above, the first time in print Thai press gave me a fighter’s nickname
Thai fighters have many names. There’s the given name at birth, then the “play name” that is universally used, then a fight name (those are the names we know, like Buakaw, Saenchai, Dieselnoi, Yodwicha), and then there’s a kind of “tagline” name that most of us don’t hear but is used in Thai language media around these fighters. These nicknames are descriptions of style, more or less: Golden Age greats like Dieselnoi had “Sky Piercing Knees,” and Karuhat is “Yod Shihan,” which is like “top wizard” or being the ultimate in skill. Current top female fighter fighter Chommanee is referred to as the “Killer Angel” because she is so sweet and yet so dangerous and ruthless in the ring. One of my favorites is Yodkhunpon from the Golden Age is “Elbow Hunter of 100 Stitches.” You get the idea.
Westerners largely do not get nicknames or even fight names in Thailand. We usually just fight with our names. Ramon Dekkers is an exception in that he was the “Turbine from Hell”, and technically (John) Wayne Parr became “John Wayne” because of his trainer giving him the moniker based on his own love of the cowboy actor. But most of the time it’s just our given names that are used. I’ve grown up with countless nicknames, some of which have stuck even until now. My brothers and mom call me “Bo,” which developed out of some other nicknames, and one brother has consistently called me “Monkey” for decades now. I like nicknames; they read as a sign of affection to me. And I’ve always really wanted a fight name because it’s distinctly cooler than just using your own name. I know some Thai friends only by their fight names, and some of the boys I train with I only know their nicknames and have to squint at the fight board and make my best guess at which fight name belongs to which kid I know by his play name. It’s fun. But I never got a fight name. The first time I came close was when I heard Master K using the Thai word Prik-kee-nu to describe me, which is the tiniest and most spicy Thai chili pepper. It’s used to describe a small bodied fighter who has a lot of power, but it’s not properly a nickname. And then about two years ago “Dahaknoi” hung around me for a while, “The Little Hulk” in Thai, mostly because I love the Hulk and often wore a Hulk shirt. I think I got it originally at O. Meekhun. It was being used as my fight name in Isaan, but it was not really a name specifically given to me either. And about two months ago my husband named me Sylvie Legend as his private nickname to himself, which I do like.
Miss Gangster Knee
Recently though, upon reporting on my 150th fight in Thailand, the Muay Siam reporter on female Muay Thai gave me a moniker (photo above). He referred to me, spontaneously, as Sao Nakleng Khao, which translates to “Miss Gangster Knee.” I fucking love this. He’s now used this to describe me in print twice (the 2nd time yesterday, below), which makes me very excited. Not only am I happy to have a fight title that is in the direction of those awesome titles my favorite Golden Era fighters have, but I love the title itself. I identify with it, too. The thing is, you can’t give yourself a nickname, they have to fall to you, and when they come from the press it is pretty cool Muay Siam has been reporting on me for several years now. Fight nicknames are not always hundred percent complimentary. Legendary fighter Namphon Nongkeepahuyut’s nickname was Khun Khao Naa Bpuay (ขุนเข่าหน้าเปื่อย), translating to “Mr. Knee Weak/Soft Face,” which is in reference to how easily or how often his face was cut, making a contrast between the strength of his knees and his face. That’s not a compliment, really, but there’s something really wonderful to me about the association of his repeated cuts and bloody face being turned into a kind of badge. So being named in the press feels incredibly meaningful to me; being named something that isn’t entirely, 100 percent a compliment – nakleng is like “gangster” in English in that it’s not entirely positive carrying a sense of badness or ill-repute AND it’s not used to describe women, hence the contrasting “miss” at the start – makes it feel even more meaningful. ์
Add to this all, Dieselnoi, the King of Knees, The Sky-Piercer himself seemed to like it too when I sent him a message about it and a link. He has been very supportive of me in text, watching some of my fights and giving me critique, since our two sessions together, can’t wait to train with him again. I’m just all the more inspired.
Dieselnoi giving his approval in text, above
above is a slo-mo of knees from the fight that was reported first as Sao Nakleng Khao. They reflect some of the freedom of movement I’m reaching for in my style.
If you enjoyed this article you may like my piece on Peter Vail’s essay on Muay Thai masculinity: “Thai Masculinity: Positioning Nak Muay Between Nakleng and Monkhood”
Or watch my sessions with Dieselnoi: