Just watch these two fights between Namkabuan Nongkeepahuyut and Matee Jedeepitak from 1994, the Golden Age of Muay Thai. Just watch and then don’t sleep for a week because you’ll keep watching them. When I had a private session with Namkabuan a few weeks ago he was goofing around and trying to do this Saenchai, jumping soccer kick thing. It’s where he just levetates into the air and flicks his kick out as like a jumping leg kick. He laughed and shook his head after not quite nailing it a few times, then added that as knee fighters (him and me) we can’t do that stuff because we are “muay hoht.” Hoht (โหด) means “cruel,” or “pitiless” or “heartless.” It’s an awesome word and it’s used to describe bad-intentions in fighters. You’ll know exactly what that word means by watching Namkabuan in these two fights.
I can’t say for sure which fight I love more. The shorter fight is basically a thrill of ever-dissecting a perfect knockout, which becomes more devestating the slower they make the tape. But the longer fight, which I believe happened a few months prior, has my most favorite moment of perhaps any fight ever, which is when Namkabuan, who is known for plowing his opponents into the ropes and sometimes out of the ropes, runs himself out of the ring and lands pretty hard outside the ring on the apron. Then he immediately jumps up hopping back over the top and ferociously goes back after his opponent before the referee even knows what’s happening. It’s the most badass thing ever. I expressed how incredible I found this moment to Namkabuan when we were training together and he knew what I was talking about but wasn’t as impressed with it as I was. I guess you have to see it from where I’m standing, which is basically with my face melting from how fucking cool it is.
Namkabuan GIF, above
Namkabuan vs Matee I
March 8, 1994 Rajadamnern
Namkabuan vs Matee II
May, 2nd 1994 Lumpinee (Matee with a reported 4 lb advantage) – fight dates taken from YouTube
The first of these fights was pretty close until Namkabuan just pulls away, securing the victory with an elbow. What was the history and talk between the two matches? Namkabuan in fight 2 just seems bent on leaving no doubt who is the superior fighter. It looks especially brutal.
Muay Thai Masculinity — When watching these two fights again Kevin asked me which fighter I like more, Namkabuan or Karuhat? He loves forcing impossible questions on me. Not only do I love both fighters, but I have been absolutely stunned by meeting and training with both men, being in the actual presence and impact of their masculinities. Those masculinities are similar, but not the same. One could say, Namkabuan is a handsome-man who knows he’s handsome; Karuhat is also a handsome man but one who seems to really enjoy his rough edges, more like a gunslinger. They’re both incredibly confident and comfortable in their bodies and how they move through space – in the training ring Karuhat literally struts around with his chest puffed out after a beautiful move but it doesn’t look out of sorts at all when he does it, and Namkabuan kind of feels like a better-with-age hearthrob actor, with a beaming smile. Similar masculinities. But when you watch them fight, it’s incredibly different, and when you then keep that in mind when looking at their two versions of masculine swagger and charm, you can see how much they’re not the same.
In the ring, Karuhat’s swagger is this constant “fuck you” of standing right in someone’s space, creeping in like a cat and not moving when his opponent tries to shoo him away. He doesn’t even appear to mind being kicked or punched, he just blocks or takes the strike to deliver his own as if he’s walking through a hail of bullets and then lands one perfect shot from his hand gun. Like Indiana Jones and that sword guy. Even when he’s knocked off-balance, Karuhat kind of waves his limbs to regain his balance in almost a slow-motion, like a cat winding its tail as it falls, and then he comes back at super-speed to reciprocate. It drives me crazy, he’s so amazing. Namkabuan doesn’t stand in your space – after an arm-drop or two he kind of idles at a high energy, and then explodes forward like an steer ramming its horns into his opponent. He hops out to avoid getting hit, like a game of tag that he’s usually winning, but when he’s tagged or knocked off balance he uses the energy of reversing that direction to just blast into his opponent. His forward bursts are just insanely exciting and punishing, whereas Karuhat is kind of that jerk who stands too close and smiles when you awkwardly move away, having submitted to his will unwittingly.
In the GIF below (and above) you can see how each man comes back from an insult. Below, Karuhat gets knocked over from a teep and nearly soccer-kicked in the face by Matee. Karuhat barely misses a beat in getting up and running back after Matee for reciprocation, the referee hardly able to beat him to the attack and stop it. In the GIF at the top with Namkabuan facing the same opponent, he throws himself out of the ring and, again, without skipping a beat just rights himself and gets back to work on the attack. Namkabuan’s style is such that the referee is always a step behind in trying to thwart his ambushes to protect his opponent – that KO in his second fight against Matee is like a “Disney on Ice” version of a fight where everyone is slipping except Namkabuan, who is razor sharp on his skates.
I am in utter awe of both fighters and I idolize both. I want to be Karuhat in a unique, only him kind of way, but I love borrowing from Namkabuan as well since it feels good in my skin. And I’ll say this: having shared the ring with both men in a training situation – and strangely both rings happen to be undersized, tiny rings, so it was tight quarters – feeling the space that each of them allows or doesn’t allow is worlds apart. Karuhat attacks and moves an inch through you in a way that makes your heart freeze. Namkabuan launches through you like a truck, leaving you no time to be scared, more like you’re caught in wave and lose your sense of direction.
Karuhat GIF, above
So watch the two amazing Namkabuan fights above, and then this Karuhat fight below, against the same opponent, and see for yourself what makes them something the same…but so different.
Karuhat vs Matee
For more on Muay Thai and models of Thai Masculinity read this academic article on the Monk and the Nakleng
You can read about my training session with Karuhat here, the whole video on Nak Muay Nation. My Namkabuan private is also on Nak Muay Nation. And I’ll have long training video sessions with each, soon to be published for my supporters on Patreon, so join to see that growing library of documentation.