November 17, 2015 – Thepprasit Stadium, Pi Nu’s Birthday and my brother John’s Birthday – full fight video above
The Day of the Fight – Pi Nu’s Birthday
The gym had been transformed from a haven for sweating, shouting teenagers slamming their limbs into bags and pads, into a series of rooms filled with elders and the kids dressed in their best shirts and long pants, tending to the tables after tables of food. Bank was tasked with waving an electric mosquito racket over the fruit trays. I looked at all the men wearing pink polo shirts, the kids in their crisp, white T-shirts, and the old women in their blouses and realized – far too late to do anything about it – that wearing black was a mistake. It’s still a morbid color here in Thailand. Luckily, I was saved by a few of the middle-aged men (fathers of the fighters at the gym) wearing black T-shirts, probably the nicest bit of clothing in their collections.
Pi Nu called me over to sit with my training partners in the front row, in a line a few feet away from the nine monks who were sitting side by side, a white string threaded between all their hands and connected all the way around the weight room. Pi Nu offered incense and flowers to a small shrine that was set up at the start of the line of monks, the oldest of them (probably in his 80’s) sat next to it. Pi Nu began the chanting and we all repeated his words (I repeated the rhythms but lost track of about half the sounds), then the monks took over the chanting. It’s Pi Nu’s birthday and this ceremony is a re-blessing of the gym, to bring good luck and clear out the misfortune he believes has befallen him recently – a reasonable belief as three of the fighters at the gym left in succession and under bridge-burning circumstances. That’s another blog post. But the chanting filled the space and the fighters were sectioned together at Pi Nu’s side so we could receive the blessings from the elder monk before our fights that evening. I’ve been blessed on the morning of a fight a few times now; I’ve never lost any of those fights.
At the Fight – Motivations and Mindset
At the venue that night I felt tired. There was a buzz inside me at the nervous excitement of facing Gaewdaa again and we kept running into each other in the stadium. She’s got an incredibly cool demeanor as she struts about in spaces. She seems bored but in a “too cool for school” way. She fights this way too – or has developed this style in the past year, at least – that one of my viewers described perfectly as the style of “muay brat.” The last two times we’ve run into each other, at my last fight against her teammate and then again tonight, she’s casually reached out to shake my hand when we first see each other. To be fair, westerners don’t understand the wai as well as we think we do. We either over-use it or under-use it and most of us don’t do it very well. It’s pretty similar with the way Thais understand the handshake. Mostly it’s drunk men, gamblers, who want to shake hands and for whatever reason it’s really common for Thais to offer the left hand… I have NO IDEA why this is but I’m so used to it now that it doesn’t even feel as weird as it should. It’s the limpness of the hand that never ceases to creep me out. So we share this soft, limp, left-handed shake and then we part ways. It’s polite enough, but it’s a bit hollow as well. Gaewdaa hates fighting me – I can see it all over her and she complains to other girls around her (physically demonstrating her disdain for my muscles in pantomime) about my body; but I’m perhaps overly concerned about beating her tonight. I do not want to lose to her again… ever. We’ve fought four times: I beat her twice, then she beat me twice and in both of her victories I felt perplexed – not like I had won, but how the f*ck did she beat me there? The embarrassment of losing the last one, at my home stadium and indeed in front of my whole gym (as well as Pi Nu’s uncles, who put money behind the Petchrungruang fighters for side-bets… so it matters if you win or lose) was intense. I swallowed my pride and got back to work in training, but regardless of my recent string of wins I needed to make up for that fight with this one. Additionally, as if I needed more motivation, Gaewdaa had recently beaten former WPMF World Champion at my weight, Yodying, a Thai fighter who I’ve grown close to over Facebook and in person. Yodying too had been frustrated by her fight, so in some sense this was a fight for both of us. Yodying feels like my fight sister to me – we call each other Big Sister, Little Sister.
For weeks Pi Nu had been talking about this fight being 3 minute rounds. They’d tried to do this at my last fight with her as well but her gym had refused. This time we were already in the ring and the announcer’s voice blared through the speakers, saying 3 minute rounds. Then there was a disagreement – while we were in the ring, doing our Ram Muay. I shook my head, knowing it wouldn’t go our way and my corner complained loudly. I’m not sure where the disagreement came from – it didn’t seem to be Gaewdaa’s corner (although certainly they didn’t want it) but rather from higher up. Maybe the promoter? The stadium owner? I looked up at the scoreboard that reads out what fight number, the round number and the time to see where it landed and sure enough the “2 min” mark was illuminated. Damnit. In our last fight the time-keeper hadn’t even let most of the rounds reach 2 minutes – most were about 1:40 – so I figured if we could even just get the “extra” 30 seconds into each round that was due in a regular fight, we’d be making some progress. But it’s hard to cross fingers in gloves.
My mental state was somewhere between the nervous wreck of “holy shit, I have to do well in this fight,” and the opposite “f*ck it, it’s already a ball of chaos.” Here’s the thing about the unexpected of Thailand: it becomes the norm and if everything went the way it was supposed to, it might feel weird. Like, it might feel like something is wrong. It’s a difficult divide to be on both ends of this thought spectrum, because not caring certainly aids in the freedom of movement and fighting, whereas being mentally blocked up in the “I have to win” realm does nothing for nobody, but certainly makes you ready to move forward in the face of challenge. I could feel how tense I was though, actually in the fight. The rounds felt long and I felt like I was moving in slow motion, which can be the result of being overly focused on outcome or can be the result of everything slowing down because you’re flowing. I don’t think I was neatly in either headspace but kind of glitching between the two, like some crap sci-fi movie where someone is occupying two parallel universes. It didn’t feel good. In fact, after the fight Kevin was shocked by how low my energy seemed because he thought I’d done so well. “Why aren’t you happy with your fight?” he asked me. I was still all stressed out, even having won. I remember feeling like this after winning by KO against a fighter who scared the shit out of me – I was just happy it was over, but certainly not happy. I think that’s a bit how I felt because of the stress of this fight. I wasn’t afraid of Gaewdaa, but I was really, really scared of embarrassing myself again.
Here’s how much that was just in my head though: by the fifth round, the odds were so deeply in my favor it would have taken a minor miracle for me to lose this fight. Kevin said Pi Nu looked a bit worried, or concerned, as he stood in my corner before the final round and kept looking at the gamblers. His uncle was up in the stands – I’d spotted him up there and smiled at him before the fight. It’s possible that with the 3 minute rounds being changed, they’d decided to alter how they were betting on the fight. It’s possible that they missed out on making a lot more money as a result, because by placing a bet this late you really can’t make any returns by betting on the fighter who’s clearly already winning. When I came back to the gym for training, a guy named Sean who was with us for a month or so came out of the weight room where he’d been chatting to Pi Nu in the morning. Sean said, “your ears must be burning, we were just talking about you. Nu was telling me that if you’d only seen this fight you’d never, ever know that your last fight with this girl was so close.” Basically, he was saying I’d dominated this last fight so well that if you’d only seen this last one you’d hear Thais saying that Gaewdaa “su mai di,” which means she isn’t able to fight me. Like we’re in different leagues. That’s not the case; she’s still a challenge. But apparently I’d done much better in this fight than my internal-coach allowed me to realize.
the above photo is by Tom Brown of MuayThaiAction.com, you can see how stressed I was during the fight in his album of photos from the match.
Full Fight Video with Audio Commentary
The feedback from readers has been really strong on my commentary for fight videos, so I’m going to continue to do this as much as I can. At the top of the post is the straight fight video, and below is the same footage with my audio commentary laid on top. I hope you continue to enjoy it.
This fight happened to be also my 120th fight in Thailand. This more or less officially marked that I have fought more times in Thailand than any foreign man or woman. I’ll be writing about this latter, but how I feel about it is this: I use these kinds of marks for internal goal setting, places on the horizon to run to, because I love running. In the larger sense though, it feels significant that it is a woman, any woman, who has fought the most in Thailand.
My Post-Fight Update