December 7, 2015 – Bang Saen, Chonburi – full fight video above
It wasn’t until we were parked and walking to the ring that I recognized this venue. I’d fought at this same temple maybe a year prior, with Phetjee Jaa also on the card and with the O. Meekhun gym in my corner. This time around I had Mod Ek in my corner and I was thoroughly unhappy to spot my old padholder from O. Meekhun (and the gym owner, Jee Jaa’s father) Sangwean in the crowd. I’d managed to not see him since leaving his gym and this was not a, “water under the bridge” kind of reunion. However, we didn’t interact at all and I didn’t see him again the rest of the night, so other than being in my head as an unpleasantness, there was not much more to it.
Right away I saw the trainer of the Por. Muangpet gym and he told me that I’d be fighting Rungnapa again. We’d fought twice before, both times were my victories, and he’d been a familiar and frequently-seen face in my recent fight schedule. Between their mat and our mat was a cart, on which an array of masks and what looked like pieces of a Chinese Dragon costume. I thought it was a vendor, actually, and remarked to myself what an odd thing it was to be selling at a festival. But what do I know? Maybe it’s a thing. Turns out it’s not a thing – or at least not the thing I thought it was – and this was in fact a whole costume area where the young performers would drop off the heavy heads of the dragon that they all helped manipulate and dance it into the ring between fights. This was kind of cool, seeing two dragons in the ring, and the guys controlling the head and first part of the body were absolutely amazing at moving through (or over?) the ropes in such a way that it looked seamless. But the banging of the drum right behind us on the stall was way too much for poor Jai Dee. It scared the hell out of him and I had to jump up and bring him a good distance away every time that dragon started up again. It was, in a word, disquieting.
The festival itself is actually a short way away from the ring, so the fights themselves feel a separate part from everything else. The crowd is big, but compacted around the ring and there were some bleachers around the back where gamblers had stacked themselves for better vantage of both the ring and their betting foes. A few fights before I was meant to go in I heard my name being announced over the loudspeakers, basically “paging” me to come to the ring. So I wove my way up to the ring and announced myself to the man I recognized to be the promoter from last time. They just nodded at me and wrote my name down on the paper with other names, then told me I was fighting ninth. “What fight number is this one?” I asked, so that I knew how much time I had. Instead of answering me, the two commentators just started talking to each other (and to the audience, I guess, since this conversation was into the microphones) about how I can speak Thai. I guess they’d been assuming I was with a Thai person in my corner who would direct me to go over when I was paged – they assumed wrong; I have no idea where Mod Ek was most of the time we were waiting. Finally they realized they hadn’t helped me at all and told me this was the sixth fight, so I went to get my hands wrapped.
At some point while I was getting ready a previous opponent of mine, who I’ve fought three times and one of those quite recently, named Chalaamlek walked past my mat and stopped to say hi. We chatted for a brief moment, basically her asking if I was fighting and me telling her with whom. You’d think we were buddies from that conversation. And in a way we are; sharing a ring with someone only rarely makes you adversaries. Way more often than not it makes you comfortable acquaintances. The trainer at Por. Muangpet jumped over to chastise Mod Ek for getting me ready too slowly. I think my gloves weren’t tied on yet or something. Mod Ek didn’t appreciate that at all and there was a funny exchange between them as Mod Ek basically told him, “worry about yourself!” It was funny more than an argument, but I’ve never seen Mod Ek do that before. He’s pretty deferential to Pi Nu, which makes sense since that’s his employer. I laughed.
Having fought twice before, Rungnapa came to this fight with a new plan and I kind of came with no plan. That was a a mistake on my part. She’d been working on kicking a lot, which she did (a lot) and maybe because I’d been fighting so frequently and still had a bashed shin, I wasn’t blocking them but catching instead. That’s not actually from the fights, that’s from training with that leg “out of commission” and then not making mental efforts to remind myself that I can still use that leg in fights. So I put myself in a wonky position (fight-wise) by catching that kick over and over, instead of just checking the kick. Nontheless, I was able to land some good hands (I know they hurt her, but visually it’s never clear whether they’re scoring or not for effectiveness) and definitely put her on the ground a lot. By round 3 I was climbing and by round 4 I had a lead. Kevin even asked me as I was in the corner before the 5th round, “what are you going to do?” Stupidly, I had a loose, not-really planned out plan: I was going to go forward a little bit and then teep the rest of the time, like I’d won our previous two fights by teeping in round 5. Out of nowhere, Rungnapa came out in that round as if she was winning. She even turned to her own corner and put her arms in the air to get the crowd behind her cheering – the gamblers who were betting on her – and they did. Then she came out like she expected me to chase, which is a 180 degree turnaround from our previous fights. And it worked! My stupid non-plan to come forward made it appear as though I thought I was behind, which, in effect put me behind. I did manage to catch her and dump her on the ground with a dramatic feinted knee, but because I didn’t then back up and force her to chase me, it was swallowed into meaning nothing. I was screwed at that point. And the referee was breaking us at every second, so there was no way for me to score. He’d been doing this all round – it was ridiculous, really – but now it was a lost cause. I kept chasing, the announcers were calling “Sylvie dern!” which meant I was chasing, and that was it. I’d been put in a bad position by the constant breaks by the ref and then I’d nestled myself into that position by my own stupidity by going forward and never pulling back. Had I danced back after that dump, it’s still possible that it would have been a bad decision, but I wouldn’t have made it look so bad for myself. It was dumb.
The Fight With Audio Commentary
see all the Audio Commentary fight videos here
Afterward I felt terrible and Kevin was raising his voice in frustration in front of the whole crowd, which in Thailand is a big scene. You never are supposed to make a public display of anything – either good emotions or bad ones – but we’re not Thai. The equipment manager guy who must have put money on me came over and asked what was wrong with me tonight, why I sucked, and I didn’t have an answer for him. That sucked, too. When we finally got my fight money and could leave, Kevin had calmed down and Mod Ek was laughing and shaking his head about how ridiculous it was that the ref was breaking the clinch like that, all of a sudden in the 5th round. So it goes.
When I got back to the gym the next day Pi Nu heard about it and was pissed off. The promoter called to ask me to fight a few days later and Pi Nu pretty much flat out told him, “why, so you can have her lose by manipulating the ref again?” It’s pretty stunning to have Pi Nu defend me with a confrontation like that. That’s “dad on the porch with a shotgun” kind of protection, and I’m grateful for it. A few weeks after this fight I showed Pi Nu the video, so he could look and see what I can do better for the next time I fight Rungnapa. The moment he saw the referee on the screen he made a, “huh?” sound and pointed, then looked at me, “this guy is not referee,” he said to me, “he’s a nak len (gambler) at Thepprasit (the local stadium).” For the whole time he watched the fight he was shaking his head about this guy acting as referee. He pointed to Alex – who is 14 years old – and laughed, “maybe they make Alex referee; he do better than this guy.” I don’t know how common it is in fights outside of stadia to use “non official” officials as referees or judges or whatever, but Pi Nu definitely thought this was out of sorts. He looked at me when the fight was over and handed me the tablet, “you not lose,” he said. I didn’t totally agree with that, as I can recognize the things that I did wrong to make this fight the way it was – how I only went forward in the last round for example – and he shook his head, saying that the odds were 4-1 or 5-1 in my favor going into round 5, so I’d already won. Then the referee broke the clinch every second, “for what?” he said, and the money changed hands with the long odds. That’s a lot of additional information to receive after already having all the feelings about this fight that I was going to have – I don’t still feel mad or sad or excited or whatever a couple weeks after a fight, generally I’ve already had another one – but what’s good about that is that the lessons I gleaned from this loss were already worked into my focus in training. And that’s not a loss at all. The things I need to change still need to change, whether it was a “fair” loss or not. So that’s pretty much how I’m looking at the whole thing.