June 12, 2015 –
I don’t know what I was expecting when we pulled up to the Grand Boxing Stadium, but when I actually saw the front of it, kind of in a strip-mall and looking like the open front of a bar, I thought, “Oh, right; that looks just like a stadium ought to.”
We parked the car and I called my corner for the night, the legend himself, Kaensak Sor Ploenjit , who I used to train under in New Jersey before moving to Thailand in 2012. Kaensak had written to me to say he’d be in Thailand for the summer and his family is in Hua Hin, so I asked him to find a fight for me there so that I could come see him. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but because he’s such a rockstar I was a little surprised when he said, “sure.” Now I was hearing his voice for the first time in 3 years through the phone, “Sylvie!” he said, “I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
Kevin and I argued back and forth for the duration of our wait before the fight about whether or not I should be wearing this “flesh colored” piece of silicone over my newest forehead scar. The cut is actually 6 weeks old already and closed, but for whatever reason it’s been really swollen, red, looks terrible and I’d started taking antibiotics in case there was some kind of infection, which there doesn’t seem to be – Kevin calls it my Harry Potter lightening bolt. I had decided to wear the bandage because the response from some trainers (who hadn’t seen me in a while) to the scar by itself was, “are they going to let you fight with that?!” But Kevin said the bandage drew more attention to it than the (very red) scar would; in fairness to Kevin’s argument, wearing the patch did still warrant immediate, “what happened?” responses from the promoter, the doorman, and eventually Kaensak. We decided I’d ask the man himself what he thought I should do. He said, “take off the bandage, but don’t get cut.” Good advice.
Seeing Kaensak again was a trip. He’s such a super-cool dude and when he strolled in he gave me a hug it made me realize I remembered him as being much bigger bodied than he is. I don’t know why, really; he fought at 122 lbs, which is pretty small on a fighter scale. But he’s also “larger than life” in a lot of ways and I’ve gotten used to Pi Nu now, who is big for a Thai – tall, anyway. It was so awesome to see Kaensak. He seemed to not have fully understood what I meant when I asked him to be my corner for the night – we brought nobody from the gym with us – but he’s quick on his feet and enlisted the help of a friend of his, who he introduced me to as we all sat at a table behind the ring before the fights started. This guy was also small, totally unassuming but very cool and relaxed in his person; totally “ex fighter” is a type. Kaensak told me this guy’s fight name a few times and I didn’t recognize it. “He’s good, same me,” he said, speaking of his prestige. “We fought 4 times, I win only one,” he continued, which even though it was in English made this guy smile in a knowing way. I had Kaensak write the fight name in Thai into my phone and googled him. Once the younger picture showed up I recognized him instantly as one of the legends of Muay Thai, but had never watched his fights: Karuhat Sor. Supawan (คฤหาสน์ ส.สุภาวรรณ). I binge-watched his fights a day or two later and wrote about him here. He’s amazing! In several training sessions since I’ve imitated him and it’s been a success. Having two legends cornering for me is pretty much unimaginable, awesome, and definitely made me feel a bit of pressure. I wanted to fight well. Add to this I was facing a fighter, Superball, who was due to fly to Japan at the end of this month and fight Saya Ito, an old opponent of mine, and a recent gym mate. If Superball was flying to Japan to fight a top fighter there she probably was pretty experienced and very good.
Add to all this, Kaensak hasn’t seen me fight, ever. He hasn’t seen me train in over 3 years, so he has no idea what I’m like now, more than a 100 fights later. And I fight uniquely for a small female fighter. I don’t jump around. I throw very few strikes. I stalk, block, clinch and knee. Funny enough, when he was wrapping my hands he asked if I remembered what he taught me about not getting stuck in the clinch, counters he had me practice with him once or twice while we were seated at the table. I smiled and told him, in Thai, that I’m a clinch fighter and almost all my 40+ KO’s are from knees in the clinch. He nodded his head, but still wasn’t sure what to expect. I think he still feared that I was going to get clinch locked and owned. He was helping me because, as he told Kevin while I was away, he considers me like a sister – but certainly being in my corner and therefore being represented by me publicly when he really has no idea how I fight made him a bit wary. Amusingly, when we all had entered the venue he asked the promoter if my opponent was any good. The promoter, a good friend of his, answered “Do you know how good Sylvie is?…number 1 in Thailand”. I’m sure Kaensak had no idea what was going to happen.
In a lot of ways we were reversed in our western-ness and Thai-ness, respectively. He’s been training westerners in New Jersey for several years now, and I’ve been here, soaking in things Thai. He has American mannerisms, like a big open bro hug when we meet, and I’ve fallen into Thai behaviors. After he wrapped my hands I asked Kevin if he would be willing to put oil on me so that I wouldn’t have to ask Kaensak, who I was hoping to “spare” because my adult male trainers often will not do my massage. One part of that is because it’s grunt work that the lowly kids do, a bigger part is that I’m a woman and it’s a bit uncouth for adult men to be touching me in public like that. But Kaensak didn’t care; he didn’t even think about it. Even more striking, later, when we were getting ready to go in the ring Kaensak called me over to put the mongkol on and I had to say, “women have to get in the ring first, then monkol after.” He looked totally perplexed. “Ladies go under the bottom rope, cannot go over,” I added. He looked at me in disbelief and said, “who told you that?” Ummmmm, three years of getting in the ring countless times in Thailand and lots of writing about this fact tell me that. It was amazing because, clearly Kaensak, who was fighter of the year twice in Thailand, has never cornered for a woman in Thailand and quite possibly has never watched a female fight in Thailand – this custom of the lowest rope never had touched him. He literally had no idea I, and indeed all women, had to go under and he questioned whether I knew it or not because he didn’t want his fighter to do something debasing. He actually made me wait and watch my opponent get in under the ropes before he believed me; incredible.
As I walked to the ring with Kaensak and Karuhat in front of me, I felt both very nervous (because I felt like I had a lot to live up to; did Kaensak expect me to fight like his style?) and also very excited (I love fighting and I could potentially make Kaensak quite proud). With my mongkol on and the music starting to begin the Ram Muay, I turned to my corner and got on my knees for the Wai Kru. I bowed three times with my head to the floor and thought to myself, “I have many teachers and they have each given me something. Each one adds to my style, but none of them gave me my style. I am a fighter, I’ve done this before and I know what to do. I don’t have to do what is expected or even what is advised – just take it into consideration.” That relaxed me a lot.
Kevin said this is the most focused he’s ever seen me in a fight. Unfortunately you won’t see much of that focus because the camera failed to record the first minute or so of the first round. My opponent was my size (which is unusual) and southpaw (which is less unusual), so Kaensak just wanted me to throw everything with my right. Her teep irritated, but wasn’t really “working.” I was able to walk through it and she retreated and kicked a lot which is to be expected. I felt a bit silly, like I looked bad or something, but I realized it was easy enough to walk through her strikes and grab her in the clinch. Once I had a grip on her the first time I could feel I was much, much stronger – not only physically, but more so in terms of position; I threw her to the ground with a single turn. She got up, I grabbed her again and threw her again. I don’t remember much beyond this, the camera catches the last 20 seconds or so, but I started digging my knees into her and felt her fade, fast. Then I bent her head down and landed a knee to her face which she didn’t get up from. It was over in the first round, my first first round KO in three years. I looked over and Kaensak was climbing into the ring to go help my opponent, which is good practice here. He patted me on the shoulders as he cleared the ropes and said, “good job,” then continued on to the middle of the ring where my opponent lay. The ref raised my hand. It was all very fast.
Here’s a GIF of all the fight footage if you don’t want to watch the video.
There’s something strangely fitting about this fight being lost in terms of recording, because it was such an intense and meaningful experience that I cannot ever forget. I fought very “free,” which unfortunately means I don’t remember the fight enough to describe it much. Afterwards I went over to my opponent in the prep area and told her “sorry” and “good luck” She smiled and just reached out and squeezed my bicep with her hand as I talked to her. It was sweet and funny at the same time.
In the film see that someone did film it, a Thai girl in the right hand side of the frame with the light on.
Post Fight Video Update
คฤหาสน์ ส.สุภาวรรณ มวยชั้นเซียน
ปราบจนเหี้ยน นักมวยไทย ไร้คนสู้!
แก่นศักดิ์ โลกรู้จัก ยอดมวยบู๊!
มาทั้งคู่ เป็นcorner เธอโชคดี!!
Two Great Masters” teach Sylvie
Karuhat Sor Supawan top level muay master
Conquers until raized to the ground, Nakmuay with no opponent to match him!
Kaensak known the world over, the pinnacle of muay fights!
All come to the match to be corner, you are good luck!!
If You Don’t Know Kaensak