August 5, 2015 – Suranaree Stadium in Khorat – full fight video above
I’d been offered this fight by the guy Pi Nu calls “Small Man.” His name is Piak and he’s the father of the only other female champion out of Petchrungruang, Phetnamning – she no longer fights. I like him a lot and I’ve gone with him to fights in this area of Thailand before, but he’s a bit tricky to work with because he won’t do my pre-fight massage. This is simply him being polite because I’m a woman and he’s a man, so he’ll get his daughter to do it. But it’s a bit of a drag for her to have to come out for 5 hour drives in each direction just to do this thing for me. In this case, however, his whole family was there because 10-year-old Jozef, a young Slavic fighter out of my gym, was fighting also. They take him around for fights a lot.
Kevin and I got a room at a little hotel we really like, where Jai Dee is more or less “tolerated” if not outright allowed. We’ve come to know Khorat city (Nakhon Ratchasima) well in our travels to Isaan and I’ve fought at this stadium once before and I really like it. It’s on a military base and when the bleachers are full the sound in there is absolutely incredible. It’s basically like any high school gym in America, but full of gamblers instead of cheering teens, and the tin roof makes the whole thing reverberate. It’s been about 8 months since my last fight there, when I knocked out an opponent who ended up being one of the top female fighters in the area. I had no idea who she was at the time but it resulted in me not getting any opponents up there for a return fight in these 8 months. The promoter who booked that first fight for me told me that everyone was afraid of me, which I totally didn’t buy but then I started hearing that around my part of the woods as well. Maybe it was so.
A few days before this fight I’d asked “Small Man” if he knew who I’d be fighting. He shrugged and called the promoter, then came and told me while I was clinching that I’d be fighting Phetseegnern Gor. Adisorn. I laughed. That’s who I’d KO’d in my last fight there. I told him so and his eyes got wide – maybe he was thinking of putting more money on the fight. When we got there, however, I was stood next to a fighter who definitely was not Phetseegnern. She was bigger, both taller and heavier, and a Tom. To over generalize Toms, females of a Thai sexual orientation, are relatively common female fighters in Thailand; they tend to be tough minded, never easy to fight. Everyone looked at me as we stood next to each other, with her clearly bigger than I am, and I just nodded and said, “dai, dai,” which is basically saying we can fight, no problem. So this girl walked away, her trainer grinning, and the wife of “Small Man” laughed at me and asked in Thai, “Sylvie, do you ever say ‘no’?” This has happened before with this group, where the opponent changes last minute. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever faced who they said I would with this group, which isn’t their fault but it’s a pattern. Probably because we don’t come with sizable side bets. Anyway, I told the wife that if someone showed up who was female, a fighter, and wanted to fight me then I’d always say, “yes.”
There wasn’t a lot of time between the start of the show and me getting in the ring, as I was the third fight. So the streamlined hand-wrapping, oil massage and then going to get my gloves put on was all very fast. I like that though. As we moved through the different stations I thought to myself how much I love this stadium. I love standing behind the insanely high bleachers, watching the backs of all the gamblers as they make hand signals and shout their bets or cheer their fighters. The din of sound is just invigorating. And as we walked over to the table where my gloves were tied on and then taped, a number of the gamblers walking around the floor recognized me from my last fight. Now that’s a lasting impression! I might be one of a few female westerners to have fought at this stadium, so I’m not hard to remember – especially all tattooed the way I am – but they remembered the actual fight, which was cool. And added a bit of pressure; definitely don’t want to disappoint after such a strong introduction. You can see a short video of me and Jozef waiting for my fight to start.
Just before going in the ring one of the head-honcho guys who’d brought my opponent over to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me gave me a look and asked how I felt. This is a question about whether or not he should bet on me, about whether I feel fit and ready to fight. I told him I feel great and asked how much my opponent weighed. He kind of thought for a second before deciding somewhere near 49 kg. She was quite tall, so I’d guess that’s a “cuts down to” weight, not her walking around weight. But whatever; she wasn’t huge. He then added that I ought not to worry, that she wasn’t strong and probably had about 30 fights. I know not to listen to this nonsense at all. In my experience of being able to understand announcers and keeping track of my opponents after we’ve fought, I always learn that both records and abilities are majorly downplayed. The “don’t worry she’s [insert anything here]” is almost always an attempt at reverse-psychology. I don’t know why this guy would say so, as he appeared to be betting on me, but maybe he wanted me to not be afraid because if he’d told me the truth he might have mentioned that this opponent is a champion, was on a 16 (or more) fight winning streak, and had recently defeated Japanese WMC world champion Rika in Japan. Not a fucking tomato can. Further, her record given in other sources is twice what he was telling me, which I’ve come to learn from listening to announcers is still about half of what is true. Fighters like to only list “professional” fights as being those in big stadia or with side bets; so you can have 90 fights but if you don’t count festival fights or those without side bets you can claim you only have 40. It’s common.
But I didn’t know any of those things about her at the time. I just thought, “keep your hands up,” said a kata against getting cut and got in the ring.
Right from the first bell it was clear Jomkwan had power. Her kicks hurt and when we clinched up she had strength. Several times throughout the fight I got myself turned sideways in the clinch with my left arm pinned behind her head. It didn’t hurt at the time but I totally messed up my shoulder and felt it for a full week after this fight. Between the first two rounds my corner didn’t say anything to me during the break. Not a word. This isn’t totally unusual for this group, but it unnerved me a bit. I thought I was losing the first three rounds and convinced myself I had to catch up. This might have been a good thing as it got me to really close in and as she fatigued I got stronger. I started getting good locks around her neck for the clinch and by round 4 she was done for. The crowd went nuts every time I locked her like this. I wasn’t aware I was winning by round 4 – my head was telling me something else because she was so hard to deal with. She was so strong. But in the final rest before going into round 5 my corner told me to “walk” for the first 30 seconds (dern, meaning go in) and then back off. I did this and actually got a bit worked in that first bit – she kicked me a few times, although some were blocked – and then I started backing up and teeping. It wasn’t until I saw the look of utter defeat on Jomkwan’s face as she tried to chase me that I realized I’d won already. That I could just dance off the round, which I so, so rarely can do. I was a little amazed.
This was my 3rd fight fighting with a broken hand. Even though I threw a few rights instinctively I shouldn’t have – it was getting better it it wasn’t there yet. Instead I just fought how I do best, inside with the clinch.
After the fight I watched Jozef from his corner, ringside. Jai Dee was agitated by the crowd and I took him out to relieve himself before running back in to cheer Jozef’s final round. As I ran through the parking lot (on the way out) with Jai Dee to the grass I coincidentally passed by Jomkwan, who was sobbing in the parking lot with a little boy at her side. I didn’t know at the time she had just ended a winning streak that likely lasted 6 months, and included an incredible victory in Japan. Part of me wanted to stop and say something comforting or encouraging, but I’ve been in that position before, feeling horrid after a fight. I reckoned that inserting myself into her moment was about me wanting something, not her – it was probably more respectful to leave her alone than to patronize her with some kind of “buck up, you did great,” comment from the person who made her feel this way. She’s a fighter. She’s lost before, she’ll lose again, but she knows how to handle this stuff. And from what I hear we’re going to rematch sometime next month, which I look forward to.
Post-Fight Video Update
These are some shots of me watching Jozef’s fight next, not yet changed, Jai Dee in tow. They give a sense of the gamblers and the crowd.