February 10, 2017 – Pak Thong Chai
Nong Mat was not the opponent I was expecting when I arrived at the temple in Pak Thong Chai. I’d been told by the promoter that it was a rematch against an opponent I’d defeated a few months back, on his card also, and that there was a side bet. But when I got there the name on the card was different, which is usually – usually – indicative of there having been a switch. When I located the promoter and asked him he laughed and said the other opponent wouldn’t fight me, so now I was against this new one. Alright.
I didn’t have a corner with me (wrote about the romance of being a ronin fighter in instances like this, a few years ago), so Kevin and I laid out the mat behind a small canteen that was serving soup and I got to wrapping my hands. Gamblers gawk at me when I do this; they love seeing not only a woman, but a falang woman wrapping her own hands for a fight. I always get a lot of thumbs up. Then I had to run around to find the promoter to get someone to help in my corner during the fight, which this one older guy eagerly agreed to but when he realized I actually needed an oil massage as well he had to go find two little boys to help. It’s not appropriate in many cases for adult men to do this for me, so he just rounded up some early teen or pre-teen boys from another camp to come throw oil on me. It’s also grunt work, so the boys are drafted into helping in my corner as well, jumping in between rounds to dump ice water on me.
It was incredibly cold, being February and the middle of the country. I saw my opponent for the first time when I climbed up on the stage to sit “on deck” as the fight before ours carried on. She was short and round, a stocky Tom with short hair and a total confidence about her that I still carry in my memory of her. We sat on either side of the catwalk to the ring, not looking at each other, both of us kind of shivering in the night air. The only positive thing about cold weather for fights is that there aren’t as many bugs flitting around in the lights above the ring, so you don’t get them stuck to you or in your mouth as you do your Ram Muay. But that’s about the only positive. For this particular fight, we got into the ring and then they did this 10 minute introduction of all the promoters, sponsors and local officials who needed to be recognized for the show. It’s always rough to be standing there, ready to fight and in the ring, for 10 minutes while they do this but it’s especially hard when you’re literally shivering and you want to ask your corner for your mouthpiece because your teeth are chattering.
above, is the full fight video without commentary
My supporters through patron can watch the full fight with my audio commentary, with only a pledge of $1, keeping me fighting and writing.
Finally we got to it and I was surprised in the first round by Nong Mat’s strength and clinching finesse. Not only did she beat me in the clinch during the first round, she beat me at my game in the clinch – like, my same tactics. There was a definite, “well… shit,” consideration as I went back to my corner after the first round. But it’s the first round, so who cares? My rocky start to this fight probably meant better gambling odds for those who ultimately took my side in the end, but I was slightly worried after that initial exchange. She was strong and skilled in the way that female fighters in Isaan can really have much more developed clinch technique than in other places in the country. Real clinch technique gets taught more directly to them, and they grow up fighting under clinch-favoring reffing since they were kids. I love fighting these kinds of opponents because they willingly engage in the battle, and it’s my clinch against yours, with a few style points thrown in. Ultimately in this fight, in the rounds that followed I think that just getting my right arm in and locking turned the tables – just that one thing. But I loved this fight; Kevin loved it more than I did, even. And Nong Mat was a wonderful surprise as an opponent. I had a cut on my head from a fight 4 days prior and I think I just put tape over it to keep it more or less closed, making it at least slightly less visible, but in the last round I started to bleed underneath the clear plastic of the tape and the people who took notice of it were completely perplexed. I’m just happy anytime I don’t have to get stitches, as that’s pretty much the only thing that forces me to stay away from fighting or full training for a couple days. I liked those little gromits in my corner as well.