June 1, 2016 – Thapae Stadium
It was difficult to get a fight booked up in Chiang Mai. After winning the Northern Title off of Faa Chiang Rai (How I won the Northern Championship Belt, a Belt No Westerner Can Hold), I could not get a fight in the North. I don’t know that it’s related, but it was a very clear correlation that could have had to do with promoters getting slapped on the wrist for having me fight for the belt in the first place, or nobody wanting to fight me, or low season, or a combination of all of the above. But when I finally got a fight booked at Thapae, through Daeng, I was excited. To hear it was Baifern was doubly good, because I always feel like I owe her: she’s cut me twice.
I read about this fight in Muay Siam the week before it happened (above). The copy was pretty much about how we’ve fought three times, I won once and Baifern has won twice, but the last win was highly disputed. So the headline was “did Baifern really beat Sylvie?” The article was calling fight fans to come watch this exciting rematch that would settle the arguments over the last fight. Baifern is bigger than I am, but she’s smaller than a lot of the women she faces in Chiang Mai. She’s often outsized in the tournaments she enters, where all the fighters are cutting down to the 50 kg mark and she’s pretty much walking around at that. So I feel an appreciation for her. She’s also a knee fighter – long, straight knees – although not so much a clincher. She has one move in the clinch that allows her to knee, but she doesn’t know how to change positions. When I was a Lanna fighter up north, I remember Den saying I wasn’t “ready” for Baifern yet. I don’t recall when that was, exactly, but it did take a long time before we actually had a fight. Indeed, I think she was my last fight in Chiang Mai before I moved to Pattaya 2 years ago.
Now with three fights between us already in the books, I’m sitting on the mat and wrapping my own hands while Daeng stands and surveys the stadium. I owe Daeng a lot for booking me fights and coming to corner for me when I come up to Chiang Mai. He works all day and then stays out late to help me in the ring (I’m never an early fight in Chiang Mai), which isn’t a small thing. Baifern happens to be standing a few feet away from us, in her street clothes but with her hair already in a million tiny rubberbands for the fight. She’s tall, looks fit, and is very pretty. I look at the card and see her gym name, Bor. Puiboonput, several times down the list. So her mat is empty when she’s getting ready as the rest of her team is already at the ring with another fighter. I like this about her. Her experience allows her to take care of herself and she just sits quietly on a plastic chair with her gloves pushed into the tops of her thighs while we wait for the fight before ours to finish. We’re the last fight of the night.
full fight video above with commentary
It was a long wait but we finally got in the ring and I felt ready. Baifern is tall and loves to throw knees, but doesn’t really clinch in the clinch. She just holds and knees but doesn’t change position or lock. One thing that drives me crazy about her is she complains to the referee within the fight when she thinks something is unfair – like she’ll point out if your arm goes over the ropes, which is indeed a foul but happens a lot for brief moments – but also if she’s just uncomfortable she’ll lodge a complaint. In our last fight I crushed her down to the ground in a lock – not a back break but just from a lock around her neck that hurt her and she crumpled – and she complained to the ref that it was a foul. It wasn’t. He also had no idea what that was and didn’t call it as a foul, he just stood her up. Anyway, that was a different fight and I only mention it because it’s part of the emotional experience of fighting Baifern; it’s like playing with a kid in the sandbox who will tell on you to an adult for anything and everything, whether or not it’s wrong.
I felt strong all through the fight and Daeng was giving me good instruction in the corner, saying to step on my kicks and stay closer, which he’s been telling me for maybe 3 years now. I nodded and felt the crazy heat of the weird spotlight they put on you between rounds at Thapae… it reminds me of a restaurant heat lamp that warms food that’s waiting to go out to tables. It’s not pleasant. And the music is really loud. But the ice water dumped all over you by your corner kind of blocks out both the heat lamp and the music for the brief second it’s shocking you awake. But in round 4 I kind of lost the plot. I’m not sure what happened from my end, but from Baifern’s end she just picked up the pace and threw a string of strikes at me in one forward-pushing hoorah… and it worked pretty well because I didn’t answer it with an appropriate response and she probably took round 4. That’s a big round, an important round, it meant the whole fight was at risk. So I had to pull my shit together for round 5 to win the fight and resolve that issue about whether or not she’d really won the last fight.
In the first round she opened with an early headkick, which I caught and was able to put her on the ground from. She left those high kicks alone until later rounds when she came back to them, but my guard was up and she was tired. (The Muay Thai newspaper published a photo of that first headkick a few days after the fight, seemingly in retaliation for a color, glossy picture in the weekly magazine of me blocking her kick. They did not publish any of her on the ground, despite me putting her down a few times. Pi Nu complained about the headkick picture, which is why I mention it – in Thailand public appearances are very important.) My hopping in with the knee up worked well and teeping worked. I don’t know why but I was way into this catching of her kick with my left glove and then hooking off of it. That worked a few times and I just kept doing it. I know I do that occasionally with Pi Nu in padwork because I can’t technically catch his kicks, because I’m afraid of hurting his knees which are a little fight-weary, but that kind of sweep doesn’t risk his knees – I don’t do it enough for it to be something I think to do in fights, but clearly it’s there in the subconscious when I need it. And there were a few really good turns in the clinch with a knee to finish them, which score really well and keep me moving. Especially against someone bigger like Baifern, who knows how to keep her hips in, it’s important to get those dramatic movements. Without them this fight would have been quite different. And with round 4 going the way it did and me only being able to dance off the last few seconds of the 5th (and her corner telling her to go instead of letting her try to steal it), those emphatic moves mean more.
When I hopped out of the ring, the victor, I went into the back room to have my gloves taken off and the promoter of the stadium, Kob Cassette, was shaking his head and asking Daeng what the hell happened in round 4. Daeng made a joke of it, as Thais do, but he was probably thinking the exact same thing. I understood Kob and understood Daeng, so I just laughed and shook my head and said, “sorry” more or less. After a loss people will say that it’s not really about winning or losing, it’s how you play the game. When they’re giving you shit after a win, that’s when you really feel the ethic of this phrase. I won, but I shouldn’t have fallen apart in round 4.