May 18th, 2013 – This rematch was suggested immediately following the draw between Faa Chiang Rai and I on my 41nd fight in Mae Wang, but it took a few negotiations to actually come through on the date that was originally quoted and I wasn’t sure whether this particular fight would happen until just a few days before when Den finally confirmed it with the promoter.
My parents are visiting from Colorado and I was elated that they would get to come see me fight at a festival fight, which for many reasons are more wonderful than the fights I have at the stadia around Chiang Mai city – mostly it’s the atmosphere and crowd that make the biggest difference, but something about a ring in the middle of a field with bare bulbs strung in an “x” across the top and night bugs flitting wildly against the yellow lights that just doesn’t get any more Thai.
We left the camp pretty early, at 6:40 PM and drove out to Doi Saket which is only about 30 minutes away. There’s always a momentary lapse in knowing where we are and as my parents, Kevin, some of the other folks training at the gym and a few Thai boys sat in the dark of the canopy over the back of Daeng’s truck we found a side road that broke into a line of vertical neon lights, the tell-tale sign of a festival.
We hopped out of the truck and made our way over to the gate of the venue. A woman sat at a table with a stack of paper tickets in front of her, which is unusual for festivals – normally they don’t charge admission. I pulled my parents and Kevin around me and let Den and Daeng make some pantomime movements of consideration and negotiation before they went over and asked the few westerners who had come out to support me to purchase tickets and then counted my parents and Kevin as part of our “corner” so they got in for free.
Watching my parents pass through the gate into the open field, orienting themselves between the carnival games on the left (shooting targets with a BB gun for overstuffed animals), some food stalls on the right and then a stretch of darkness before a DJ booth pumping out top-decibel mor lam (or Thai country music) and the ring illuminated in the distance, was a brilliant experience. There was so much newness and so little to be overwhelmed by as we pressed on toward the back of the enclosure and side of the ring to set up our mats.
My parents hopped up on the back of a hay truck and sat there together like kids on the farm or summer vacation in the 50’s. With their legs dangling over the edge they looked out over everything, every photo of them has them looking in different directions from each other.
My mom and I spent a significant effort looking for the restroom, which was through a channel between the inflatable slide and the BB-gun game, then through a small orchard – or whatever it’s appropriately called – of banana trees and over a 2×4 plank that bridges a small irrigation ditch and a sharp right turn to the cement structure with no electricity. We passed this structure twice in error when asking locals where the bathroom was, making a ridiculous journey between houses and around the front of a motorcycle shop to finally find the toilets by accident. Once located, however, it wasn’t too bad to go back and forth from the mats.
I found out that I was to be the second fight of the night so we set about wrapping my hands right away. I sat in front of Big as he taped and built up my wraps, answering his phone at one point and tilting his head to one side and resting the phone on the side of his head, against his ear like he was putting it on a table to talk to whomever was on the other end. He kept both hands free, though, so I’d say it’s a good tactic.
When I’d been oiled up and changed into my shorts two young Thai women climbed into the ring wearing what would pass in the US as Halloween costumes and/or bathing suits and began gyrating to a remix of “Gangnam Style.” I’ve never seen ring girls, card girls or anything of that sort in rings in Thailand – ever. But there they were, dancing for probably 10 full minutes while effectively getting every gambler in the vicinity of the fairgrounds over to ringside. A kid who trains with us at the gym sometimes but who is not technically part of our gym – he fights at Lumpinee fairly often and has an amazing work ethic and talent at just 15 years old – sat shyly in a chair behind our bamboo mat. I turned and looked at him, saying, “don’t look, you have to fight,” to him in Thai and he grinned sheepishly and shook his head. I was excited to see his fight though – I’ve watched him train but never seen him in the ring – the video of it is at the bottom of this post.
My last fight with Faa Chiang Rai had a sum of money riding on it from the promoter, somewhere around 10,000 Baht ($333 USD). I think this fight was around the same, but there was less emphasis on it this time, especially when I discovered that the Lumpinee kid’s fight was carrying 60,000 Baht and the last fight of the night was 100,000 Baht. They did, however, announce my fight over a dozen times, including between rounds of the first fight.
When I got in the ring I felt good. I was nervous, excited and feeling a little dizzy, but all of those things in good ways. Our last fight was a draw and I know I could have beat her, so I felt that the training I’d done in between had more than prepared me for this rematch. As the fight began, I could feel those things coming through. Even though I wasn’t doing any of the things I outwardly stated as goals, I was doing things I’d trained and that needed to happen in the fight. Between rounds my corner was very happy. Daeng kept giving me two “thumbs up” as I came to sit down and Den would begin his critique with “yes, good,” before telling me what he wanted from me. I was winning.
In the second and third rounds I landed some good knees that might have knocked her out if I’d gotten meaner and followed up on them faster. In the fourth round I dropped her a few times and then she took my back. The fight changed there. Between the fourth and fifth round Den told me I had to go in and crush her, so I came into the last round aggressive but failed to cut off the ring and instead chased, which looked terrible. She landed some kicks and I didn’t score, so her performance of looking fresh, unaffected and biting for the fight came off as dominant and I looked faded by comparison. It was a question of whether the judges would award it to me for the second, third and most of the fourth round for points and control or whether they’d award her for the end of the fourth and the fifth for playing the game right. I won the fight part of the fight, but she won the performance. In Thailand, that night with those judges, she won.
I felt terrible because I knew my trainers had bet money (so had my parents) and I shouldn’t have lost, but I fought hard and did a lot of things I’ve never done before. It was close and it unquestionably made me better. (A few days after the fight, at training in the morning, Daeng told me he was happy with the way I blocked in that fight (something he worked with me on in padwork for one session) and that he thought I fought well. He said that it’s good for me to lose that fight, that I’ll have better opponents, learn more and ultimately be better for the loss. He believed that if I’d won my next opponents would be less challenging. Losing means I get to fight Faa Chiang Rai again and that the girls who are in that tier of fighters are more willing to fight me than if I’d won. He lost money, but he was positive about the whole experience.)
You can see Lumpinee Kid (Den calls him So-daa, his name is Po-daa I believe) showing how it’s done in the clip below: How To Destroy With Clinch.
The Whole Fight
How to Destroy with Clinch
After the fight I was disappointed by the loss. I could have saved it, but not with the information I had at my disposal within that final round. I’m not a smart fighter yet, but I’m getting better and more aware with each fight. I went to change my clothes and then hung out with my parents while we watched the rest of the fights. The Lumpinee kid was amazing (video at bottom). He has about 30 fights and has only ever lost 2-3 times, two of those recently. For this fight they matched him against an opponent who was obviously much bigger – the disparity as they touched gloves was amazing, its hard to see it in the video. Our Lumpinee kid didn’t do well in the first two rounds. Den shook his head and kept commenting how big the other kid was; I was worried. I told my parents how there can often be a turn-around in the third round and my dad leaned in deep to hear me, pieces of tissue stuffed in his ears to block out the DJ booth’s music. As I was speaking the third round started and Lumpinee kid started catching his opponent in the clinch. That’s his game and he is a master at it. (I’ve been told that due to not having the exposure to the padwork training others have had his strikes are under developed, all he does is clinch and does he ever clinch.) This fight was a golden illustration of how to press your one advantage, and press it hard. He began kneeing endlessly – the other kid even put his shin up against Lumpinee kid’s thighs to block him and he just kneed over and around the block. When the other kid broke free and ran away, Lumpinee kid just tracked him down – quickly – and started again. His opponent was fading, his size was diminishing by the moment. He was nearly done in for in the third already; he was knocked down and couldn’t get up anymore at the middle of the fourth. Den almost leaped into the air with excitement. I was in awe of how perfectly he’d just demonstrated what I’m supposed to do, illustrating for me with a clear roadmap how I will become a better fighter. My parents beamed, intoxicated by the excitement and the crowd and the alien experience. I love festival fights.