December 5, 2016 – Lumpinee Park, Bangkok – above, full fight with commentary
This fight was just an incredible opportunity. There was nothing in the fight itself that looked good on paper for me: it was a WMC title fight at 52 kg (more than 3 weight classes and 7 kg – 15 lbs – above my fight weight) against a good opponent, Mary Verona Farm. I’d met Mary before at a previous event (I wasn’t fighting her) and she’s incredibly sweet. One of my favorite fighters just as a personality, for sure. I think I weighed in at about 47.7 kg without having cut any weight, so we guessed that once Mary rehydrated from her cut there was about a 6-7 kg difference. But we knew that was the case and taking the fight wasn’t about not knowing what I was up against. Fighting for a world title is exciting, because it’s not something I’ve gotten to do yet (though I have fought several current and former world champions) and the fight was arranged through Stephan Fox’s office, who put on some really fine promotions – it was an honor. The most important thing for me was fighting on the King’s Birthday, which is an immense holiday in Thailand and a big day for Muay Thai, but this one was especially important because HM the King, Rama IX, had passed away in October. So this was really the last King’s Birthday, as well as an opportunity to pay homage and mourn his passing at an incredible event.
Kevin and I stayed in Bangkok, at a hotel, and had to put Jaidee in a dog hotel because we’ve had bad luck with places in Bangkok allowing dogs. It was a unique experience to be within walking distance of the venue and the morning of the fight I got to do a few laps in the tiny pool on the rooftop of the building and later on take a little warmup run on the treadmill in the tiny gym. I was listening to some Britney Spears or Taylor Swift song on the radio while I ran and got all choked up. It made me laugh but I saw it as a good sign, like I was ready to get in there and lay it out. Just one of those things that only makes sense in your own head, I think.
The fights were held at the corner of Lumpinee Park in Bangkok, right in front of the Rama VI statue. There was a “super 4” tournament with Sawsing Sor. Sopit, Janice Lyn, Candice Mitchell, and a Vietnamese fighter whose name I never got, unfortunately. The IFMA/WMC offices where Stephan Fox works are wonderful at giving female fighters opportunities and a super 4 with these women (alongside a super 4 of men) was the main part of the show. Prior to the fights starting there was a huge congregation of Muay Thai masters and greats, Lumpinee, Rajadamnern, Omnoi and Rangsit referees and officials, and Boran masters all paying tribute to the late King. It was beautiful. As the sun was setting and everyone was milling around “backstage” I was amazed at how many familiar faces I saw from the “book of legends” of the Muay Thai world. I saw Kru Lek, who teaches Muay Chaiya (a style of Boran) in Bangkok and who I’d met maybe 5-6 years prior, and gave him a huge smile. I don’t think he had any idea who I was but his reception to being recognized by this little farang lady was kind of sweet and he gave be the benefit of acknowledging my excitement to see him.
The incredible part was that Karuhat Sor. Suphawan, my absolute favorite fighter of all time, had agreed to come corner for me. He’d cornered for me at my disastrous fight with Loma on the Queen’s Birthday in August, so I was a bit shy about asking him to help me again, but you know what? He’s been in the Muay Thai world a long-ass time and he’s experienced loss before… it’s not a big deal. Having him corner for me is such a gift, not only because I adore him but also because his energy resonates really well with me. He’s a fantastic corner – calm and focused. Dieselnoi – the King of Knees – helped get me ready and cheered for me in the corner as well, although he was super pissed afterwards by the size difference.
My favorite thing was that I always travel with my straw mat, so we laid that down on a patch of grass over to the side of the monument, somewhat off to the side from this tent that was set up as the “backstage” area for fighters. It was quite funny, actually, that they had a “men’s tent” and “women’s tent” for changing into and out of fight clothes and getting massages, but because women fighters only have male cornermen there’s not really a way to have a female-only space for getting ready. But these fancy tents and tables basically sat empty all the time and my little mat on the grass became a magnet for all the legends to come hang out. First it was Dieselnoi, who is the most popular dude among all the old greats, so wherever he is, that’s where everyone goes. He laid down on my mat and started doing ab exercises, then Karuhat appeared – always with this soft smile on his face – and pushed on Dieselnoi’s stomach as he did his reps. And from there a group of 6-10 men of the same era just kind of grouped together to hang out on my mat. It was incredible. I did a vlog about this experience, which is a bit rambling but it’s illustrative of my excitement. In the video below you can see Dieselnoi earnestly describe the tactics he wanted me to use before the fight, with Karuhat pacing back and forth watching over to make sure that I could take Dieselnoi’s amazing energy. This moment alone is one of my favorites in all of my Thailand experiences:
above, the Master of Knees, Dieselnoi telling me how he wants me to fight, Karuhat kind of pacing around in the background as he decides whether/when to step in.
my husband Kevin wrote a Guest Post about the event and the gift of being cared for by these legends: Stories of a WMC Title Fight
Emma and Tu showed up just as the fights were starting and I was having my hand wrapped by Karuhat, so we all kind of missed the Sawsing vs. Candice fight that kicked everything off. I felt pretty focused and other than the awkwardness of having to do things in the manner of bigger shows (like how you get on the stage, special walk-outs, etc) everything felt good.
above, the full fight with my audio commentary
In the fight I just had a hard time moving Mary when we got into the clinch and her strikes were long and easy. She’s not a size that I’m unfamiliar with and I’ve beat fighters of her level and size before, but sometimes the small obstacles just trip you up enough that you can’t get going. Below you can see what my husband thought about the fight in a technical sense, something we’re calling Kevin’s Corner. This reflects what we’ve both kind of come to as a take away, though you can hear my thoughts on the fight in the audio commentary. That was this fight. It was disappointing to fight poorly with these legends in my corner, but my whole excitement about this fight wasn’t altered by losing. I still got to fight in memory and honor of HM Rama IX, with Karuhat and Dieselnoi in my corner, on a beautiful stage and in a big show, for a world title against a good opponent. Absolutely no complaints; just have to do better.
Kevin’s Corner, [my husband’s thoughts about the fight from a technical perspective]: Hey, the hope is in this section to give some of the ideas we took from the fight, at the very least because it may make the fight more meaningful, and instructive to readers beyond: Did Sylvie win?, and so readers can follow Sylvie’s development from fight to fight, and see into where she’s looking to go. I’d say this fight represented the mountain Sylvie wants to climb, to be so technically sound that she can beat a fighter of this quality several weight classes up in a title fight. There are two phases we are really interested in: clinch and stand up. In clinch almost the entire story of the fight in the clinch was Sylvie’s right arm. Mary just did an excellent job of pinning or locking out that right arm and thus preventing Sylvie’s lock, and Sylvie didn’t really recognize and address the issue. There are lots of basic preventions of this if you realize it is happening, the best of them focused on entry: southpaw entry, maximum Dracula entry. With the right arm out Sylvie was ostensibly clinching one-armed, a very tall task giving up probably 15 lbs and several inches. The second factor in the clinch was the ropes. Against a bigger fighter of inferior clinch skill it is imperative to drag her back to the center of the ring so she is forced to defend the clinch in all 360 degrees. Tall, long fighters who can lay back into the ropes when clinching, or even better, lay on you, in the ropes, can really get the ref to break the clinch more quickly, stalling out action. It’s easier to defend trips when against the ropes, and limit the angles of leverage. Right arm in, and dragging into open water might have made this is much closer fight. The second order of business is stand up. A larger though very skilled retreating fighter is very difficult to face as the aggressor in Thai scoring. They can step back easily off of any single shot, and land high scoring counter kicks. The size difference really aggravated this, as Sylvie who’s strikes are shorter found herself continually out of range, while remaining in range for Mary. There are two main thoughts we like to pursue in this. The first is that you have to get the Thai style fighter to “post”, meaning, to stand firm on one leg. Many Thai female fighters are quite good at a single step-back, ready to counter, often drawing one leg or hips back – not a strong position to be in defensively. Only a few can step back a second time. Forcing the “post” requires either feints or combination fighting (first strikes producing the post). At this point Sylvie has not developed her feignting or combination fighting comfortably – this can be an area of growth. You have to somehow end the mobility of the Thai style retreating fighter. The other solid tactic in facing a fighter like Mary is to cut them off and force them back into the ropes, giving them no retreat. Sylvie most dynamic moments in attack were near the ropes where Thai style of retreat has less options. Importantly, when corralling the opponent you don’t want to let them “set up” at the ropes, something Thais do enjoy. You anticipate their arrival, and use the ropes as a boundary. What we really take away from this fight are these two huge areas of growth. Sylvie’s awesome at cutting off the ring, but using those cut offs to more systematically create rope-bound space for attacks on posted fighters is the next development. What the fight really should look like is a kind of tidal flow: cutting off the opponent, driving them into the ropes to score with strikes, then locking them with arm in, and dragging them back into open water to score in the clinch. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat…producing fatigue. I think this is just an amazing fight, full of gold, exposing what is necessary for the next level of dominance. The size difference allowed these elements to really show. In the coming years these broad patterns are part of where we want to be going.
[Sylvie again: incidentally, Dieselnoi’s advice in that video above is how to cut off the ring to get the opponent into the ropes, then bring out your weapons for attack.]
Afterwards, as Karuhat was taking my gloves off, he was shaking his head and laughing about the size difference. Dieselnoi was less tickled by it and was kind of pacing around me raising his voice in agitation. I told him that if I didn’t take this fight I wouldn’t have fought at all, so I was okay with the disadvantage. He got quiet and thought about that for a second, but I think he just doesn’t know me well enough at this point to know that I always fight bigger and so the examples he’s seen are me not doing well against bigger opponents and he views it as a negative pattern. He’s like: “Farang always fight smaller Thai, how come you always fight bigger!” I get where he’s coming from, but this is my path. As Karuhat pulled the tape off my hands and Emma and Tu stood by me to offer support, I smiled at Karuhat and told him, “better than last time though,” as I’d been badly concussed in my fight against Loma. Karuhat laughed and repeated the affirmative, “yeah, better than last time.” And that’s what I’m going for, really. I’ve had several months to work on things and I already am much better.
Post Fight Video Update
This fight video contains full Audio Commentary which my readers have really enjoyed. I’m quite behind in my fight posts so I won’t be able to include this in all my upcoming videos, but I’ll pick and choose the best fights for commentary and add it there. Once I get closer to being caught up I’ll go back to adding commentary to all my subsequent fight videos. These are the fights I’ve already put commentary on.