November 25, 2015 – Sattahip, Loi Krathong Festival – full fight video above
You know when you’re at a festival. There’s no question of, “is it here?” because it’s all fluorescent lights, blaring bass over the loud speakers, music, food, kids screaming and people for miles walking and driving up to the entrance. Kevin and I sat, open-mouthed, as we drove past endless double-parked cars. My trainer had called me in the morning and told me to come an hour earlier because parking was so hard to find, but this was crazy.
The phone made the familiar doorbell sound (*ding dong*) and I checked the LINE message from Pi Nu. He was concerned about me not having a cornerman. Before hitting the road I’d just been at the gym to buy wraps and oil, where we’d discussed the fact that Mod Ek, who normally comes to corner for me when I travel for fights (this was a super short distance: 40 minutes), never showed up. I think there’d been a misunderstanding as I talked with Pi Nu at the gym because I’d asked if he had anyone else who could come or if I should find someone there. I think he might have thought I was saying I already knew someone would be there, because he very casually said that was fine. But the other shoe must have dropped when I sent him a message asking if he had any friends at the ring I could ask to corner for me. Suddenly he realized it was just me and Kevin in an already “enemy territory” situation. I’d be rematching this fighter Chalaamlek (“Iron Shark”), who I fought at this same event last year and we’d had a draw decision, which was widely seen as a kind of a saving-face result because the promoter is my opponent’s trainer. So, I was on her home turf, her promoter and home-town crowd, a Thai holiday – all of these things meaning I probably can’t win by decision and would have to knock her out – and then on top of it all I had no corner. Nobody.
We parked the car and I sent Pi Nu a message back saying not to worry, we’d already arrived. We had to walk about a mile back through the park, which surrounds a lake, in this amazing darkness with the festival lights across the water like an oasis. Finding the ring was surprisingly easy and we set the mat down under an awning – it had been storming all night, but right now was clear – and I left Kevin and Jai Dee at the empty ring area to find the bathroom. When I got back there a serious crowd of people had gathered so I had to wend my way over to the judges’ desk to see if I could discern my fight number. I found the guy and asked him when I was fighting, but they didn’t have a printed card. Basically, they announced over the microphone that fighters needed to come “check in” and they made the order off of who was there. So, my name was announced as being present – like taking attendance – and they said they’d just announce the fights as they went.
Two reasons that’s not the best scenario: 1) I don’t have a corner yet, so it’s hard to get ready; and 2) my Thai is pretty good now, but I miss stuff. I can hear my own name and generally I can hear a number or a list of names prior to mine that lets me know how many fights there are to go, but having a Thai corner would seriously reduce that stress. I stood on our mat and watched this young girl climb into the ring, first fight of the night. This was great; I listened to the announcer and decided the blue corner was my best bet – she wasn’t local (she came in from Rayong), so we were kind of “same team” by both being the “away fighters.” I stood on my tip-toes to watch the fight and the crowd in front of me kept turning around between rounds to look at me, giving me a good elevator-eye assessment. I think they weren’t sure if I was fighting, as I was still wearing a button-down shirt and long pants. But I was standing on a mat with a gym bag, so that kind of gave me away. At the start of the fifth round I had to wade through the throng of fight fans to try to make it to the blue corner. I wanted to grab the trainer as they exited and ask him to corner for me. Unfortunately, the people got so tightly packed closer to the ring that I couldn’t get near it. Instead, I watched them file out and move all the way back around the crowd to over by where I’d come from, then disappear. Damn! I took off back toward my mat to work my way around the back of the crowd, where it was less dense, trying to peer over people’s shoulders to find where this girl had gone. She’d be removing gloves and wraps, so she should be easy to spot. No luck.
I had no Plan B. The crowd was cheering and shifting around as the next fight started and I was lost in the shuffle. Suddenly, I see the little fighter emerge from over a small hill and walk toward the ring. Tracing her path back up over the hill I see the man I’d seen in her corner, in this bright red shirt, pouring himself a drink at the back of a truck. Tailgating, basically. Hurrying over, I see a few people in his group (which is all women) take notice of me and look surprised, like, “what the hell is this white chick B-lining over here for?” I ask if he’s the trainer of the girl who just fought and he nods. We’re speaking Thai. I tell him I have a fight tonight but no corner, can he do it? He says yes, then asks me “boy or girl?” I’m not sure if he didn’t understand that I was asking for myself, or if he was asking if I was fighting a boy or a girl, but I just pointed to myself and reiterated that it was for me. He agrees to help, then pauses with his hand over his own ice-bucket and asks me if I have my own ice water. This is very sweet because I think he was considering whether he could put ice in his drink or if he needed to save it for me. I told him, “I have everything,” and give him a grin. “Oh, sure, sure,” he says and I run to get my wraps.
As he’s wrapping my hands he asks me if I’ve fought Loma (maybe the best fighter at my weight in the world). Ummm, yes, I have. I’m not sure which of the two fights he saw but he’s going off about how I should fight her again. Apparently I’m recognizable, and this is while I still have my long shirt on and he can’t see my tattoos, which I always assume are what people recognize when they remember me. His wraps are a far cry from the “stadium” wraps I usually get, but I’ve already put tape on my pretty-much-healed broken hand to protect it, so anything else is just custom. I think he knows it’s a bit shoddy but I tell him it’s okay because I’m a clinch fighter and he nods emphatically, repeating the muay khao part as if committing it to memory, taking note. He uses these pre-made squares of what looks like tissue packets covered in tape to go over my knuckles. They’re tiny, made for his fighter who just came out of the ring, but while I’m significantly bigger than she is, my hands aren’t and it works. The fighter helped with my massage and it was so funny to feel the difference in pressure on one side from her dad to her side. As this is happening an older lady sitting on the tarp where I’m being massaged asks me why I don’t have a trainer. I tell her he’s drunk (this is probably true, but it’s a guess) and she laughs, saying she understands. Immediately I regret this joke, as it might reflect poorly on Pi Nu, since people only know my gym name, not that I have a cornerman who is only a part-time employee of the gym. But it’s already forgotten, it seems. Typical enough and reasonable enough explanation. The cornerman starts asking me how many fights I have, oddly he specified in Thailand, and when I tell him “more than 100” his eyes get huge. I go get Kevin and Jai Dee, my mongkol and ice-bucket.
I was already the next fight and the guys in the ring seemed close to a KO finish. My gloves went on and as the Vaseline went on my face I casually mentioned that I have an old cut (pae gao), which he quickly spotted and put a gob of extra grease over. I had time to warm up and as I did so the whole little group got excited. My cornerman teased his daughter who’d just fought, “why don’t you knee like that?” This very tiny girl, the youngest daughter in the group, just stared at me. Like, hypnotized little stalker stare. So cute. The auntie who was sitting on a nearby motorbike asked if there was a derm pan on this fight, a side-bet, to which I said I didn’t know but maybe not because I had no trainer with me. She’s actually known who I was fighting when I first asked for help. When the cornerman said, “boy or girl?” she’d chimed in that I was fighting Chalaamlek, so she must have heard the announcement and they must have been somewhat familiar with my opponent. But clearly they were watching me and considering whether and how to bet. Well, how much to bet… they were pretty excited.
Walking into the ring I was stoked. These were good people and I didn’t need anything other than that from them. Anyone can dump ice water on you in the corner and I may or may not do whatever my corner advises, so I’m not dependent on particular corners for fights. I had exactly what I needed, which was spirited support. This fight family was excited, so I could be excited. Honestly, I was willing to have stood in the corner between rounds by myself with no corner if I’d had to, but what a fucking world of difference it is to feel like I don’t know what to do because nobody came to support me, versus anyone can support me because I know what to do. And this family was awesome. At the start of the first round they’d already lost my mouthpiece. I’ve had arguments with corners before about the damn mouthpiece because many Thais see it as a hindrance, so if you don’t have to wear it (this is determined by the referee checking or not), many do not. I’m a westerner; I want a mouthpiece at all times. But it was nowhere to be found and the referee was checking. But he got sick of waiting for us to locate it and just started the fight. So round one I had no mouthpiece, but the middle daughter ran back to the truck and found it so I got it by round 2. And Chalaamlek wasn’t messing around. She knew I had no mouthpiece because of the whole scene and she went straight for the KO. I respect that.
Full Fight Video With Audio Commentary
Once again, people have been loving the audio commentary on my fight videos, so we did it again. The video at top is the straight copy, and then here below is the same but with my audio commentary added. I’m watching the fight the first time with you, and this is what I thought and saw. You can see all the fight video’s I’ve put audio commentary to here.
My Post-Fight Video Update
Krathong for Naomi
I’ve been thinking about Naomi a lot lately. She contacted me through Instagram, just to say she follows me and is inspired, but we got to talking a bit and she’s in a situation that really hit me hard. But despite being away from her home and in a difficult place, her attitude and spirit is just… clear. Like a still, reflective lake. Anyway, I was inspired by her for this fight. As we were driving to the venue and I had no corner, as I prepared myself to just go it alone, I thought about Naomi. When you’re away from your support system, your home, what’s familiar and you have to fight, you just fight. And you build connections, like Naomi did by writing to me.
So I lit this krathong for Naomi, for helping me be strong enough to just do what must be done. Loi Krathong are for good luck, blessings, wishes, clean slates – all that good stuff. This krathong floats all my best wishes for Naomi; a candle on a still lake (video below):