face off against one another.
above, the full fight video with audio commentary
I felt pretty confident going into this fight, albeit with the regular slight feeling of pressure that I’ve already won against Faa a few times so it would be real lame to lose. But each of our fights has been closer than the last and rematching the same opponents forces you to get better. It’s a good thing. That said, because Pi Nu is so rarely at my fights I also felt a kind of pressure from that, just in wanting to do him proud. He’s not a very nit-picky guy, but he also knows what I’m capable of at my best because of seeing me training against him and the boys… so falling short of that is a bit of a disappointment in any case. But he’s patient; he’s been incredibly generous in his patience with me.
And then when I actually felt the fight I did, in fact, feel slow and kind of like the sense of urgency was outside of my control, rather than urgency in my actual actions and body. I could have cut off the ring better and I definitely could have checked kicks instead of catching them. But I’d not fully recovered on my shin from my string of three fights in four days. That’s not a huge deal, but it can leave some dings on your body that just take a long time to heal fully. So I wasn’t blocking due to feeling a bit tender about the shins. I didn’t have another fight right away so I should have just blocked anyway – it came off as fear, that hesitance.
She was doing well with keeping her range and distance, which is where she does well. I was doing well once I caught her and could land knees in the clinch, which is where I do well. But I knew I needed to do more for it to not be a super close fight. She was landing nice long kicks that were basically unanswered by me. Those are big points. Then I would land some strong knees and turns that were unanswered by her – those are big points, too. It all came down to the fifth round, where I managed to Superman punch her and take her down all in one swoop. It was the most dramatic move of the whole fight – not just the round, the whole fight! I kept chasing her in the round, probably more than I needed to, but I did decide to back off at the last minute in order to have the reversal in the fight. My corner wasn’t on board with that decision and there were some concerned looks. But when the referee went around to grab the scorecards there was no delay in his reading and announcing of me as the winner. Close fight, but not debatable. That takedown in the fifth was absolutely the decisive moment of the fight.
a short clip of the decisive moment, above
After the fight I ventured out to buy a soda for Kevin and try to find something Jaidee and I might like to eat. It took me a while to stroll all the way across the field to the stalls, as my foot was in intense pain from the last fight where I likely broke it, and this one where I somehow cracked it again. But I refuse to limp or hobble, so I just kind of walked very slowly with my foot awkwardly sideways to redistribute the weight. On the way out I saw a vinyl poster laid out on the grass as one would use a blanket or a mat for a picnic. These giant posters are made up to advertise fight events, usually plastered to the sides of trucks to be driven around town where the fights are taking place with an announcer plugging the event. Promoters will give them away afterward, because you can’t reuse it, and I’ve seen them used as rain tarps at gyms, hanging at gyms to celebrate the fighters from the gym depicted on them, or even just like this, as a tarp/mat to sit on and put all your stuff on. What was notable about this was that I was on the poster. It was for a fight in Hua Hin, when I fought against Loma Lookboonmee under her other fight name, Kanda Por. Muangpet. I’m everywhere!
Over at the stalls I bought a soda and then started my slow path down the line of grilled meat stands, dried and flattened squid snacks, and various deep-fried treats. At the very next stall a young Thai woman stopped me and started chatting to me about whether or not I was hurt in my fight. The answer is always, “no.” She seemed to spot a lack of recognition in my face and asked if I remembered her, which I kind of, sort of did but couldn’t put my finger on it. Then she told me she’s Muangsingjiew, who I have fought 4 times over the past 2-3 years and I immediately acknowledged that I did, indeed, know exactly who she was and asked how she was doing. I’m not sure if it sounds as suggestive in Thai as it does in English, but I noted that I hadn’t recognized her because, “I’ve never seen you with clothes like this on.” Meaning non-fight attire, not clothes in general. She laughed and we gabbed a bit about whether or not we had upcoming fights, as well as a brief exchange about fighting Faa Chiang Rai, as she’d fought her a few months prior. Then we went on our different paths. I have to say it’s really cool to run into opponents like this, like running into acquaintances out at the market or happening to sit next to them on the bus. A million years ago, when I was still fairly new to fighting, I would have found it terribly odd to engage with opponents like this; now I consider it terribly odd not to.
Pi Nu is not often at my fights, a rare post-fight photo of us together