June 13, 2014 – Thepprasit Stadium, Pattaya
Back in the Saddle
My last fight in Chiang Mai was unfortunately my 79th and I missed the chance to have one more before moving down to Pattaya on June 1st. I received six stitches in my forehead from an elbow cut and that prevented me from fighting again right away and then a military coup and subsequent curfew made fights difficult to schedule. All this is to say that my last fight was quite some time ago and I was eager to get into the ring as soon as possible upon our move down to Pattaya.
I’m training at two gyms – the same two I had the pleasure of training with on our first trip to Pattaya in January of this year – and I had asked both immediately to book me a fight. As it turned out Petchrungruang, the gym that is positioned as my “main” or “home” gym in the arrangement of placing myself between the two, scheduled me first. I had not fought “for” or “with” them on our previous visit to Pattaya as all my fights had been cornered by Kru Mutt of WKO gym. He’s fantastic. But I was excited to have a fight for Petchrungruang (PRR).
One thing that’s very interesting to me about the PRR gym is that it’s full of kids. Their oldest fighter is 16 or 17 years old and they have about six fighters who frequent Lumpinee. Because of all the kids, they’re a gym that understands and is well-versed in the process of growing fighters and are technique-focused and solid in fundamentals. Because of my strange path in Muay Thai, I’m lacking in some of the more fundamental elements and this is very good for me; being that I’m quite small, having kids my size to train with is also invaluable. What I’m getting at though is that PRR is the first gym ever that looked at me and called out my “fight weight” as being what I could fight at if it were to be a fight where one makes weight and all that. This is actually fairly universal in terms of how fighters talk about their weight – what you fight at, not your walking around weight – and so Kru Nu told me I’m a 44 kg fighter. That sounded strange to my ears because I fight at my walk-around weight, which is 47 kg and often fight against opponents who are significantly bigger than that, at 50-55 kg on average. Out of 70 fights I had fought in Thailand about 1 out of 10, have been against people who weigh the same or less than I do. Those fighters are using their weight-cut weight to fight me, saying their 50 or 48 kg because they could cut to that; so that would be me fighting a 43-45 kg fighter but at my normal weight.
This shouldn’t be as mind-bending to me as it is, but it goes to show how rarely I’ve fought opponents who are actually my same size. I can count on one hand the number of women I’ve fought who are truly my size, not giving up 10-15 lbs as I do in nearly every fight. In fact, in Chiang Mai it had become so common for me to fight opponents much bigger (sometimes up to 56-60 kg!) that my trainers literally did not know how much I actually weigh. It wasn’t even on their radar that I was so outsized. So to have this gym use the same scale for me that has been used against me for the past two years was quite a surprise. It’s kind of amazing.
When we came to Pattaya in January I fought three times, all of them at Pattaya Boxing World Stadium, which is pretty much exactly the distance from my apartment to the north that this other stadium, Thepprasit Stadium, is to the south of my apartment. Because it had been so long since my last fight (nearly 4 weeks) I was very nervous; having people corner for me who I absolutely trust but who have never cornered for me before, I was nervous; being at a new stadium = nervous; fighting someone actually close to my size so that she’s going to be fast and tricky and probably really skilled = nervous… there was a lot of change going on there. On top of this, Kru Nu had made it clear to me that Petchrungruang has a reputation to hold up – they’ve got fighters at Lumpinee and kids who are champions of Thepprasit Stadium – so they’re known and are building a name for themselves, so I wouldn’t technically be fighting under the gym banner until they knew what I was about. I’d be “Sylvie America” or something.
That’s fine, I understand the reasoning for all this, but it was a very notable distancing between the gym and me at the fight. Not in a mean way or a disrespectful way, but in a very Thai way. For all the ways in which I felt that Lanna didn’t care about me by putting me in fight situations that were ridiculous, I will say that I never felt I was outside of the gym; I never felt them distance themselves from me. I’m still new to PRR. The distance is one that will dissipate, for sure, but it’s definitely a bizarre thing to be feeling at a fight when being all tucked into a gym family is such a big comfort. All that said, there is a fighter community that stretches beyond anything and being around other fighters – little kids and their families getting them ready, ladies smiling at me and gamblers sizing me up… that’s a familiar and comforting feeling, too.
The stadium is literally two streets up from Petchrungruang Gym, so I followed Kru Nu and Filippo on my motorbike and we drove against traffic but on the sidewalk (it’s Thailand!) and were there in two minutes. Right as we parked our bikes it started to rain. And then it rained harder and in the time waiting for the fights to start in an empty stadium it got windier and colder (damnit, I didn’t bring a jacket or a towel) and there were two power outages. I wasn’t sure the fights would even go on but everyone acted like this was nothing at all and we just sat together, faces lighted by cell phones and kids getting their hands wrapped by flashlight; then we all applauded when the lights came back on.
Slowly the stadium started to fill, but with Thais. With gamblers. I love that kind of atmosphere. It’s like a festival fight but in a stadium. I think I love this place. My opponent showed up and they had us stand next to each other. I thought I was going to be matched against this huge woman walking in front of the group – because I’m used to Chaing Mai matches – but it turned out that woman is Namdtaan (“sugar”), a famous fighter from that same camp who is maybe 57-62 kg and fought my friend Frankie a couple years ago… not my opponent. The woman I was fighting was a bit shorter than I am and we were pretty close in size. Her coach eyed us closely and I was wearing my T-shirt, so my jacked upper body didn’t horrify him at that moment, my tattoos weren’t showing right off the bat. Filippo rushed the decision, saying “OK?” and the coach nodded. This happens all the time but usually I’m the smaller one and the other coach is rushing the decision. Holy shit… might I have an advantage?
Filippo warned me that this camp is really good. He said if I let this fight stay on the outside she’d pick me apart and win on points, that this stadium scores Thai style, etc. It’s not bad advice at all, but it was presented in a way as if I’ve never fought in Thailand before. Whatever; you can’t be too aware of this kind of thing.
One thing I’m still not used to here in Pattaya is that I have to bring all my own gear to fights. In Chiang Mai the gym had the bucket for ice, water, wraps, tape, Vaseline, massage oil, a towel, a mat, etc. It’s part of the “package” and one of the reasons Lanna takes a cut from fight money, to pay for the supplies and for the cornermen. Here in Pattaya, as an “independent contractor” of sorts, I have to have all that stuff myself. I’d forgotten this and hadn’t ever fought with PRR before, so I didn’t know if having to have that stuff myself was because WKO doesn’t frequently have Muay Thai fighters and PRR has all those kids so they would bring it… I just didn’t know. Luckily I was paranoid and brought regular cloth wraps and my own oil, as well as my own Mongkol. The stadium generally sells this stuff out front, so lots of fighters buy whatever they don’t have right there. But for whatever reason the shop was out of almost everything – no Vaseline, no tape. So I just wrapped my own hands like I do for training, we used my massage oil and my Mongkol and borrowed some Vaseline from a friendly fighter. As with all my fights in Pattaya, I had no ice bucket. These things are important because they’re familiar; they’re ritualized by frequent use. Rubbing my legs with ice is not actually super important for the fight. The absence of it didn’t make a difference, I mean. My corner just dumped cold water on my head and legs, gave me sips from the bottle, and Kru Nu stuck his hand through the ropes with some kind of peppermint herbal oil on his palm for me to inhale and kind of “wake up” between rounds. I didn’t know what he was doing at first… I thought he wanted a “high five.” Ummmm, okay.
There were two fights before mine. First was two tiny kids who were only three rounds because they’re, like, 40 lbs and 7 years old or something. Very cute. Good little fighters though. The second fight was looking like it would only be a couple rounds, a knock out for sure. Filippo put my Mongkol on (even though I told him twice that he’d have to take it off and put it back on once I was in the ring; I think he was on auto-pilot a bit and they don’t have female fighters at PRR for a long time now already) and told me to sit on the bleachers behind a VIP area. I could see bits of the fight from between the couches and a fern. The blue corner was a bit chubby, winded as all get-out and getting tagged with dozens of kicks in each round but just always walking forward – just all heart. Round four was incredible. The blue corner walked through a million kicks and just started plowing red’s face with punches and landing knees that, if just one had better power or was linked to a second one, would have ended the fight. The live musicians playing the Muay Thai music were banging out a rhythm to amp up the excitement and I’m pretty sure the rounds went longer than 3 minutes, looking to give the chance for a KO. I don’t have a watch, so I’m not sure. The referee’s at this stadium are also super willing to give a fighter who’s being worked a chance to fight his way out. Not if it’s dangerous – they’re good referees – but Thai refs are really attentive to whether a fighter is defending himself or if he’s just being too overwhelmed, they’ll step in. These referees really give the one being overwhelmed a good chance to get out. I got nervous a few times watching it, but it wasn’t negligent. There wasn’t a knock out in that fight but man, it was exciting. I was standing up to see over the fern and yelling at the blue corner. He lost, but he won the audience’s heart.
Kru Nu was sitting ringside next to the blue corner, where I would enter the ring. I hadn’t seen him since we arrived, so I was very excited to see he was still there. He pointed to me while talking to Filippo and then when he came over to collect me he explained that he had to take the Mongkol off so I could get in the ring. That’s what I said. Oh, chick stuff.
The side of the ring that I entered was 20 feet in front of the big stand of gamblers and I could see them sizing me up as I dipped under the bottom rope. (That first rope is awesomely high up; all rings should be like this.) I had seen my opponent’s coach get a glimpse of me after my massage, when my T-shirt wasn’t covering my arms anymore and he had a quick “oh shit” expression. He seemed to have come to grips with it by the time we got in the ring though. The referee came over to check my gloves and asked if I could speak Thai. When I answered that I could he looked shocked and asked again. I answered in the more formal, longer fashion to the affirmative and he nodded, smiling, then checked my hair twice as if he thought he’d seen a clip or something. I don’t know what he thought he saw.
The crowd loved my “executioner” stalk at the end of my Ram Muay, but the announcer didn’t say how weird of a Ram Muay it is, which is usually what they’re saying while I’m doing it for the first time at a stadium. My opponent’s Ram Muay was really pretty. I look forward to watching it on the tape because I didn’t get to see it in full while we were both performing.
Round 1 I knew I had to stay close because I wanted to be close the whole fight and if I gave her distance right away she’d get comfortable in the outside fight. I threw a low kick and she checked it really nicely. It didn’t hurt me, the check, but it did register in my brain as a no-go and I stopped throwing that kick. Just took it off the table. It’s a bad habit. I started using the inside kick instead later on, but that wasn’t too effective. But my hands were on fire. I clocked her nicely with left hooks twice in the first round, just rocking her behind the glove nice and solid and landing a cross on top of a couple jabs. I could already see swelling around her nose and eyes in the third round. It felt really good to land solid hands – they’re not high scoring and she handled them beautifully in her performance… not in her blocks, she doesn’t have a good guard yet – maybe I did her a favor with those punches and she’ll develop a good guard – but even if they weren’t showing affect because she was acting well, I knew they were affecting her.
Between rounds 1 and 2 Filippo said to me, “Okay, now she is afraid of you. Get closer.” And in round 2 we started to clinch. I made distance a few times and landed some good knees, but needed to do much more of that. I felt a few of those knees really hurt her and I thought I could knock her out, but then I started doing what Kru Nu tells me every day to stop doing, which is locking my left arm behind the head and then I’m too close to land straight knees. Damn. But the gamblers were really excited. And my little Thai cornerman, a kid from the gym, told me to keep punching.
Round 3 she came out strong. She’s a good fighter, this is the first real scoring round. She started clinching back, turning to make my knees harder to throw and tying me up really well. At the end of round 3 and 4 we were probably tied. It would all come down to round 5. There was a gambler who kept coming up to my corner and was giving me lots of instruction, but I was very focused on Kru Nu (who was only speaking Thai to me, which was amazing for me because I do speak Thai but my corner at Lanna speaks good English and would always default that way, even when they were frustrated by feeling limited by English. I wish they’d just speak Thai.) Apparently this gambler got all up on my husband and was telling him to rub my temples. For the love of GOD, SOMEBODY rub her temples! Finally he just climbed up the stairs and did it himself and the referee came over and told him to get down, because only two persons are allowed in the corner (on the ring) at any time. Amazing. Thailand is amazing. (This guy had also come up to Kevin after the second round, when I’d thrown a headkick already, and told him in Thai that there are 5 rounds and I’d better cool it to go all the way through. Another gambler, an old guy from our gym, after the fight told Filippo he’d bet money but only won 2,000 Baht because he’d bet I would win by KO. So I guess I was giving off a lot of different impressions. But this guy has also watched me train, so he knows something everyone else there didn’t know.)
Round 5 was really the decider. I wasn’t tired, but I wasn’t as far ahead in the gas tank as I normally am with my bigger opponents and I knew I’d have to step it up to win the fight and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that. I just knew I had to. To Kevin the fight was won when I landed on top of my opponent on a drop to the mat, but Filippo and Kru Nu said it was earlier than that, although they never tell anyone they’ve won too early in a round because a single strike can change everything. I just kept pushing until I felt pretty certain I was solid and then checked out of my periphery to see my corner telling me I didn’t have to advance anymore. Just teep, block, protect the points. So I did. Both Kru Mutt and Filippo worked with me on teeps this past week, so I was stoked to land some good teeps in this fight and one at the very end when I was protecting my victory. I was frustrated that I kept catching her kick – I honestly was thinking to block and a few times I did, but not nearly the ratio I was thinking in my head – but I was able to land knees off of most of those caught kicks, so that’s a positive because I was working that this week, too.
Afterwards the gamblers were fans. The various Thais who wanted pictures were very happy. The women who’d been smiling at me all night gave me thumbs up and more smiles (I love them; I think they were in the corner of one of the tiny kids who fought first). Kru Nu was satisfied enough and the fellow who really wanted my temples rubbed helped to take my wraps off, which is grunt work so it’s actually really touching that he wanted to help. A couple of the kids I recognized from the gym were running around, including “Kitten Face” who is actually named Bowie and he’s in my post-fight update (below). He’s the freaking cutest. A tall kid I’d seen training at Phetjee Jaa’s gym a couple days ago was the 8th fight of the night and we had to wait around to be paid (I’ve never had to do this before; it always got picked up by my trainers, but as an uncontracted fighter at PRR they don’t take any of my fight earnings, so I pick it up and pay Filippo for his help out of my own volition.) This kid we saw before had a good fight and I was excited to watch him and impressed that in two weeks in Pattaya I already knew so many people at the stadium.
And of course, it’s not Thailand unless my name is something strange on the card. The winner might always be “Nancy America,” but tonight’s “Silly U.S.A.” is pretty close. Incidentally, it’s spelled right in Thai, so I don’t know who did the transliteration.
Post Fight Update
The Whole Fight
Complete Fight Record