March 1, 2016 – Thepprasit Stadium, Pattaya – full fight video above, video commentary below
I’m in the restroom at Thepprasit Stadium, beginning the one million times I will pee before having my gloves taped on halts that, and as I step out of the stall I see two girls braiding their hair in the mirror and a third is standing in the doorway. That third one is my opponent, Faa Chiangrai. We look at each other and smile. I feel a bit awkward seeing her, even though I saw her about a month ago in Chiang Mai when we fought last and we get along fine. What’s weird about it is that we’re fighting again in 3 days, back up in Chiang Rai, which is 900 km from where we’re fighting tonight. It’s weird because the fight in 3 days was booked first, some time ago, and it’s for the Northern Title, but Pi Nu called me a few weeks ago and said I was fighting her here only 3 days before and I thought it was some kind of “plan.” Like, she wanted to test some stuff out before the title fight, or she wanted to try to cut me to get out of that other fight…or something. So odd for someone you are fighting in a huge fight, who you had beaten a month before, to suddenly show up on your own doorstep and want to fight you a few days before the big event. But she’s the first one to bring it up, she asks me if it’s still me she’s fighting up in Chiang Rai in 3 days. I confirm that it is and we both laugh about how strange it is. Apparently she’s down here with her sport school (universities have Muay Thai programs, curricula and teams) and there was nothing plotting about it. Just coincidence that she had this obligation to her school and we had a good laugh about it.
I still had that other fight in my mind though. I definitely didn’t want to get lulled into thinking this fight “didn’t matter,” or as Thais like to say, “just for fun.” Ultimately, winning or losing doesn’t matter, but it kind of does – mentally it does, because it goes in the bank for the next fight. Either I get into her head or she gets into mine. I’d obviously like that to be one-direction only. And on top of that, any pain I can inflict in this fight is also a deposit on the next fight – sore thighs, sore muscles, sore shins… whatever. Yeah, this fight doesn’t “matter,” but that doesn’t mean I take any pressure out of my intentions.
When I’d first arrived at the stadium I was listed as the 7th fight on the card and Irene, who is from Spain and had come to train with me at Petchrungruang, was scheduled as the very last fight of the night. So we both had lots of time. And then, as is often the case, they just changed the fight order. I can hear and understand this over the speakers from the MC now, so I went and organized a cornerman to attend to Irene right away because they’d moved her to the 5th fight and still weren’t announcing my fight at all (they’ll announce the next 3 or so). You end up listening, waiting to hear your name over the loud speakers. Ultimately, I ended up being the 11th fight, so I got to be in Irene’s corner for her fight, albeit couldn’t go up and help really because my hands were already wrapped from when I thought I was earlier in the card.
Wrapping my own hands has become the norm. I just hang out and wait to ask for help with massage when it’s close to my fight. I’m comfortable with this now, whereas this exact process used to feel panicked and rushed to me. So I was pretty calm leading up to the fight, even with my teammates and a few random audience members looking on in curiosity and approval as I got myself ready. All that said, I definitely felt a little pressure for this fight – mostly self-imposed. But there were also a lot of Petchrungruang fighters on the card and all of them were losing their fights. I didn’t know if there was big money on my fight (I’d imagine there had to be some kind of side-bet, but I didn’t hear anything abut it; there was definitely some serious gambling going on in the crowd, huge roars during the bout) but there was certainly money lost on the fights before mine. So, in a true Thai fashion, Pi Nu’s uncle who I sometimes think doesn’t really like me very much (it’s just his way, he doesn’t dis-like me, but there’s another uncle that really does like me, so it’s a way to distinguish them when I talk about them to Kevin: “the one who likes me,” or “the one who doesn’t like me and sits in the corner”), who is also one of the men who definitely puts money on these fights and is a co-promoter on some fight nights, looked me straight in the eye and put his fist up, saying, “you’d better win!” No pressure, right?
The Full Fight Video with my Audio Commentary
The fight itself was fun, except for a little bit of that internal pressure. I did feel like this one was harder than the our first fight in Chiang Mai, but maybe because in rematches you have to adjust to the adjustments your opponent has made to fight you again. She was doing something when I grabbed her for the clinch that resulted in me pushing my hips back and being sideways, which is useless. If I’d just stood up I could have probably thrown her, as I had in the first fight. But that’s definitely credit to her for the adjustment it was she was doing. In the second or third round I threw an elbow at her while we were in the corner and it hit her, but not hard enough to cause a mouse or glancing enough to cut, but enough to send a shock through her. She gave me major “stink eye” as we were broken by the ref off of that.
There was no point in the fight where I wasn’t sure I was winning. The odds were heavily in my favor going into the final round. I didn’t know what those were and I’ve forgotten again now, but the next day Pi Nu called me when I was on the road up to Chiang Rai to fight her again; he told me he had seen the video of the fight (someone else filmed it and showed him) and he was very, very happy with me. I also got an unusual number of compliments after the fight from spectators I didn’t know, so there must have been an element in my performance that read to the audience as being very forward. Thais love when a fighter is fearless, which is maybe what they were seeing in this fight. And it certainly felt good for me that I got to champion the gym by winning on a night of bad luck. I’m trying not to be such a “people pleaser” all the time, because it has been a hindrance to me at times, but it still feels good… as it should.
This fight though also meant that in order to win the Northern belt I would have to beat an excellent fighter, one of the best in the world at our weight, 3 times in a row. A tall task.