One Hundred and Thirty-Ninth Fight – Faa Chiangrai Sor. Sakunthong

January 15th, 2016 – Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium, “The Roadhouse” – fight video above I’m sitting backwards on a chair, my legs bowed out to either side of the...

January 15th, 2016 – Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium, “The Roadhouse” – fight video above

I’m sitting backwards on a chair, my legs bowed out to either side of the backrest and my wrist is perched on the edge of the top lip on the plastic seat. Daeng is wrapping my hands, laying strips of tape down on his thighs, over his jeans, so that he can roll them into little worms that will create the packing for my knuckles. There are a few young Thai men in the room, all having put on their own wraps with about as much care as they do for training. No tape, just cloth wraps. This isn’t a big night for any of them; it’s just a night of work. But they’re all eyeing me, unapologetically, as the ring manager dashes into the room with his clipboard and announces that I’m the first fight after all – not the second, as I’m listed on the program. It means we have less time to prepare, but it also means the show won’t start until I’m ready. I close my hand around the wrap that Daeng has just finished and pound the knuckles into the opposite hand, nodding at him as I do so. Poh-dee, I say, “just right.”

I haven’t fought Faa Chiangrai in years, and back when I was still training and fighting out of Lanna, she was the standard by which my main trainer, Den, compared all other female fighters. Whoever I was fighting would lose to Fah, and that was the mark on whether or not she was good. Den favors femur fighting style, which is technical and tends to be evasive (not always, but often); that’s his style, so that’s what he thinks is best. It’s a tricky style for me because my style is what my now trainer for almost 2 years, Pi Nu, calls “Diesel.” Diesel is a slow engine, but it runs forever and simply doesn’t break down; it’s not delicate. So, a diesel tractor going after a little racecar can look terrible for that tractor; but if that racecar runs out of gas or gets caught under the chewing teeth of the tractor, it’s terrible for the racecar. So it’s a good style match up, really, one that Thais tend to enjoy. But it had been years, so I had no idea what Faa would be like to fight now, as my style has certainly developed and I can only assume hers has as well. She was a grand opponent for me before and we fought three times, to a 1-1-1 result. And I’d just seen her fight on TV, twice, once against the rising fight Peungsiam, where Faa had clearly won the fight but Peungsiam was given the decision (she has a fighting style more similar to mine, so I’d seen Faa defeat that style, even though the decision went the other way for whatever political reasons); then I saw her fight Phetjee Jaa, where she did great for the first couple rounds and then just got mowed over by Jee Jaa’s clinch. So, I had some idea what she looked like now, but fighters often look very different against a variety of opponents.

Whatever, I was excited. There was a sizeable derm pan on this fight (a side bet), which meant the stakes were higher and that also means it could open more opportunities for me with this stadium and these promoters if I won. On top of that, Faa had been on a bit of a losing streak (albeit an unfair one, with that Peungsiam fight), so this was an important fight for her and I knew she’d be fighting fucking hard to redeem herself. She’s a well-known name in the north and she’s the 105 lbs Muay Siam Northern Champion, and Muay Siam magazine reps were there, so I was ready for a hard fight. Again, exciting! And as the first fight, there wasn’t a lot of waiting around – we just got in the ring and got right to it. Unfortunately it was to a bit of an empty stadium, but the gamblers were present and loud on the one side of the ring; that’s good enough for me.

You can see my ranking of the best 48 kg fighters in the world here

The Side Bet – The Money

Before this fight Daeng kept asking me how I felt. He used to do this at the tail end of when I was still at Lanna and I didn’t understand it at the time, but I’ve become more acquainted with gambling since then and I knew he was asking me if he should bet on me or not, or at least how much. It’s an annoying question, but knowing where it’s coming from helps. Honestly, I felt a few things. The first of which was excitement because I want this fight. I also felt tired because I happened to be sick and menstruating, both of which you can easily fight through but neither of which makes you feel very confident, spritely, or strong. But because of the way I train and because I train through everything, I knew that I could still fight and be strong, which does give me confidence. It’s that “I’ve been here before,” or “I’ve experienced this with positive result,” kind of confidence.

Related: Endurance is a Skill and Fatigue in Overtraining

At any rate, there was a “side bet” on this fight, which is where each side puts in an agreed-upon, matching sum of money and it’s a winner-takes-all scenario. In this case, the derm pan (side-bet) was 10,000 Baht when the fight was agreed to and that money was put up by one of the promoters on my behalf. That means I don’t make any of that money, unless he tips me, which sometimes happens if you win. So, I’m essentially a “human fighting chicken” when the side bet is entirely apart from me, put up by someone else. For large chunks of money, it’s usually that way. But for many fighters the side bet is a collection of money from various sources, everybody puts some into the pot, so everyone gets double their money and this is how families, neighbors, and gymmates make money on fighters – you can be literally fighting for a small community. In the case for this fight, the promoter put down the 10,000 and then me and Kevin added 6,000 Baht on top of that, which gave Daeng the confidence to pool money with Doi (also in my corner) and it all got put in an envelope with a matching sum from Faa Chiangrai’s side. All this is to say that I don’t actually know how much the side bet ended up being, but it was matched by Faa Chiangrai’s side, so likely the total ended up being near or over 40,000 Baht (about $1,125 USD). That’s a decent side bet. They can be as small as perhaps 2,000 Baht and as big as a couple million, but the 20, 40, and 60 thousand Baht bets draw a lot of interest and can even draw a crowd. I don’t know and can’t really say how a side bet affects the odds, but gamblers pay attention to side bets because is suggests a few things: 1) with money on the line, both sides have risk and the fighters are more likely to be trained, ready, and willing to fight hard; 2) there is more often a weigh-in with side bets, to assure compatible competition between the fighters, making the odds more understandable – very often fighters are just sized up by eyeball and records or ability are either known by local crowds or you just have to trust the managers of the fighters; gamblers surely won’t put as much money on the line for an unknown match up than they will on a fight that is deemed “fair” and competitive.

I say all of this partly to give information about side bets as I’ve become more familiar with them, but also because it’s very rare for me to be able to put my own money down in the pot. We’ve tried with side bets before and because of the way I fight – going with out a corner, being an outsider by several degrees – we can’t always trust that we won’t be “home-towned”. I’ve only very rarely been home-towned, but when it’s happened money has been involved. The truth of the matter is that refs and judges are also part of communities, and can have long standing relationships with gyms and the people in them, not to mention the communities they are from. When larger money is at stake this can be amplified. It sucks to lose a fight under such circumstances, but it’s certainly worse to be actually losing money in such a case where you put money up as a side bet – we just don’t have much money as it is, and we were using side-bets for a time to try to secure top opponent matches – but because I had to win these fights by KO or pure dominance, its something we just had to stop doing. But we were very confident in this fight and because the promoter himself had money on me, it seemed unlikely to get a bias referee or judges. And that confidence allowed Daeng and Doi to make some extra cash as well, which is awesome.

The Fight – Video With Audio Commentary

Here is the full fight video with my audio commentary overlay:

Faa Chiangrai didn’t totally come at me, first round. I thought she might and I had told myself before the fight that if I felt like I was losing the first few rounds, that was okay. I had to be patient because I knew I’d grind her down with my diesel engine. In the first round I caught her leg on a kick and we were near the corner, so I tried to turn her leg and she was resisting, so out of nowhere I threw this Muay Boran elbow to her thigh (a short clip of it here:)

It connected, it must have hurt, and she gave me this incredibly badass head nod, like, “okay, what else?” as she danced out of the corner. Yessssss!! Okay, firstly, I’ve never thrown anything even remotely like that elbow in a fight before. It just requires so much relaxed confidence to even attempt something like that, and usually I’m in this self-critical zone that prevents me from trying crazy shit like that. Not today! I honestly didn’t even think to do the elbow, it just came out. Probably it’s because I’ve been playing with Pi Nu in padwork so much lately, and he’ll throw in this impromptu sparring when we’re both in the ring in the afternoons: he’s holding pads for the kids or whatever and I’m sparring or clinching with the boys. When the bell rings for a break and I’m not man-in-the-middle for clinch, he’ll come over and try to sneak attack me. Because that’s always just playing, I get a lot of monkey-climbing and flying moves in – because it’s just messing around. But I think this elbow came out of that because recently I’ve pretended to elbow his thighs a few times. Play becomes real, people! You know how Pettis achieved that jumping off the cage KO of Henderson? Because he does shit like that all day when he’s messing around in sparring at the gym.

My locks and turns in clinch were working really well on her. I wish I’d punched more, but I’m happy with my performance overall. I think that a lot of times I had her in very dominant positions where I could have finished it but I just kind of fizzled out instead. Maybe it was being sick, maybe it was just not focusing enough on recognizing those moments. No excuses, just take a note and be better. “When you know better, you can do better,” kind of deal. But I’m very happy with having implemented the long-clinch a little bit, even though I’d only been working on it for a short time, and only vaguely. It came out kind of naturally – and I only started working on it seriously after this fight – which makes me think that all the work I’m doing now since will make it more effective. By the end I was so far ahead I could just stay away and teep, which isn’t my favorite but sometimes that’s what’s needed to win the fight. She was coming after me. Oh, she had the fire in her! She was throwing elbows and trying to just do these diving leg kick/sweeps. None of it worked and I probably could have stayed away from her better, but it is what it is. I thought she was awesome for going so hard at the last round and I was proud of myself for steering the fight well. I got to take home more money than just the fighter’s fee (which means we pretty much broke even on the cost of coming up for the fight, yay!) and made money for my corner, which feels excellent. I wish I’d been able to do that 2 years ago when I was still a fighter for Lanna, but it feels good to do it now.

My joy about the fight and having done well was strong and I’m proud of this performance in a lot of ways. I think I pulled together a lot of what those who work with me have been investing in me, which makes me feel good. But it was also soured a bit because I’m a fan of Faa Chiangrai and I knew this fight was important for her image and self-esteem. She needed to win and it feels shitty to be the reason she didn’t get that relief. I went over to her a while after the fight, where she was sitting between her parents looking morose. Aaaahhh, I’ve been there. I said the normal “thank you” and “sorry” about the fight and Faa’s face cheered up, which I think was polite more than an actual feeling. But I squatted down and tried to tell her that I’d seen her fight on TV and she’d definitely won that first fight, and that I hope she gets a rematch with Jee Jaa. She didn’t quite understand me at first. Unfortunately, my voice goes all Mini Mouse high-pitch when I have to talk over loud music and I’m sure it was hard to hear me, but after repeating key parts a few times I think she got it. I also sent her a private message in Thai, saying the same. I don’t know, maybe that kind of gesture is more for me than it is for her because I just wanted her to know that I’m cheering for her. Maybe not the thing you want to hear from your opponent after a fight; I don’t know that I would. But, whether it’s selfish or not, I’d rather say it.

We had to wait until the end of the fights to get paid, so we sat and watched the other fights. One of them I wasn’t paying close attention to, but it seemed like a blow-out win for red in round 4, then blue started to take it back in 5 but it seemed like he was just a little shy of it. At the last 30 seconds the referee broke the clinch when Kevin and I felt he didn’t need to, but in the way he did it made it look very good for blue, whereas if he hadn’t intervened it would have been another good moment for red. When the referee held his hand up to indicate the winner by the scorecards, it was blue. I was a bit surprised, but I hadn’t been watching the whole fight and the last round seemed close. There was some boo-ing and red looked really pissed off, but this stuff happens. But then red refused to get out of the ring as the crowd continued to rabble and it got really loud, the gamblers were pissed (see the video below).

Blue actually got out and looked distraught and disappointed, but red and his whole corner stayed put while the gamblers behind me all changed, in unison, “kee gong! Kee gong!” Which means “cheating.” It was incredible. They just kept chanting and the promoters had to jump in the ring to try to mollify them, but they couldn’t even speak into the mic because the gamblers were so loud. It must have been a lot of money that they didn’t want to pay out for what they thought was a bogus decision. I believe it’s the only stadium in Chiang Mai where gamblers have to pay to enter – the only one – but it’s headed by a Channel 7 and Lumpinee promoter, so they get some high-profile fighters sometimes and I guess those gamblers who come in are willing to buy a ticket instead of going to the other local stadia. Side bets might be part of that reason. I rarely saw pronounced side bets in the stadia of Chiang Mai when I lived there, but you do see them in this stadium. So maybe gamblers think these fights are more likely to be competitive and therefore the odds are better. I don’t know, but the promoters ultimately had to rule this fight a “no contest” and cancel the result, so no money was exchanged and no fighter won or lost. I’d never seen anything like this, not to this degree, but only a few weeks later something very similar happened at Rajadamnern. So I guess it’s like how you learn a new word and then hear it everywhere – just being made aware of it, you’re keyed into to seeing it more.

When I did go outside to film my update and rest in the car (we were boxed in and couldn’t leave to pick up Jai Dee from the bar that takes care of him for us when I fight here), a lot of the men outside were very excited about my win. I thought that was a good sign that I’d be fighting there again, which is really the proxy-aim of traveling far for fights: it can open doors. And those doors can have pretty awesome opportunities behind them.

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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