October 7, 2016 – Pak Thong Chai (Isaan) – full fight video with commentary above
This is my 150th fight in Thailand. Hot damn. I was supposed to be facing a fighter who had been training at Lookboonmee gym, the gym of my nemesis/friend/the best fighter under 48 kg in the world, Loma, and had been told by Loma prior to the fight that she was probably 56 kg. I walk around at 47 kg, so that’s a 20 lbs difference. I felt confident to go against someone so much bigger, I tend to do pretty well against much larger opponents, but you just never know what you’re walking into. When we arrived at the venue I saw a young woman come out of the restrooms in fight clothes and figured that must be her. There aren’t usually many female bouts on a single card and she looked the right size for how she’d been described. I came without a corner and so these men who had taken care of me in Khorat last week were helping me and they’d won some money on me last week and were keen to bet more this week. However, when you’re in the hands of gamblers you are at the mercy of their money. It’s not my money being put up, so I can nod my head and say I’m happy enough to fight but it’s not ultimately my call; it’s whoever is putting up the money. They decided she was too big and I think they were a little pissed that perhaps her team had misrepresented her size (the card said 50 kg, which isn’t my weight so I assume that’s what they’d heard from her). So they called someone else in to fight and I was supposed to be the 4th fight of the whole card (very early, which I love) but because they were waiting for another fighter to come in we ended up getting pushed very deep into the card and there was a lot of waiting around. My original opponent actually stayed wrapped and in her fight clothes, I reckon because maybe we’d end up fighting anyway.
While I was sitting on the mats waiting and watching the fights a few people who I recognized but couldn’t place came up to say hello and ask me a) when I was fighting, and b) was there a side bet. I told them I was and that I didn’t know about the side bet, that my opponent was still being determined. Those questions about the side bet are important because it determines, on these kinds of fight cards, whether it’s a good match and how much money people should gamble on the odds. If there’s no side bet, a fight can be a mismatch. It can still be a mismatch with a side bet but you have to get both sides to put up money, so usually it’s a competitive match. It drove me crazy that I couldn’t place where I’d seen this one very nice guy who came up to talk to me. I was convinced he’d cornered for me in Ayutthaya or something but a long while later I realized he’s a trainer at Kem’s Muaythai Gym in Khorat, where I went to train with Yodwicha. I’d never seen this trainer in regular clothes before but once I realized who he was, and indeed that Kem’s wife Mo had come and talked to me as well and I’d not recognized her, I had to go over to apologize to both of them for acting so strangely before when I didn’t know who they were! They’re very nice people and both the trainer and Kem himself appeared in my corner during the fight. Kem because he had money on the fight, so he wanted to instruct me (lots of gamblers will come to the corner and offer their tips on what you should do, but seeing Kem and having his energy there was really cool) and the trainer is the one who put Vaseline on my cut. So they were actually very active in my corner, which is an honor.
Finally this other fighter showed up. Her name wasn’t on the card because she was a replacement and I had to send the video to the Female Muay Thai News journalist, Dtualek, who made out her name through the announcements on the video. Grateful to him for that as it’s important to me to keep track of these names. She wasn’t a lot smaller than the original matchup who they deemed too big, but she was maybe 52 kg. Being a last-minute replacement who is willing to put up a side bet is also indicative of her experience and she was, indeed, very strong in the ring. One woman who had been checking in on me all night (her mat was next to ours and her son borrowed my Vaseline and oil) was joking that the side bet should only be 1 Baht, which was a joke about how confident she was I’d knock this opponent out. That wasn’t how the side bet went, but it’s also not how the fight went. She was really strong and skilled and fucking tough.
When we got in the ring the announcer said my name a million times. For whatever reason the name of my gym, Petchrungruang, never sounds right when it’s said. But this guy said it really nice, kind of rolling the “r’s” in a way that made me think, “ah, that’s how it should sound.” It was an exciting fight and I had to really dig deep into my tank throughout the fight. Because she was strong and bigger, it was hard to move her and I kept over-turning in the clinch when I locked which cut off the range in which I could land strong knees. So instead I just kept throwing these chicken-wing knees into her sides, which score but don’t do the kind of damage that straight knees do. I needed to push her back with my elbows and make a little distance with my hips, then drive the straight knees in. Kem kept telling me between rounds to knee with more power. The way to do that is making more distance between us but I just kept over-turning. And because she was so strong I was locking with power instead of technique, which kind of burned out my arms for no reason. So I fatigued myself and got stressed and wasn’t breathing properly, so I got really tired in this fight. That’s not something that happens often. I can count all the times I’ve been jelly-armed in a fight and it’s not many. It’s just tension, but that’s also what kept me from fighting with a wider variety of my skills.
In the fourth round we clashed heads in the corner, not a big collision at all and because we were clinching it wasn’t evident that my forehead had been opened right away. But when we separated there was blood all over both of us and it might have been unclear (for a moment) to the audience who was cut, but they let out a huge howl of excitement. I knew it was me and I knew that meant I had to keep going forward, even if I was already ahead. So I went after her (Kem, in my corner, was gesturing wildly for me to go get her) and she knew what the blood meant as well so she tried to get away as though she was in the lead. It’s very, very tricky! Even though a cut itself isn’t a point, it changes the story that’s being told in a fight and if you’re bleeding, it’s not an option to run away with your lead. Between the fourth and fifth rounds the trainer from Kem’s gym globbed Vaseline over the cut and it slowed the bleeding a little. It was only a little cut, really, mostly a re-opening of an old scar but with a tiny tear down a different direction on new skin, so it was bleeding a great deal from that new spot and looked way worse than it was. Kem told me to grab her in the clinch and knee strong. I nodded and he disappeared, then came back right as I was getting off the stool and called, “Sylvie!” I looked at him in the eyes and he said, “you okay?” I smiled huge and nodded that I was, which made him smile big and he disappeared again. Checking on his bet, I think, making sure I wasn’t freaked out or tired. At the start of the fifth she was confident she could steal it due to the cut. I knew I had to go hard at the beginning but it was important to pull away with my lead at the right moment. It’s really hard to gauge in advance when that might be but you can feel it in the fight. When I look at the footage I can see that Kem and my corner are telling me to back off before I actually do, but I felt the moment before seeing them and the moment I back off is when I felt it. She chased for a moment, trying to land a good strike that she could then run off with the lead, but I teeped her off a few times and when she landed a decent kick I shrugged it off and she knew that was it. She conceded. I’m proud of myself because it’s hard to win on points when you’re covered in blood like Carrie, but also because I really had to dig deep to finish strong in this fight. It was a hard fight in many ways. But I Namkabuan-pushed her into the ropes and did a flying knee/kick (should have picked one!) after her, which I’m very proud of!
Afterwards I had my corner bring me to the doctor for stitches and he wouldn’t give me any. He said the cut was so small it didn’t need any and I asked him to just tape it closed for me. Kevin freaked out at me not getting stitches, saying it wouldn’t heal in time for my fight in Chiang Mai in 10 days. That might be so, but I’ve not gotten stitched one time before when I had an old cut reopen and it healed nicely. But Kevin was really insistent. So I went and asked for two stitches and the doctor refused. I’m not sure if he was unequipped to do so or really just didn’t think it was necessary, but he steadfastly refused. Due to that refusal, however, we decided that I’d fight the next night with the Lookboonmee gym in Buriram. I’d had the fight scheduled anyway and stitches would have meant cancelling that fight (you cannot fight with stitches in your face). But with no stitches and such a small cut, you can fight; I’ve done it once before and it didn’t reopen in the second fight. We just had to ask the head of Lookboonmee (the father of my friend/nemesis, Loma), who was the man in charge of the booking and the money on that fight, whether he was okay with me fighting with a small cut. Again, you’re at the whim of whomever is laying down the money. And when you’re cut anyway, with no stitches, you might as well get two fights for the price of one cut, eh? And it felt important to not cancel that fight that was booked through Lookboonmee, as it was a development in our relationship that I wanted to follow through. The next day, when Lung Boonmee looked at the cut he just laughed and said, “no problem.” We get along great.
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