October 6, 2014 – Chua Kraow Stadium, Chonburi – Stadium Championship Title
full fight video above
This fight was sponsored by my long-time supporter Karen Lim. I’ve not yet met Karen in person, but I feel like I have and hope that our paths cross in the near future. Thanks so much, Karen!
[Update 1/5/2015 – an alternate, more accurate spelling of my opponent’s name is: Muangchonlek Sor. Hengcheroen, as of this point she’s the 3rd ranked challenger for the WPMF pinweight championship belt]
This was my third fight in an eight day span of time (Sept 29, Oct 4, Oct 6), so between fighting my second fight and driving back to Pattaya the next day, I didn’t have any training between the last fight and this one. I had started to feel myself developing a cold on the drive out to Buriram on the 3rd, (I swear that air-conditioner makes me sick, which is something I laugh at when Europeans wear scarves in the department stores and on climate controlled subways… but who’s laughing now?) and it was full on aching joints and congested sinuses by the time we got back home on the 5th. So I wasn’t feeling great at this point, but all I had to do was rest.
My fight in Buriram was a 4th round KO and I didn’t have any injuries from it, just a dinged shin that was moderately more sore than it was after my fight 5 days before that. So I knew it was just going to continue as an accumulative sore spot. What was more urgent terms of injury was my self-esteem, as I felt I’d done horribly in the fight in Buriram. I watched the video and it wasn’t at all as I’d experienced it in my head, actually in the ring. It was a good fight. But I definitely had the kind of motivation one gets from losing, even though I’d won the fight – I just wanted to fix the things that were making me so unhappy in this next go-around. That’s the beautiful thing about fighting frequently: you just get back in the ring and record over your mistakes or try again, rather than having to sit with them for months at a time. So I spent some time working on my mentality to “get over” my feelings regarding my performance in the last fight and acknowledging the things that would work, that did work, and that I needed to tune up for this one.
I was also feeling some pressure for this fight because it was another fight with O. Meekhun cornering for me and, thus far, I’d not won a fight with them in my corner. I know that Sangwean believes in me, but actually winning the fight makes a difference for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I can make money for the gym – which is a very important piece of the puzzle of getting trainers/ camps to invest effort in you as a fighter. I actually fought really well in my last fight with them, a week before on the 29th, but lost a very close decision after 5 rounds. So I at least didn’t have the stink of “you fought like shit,” which doesn’t wash out well. That said, I wanted to fight well and win the fight.
Driving out to Chonburi in the Rain
Sangwean had told me to come to the gym by 5:00 PM so we could drive out to Chonburi for the fights at 8:00. Pattaya is in Chonburi the province, but there’s a Chonburi city that’s about an hour away, about halfway to Bangkok. I’d called Sangwean in the morning to make sure that we could bring Jai Dee with us in the truck out to the fights. There’s nobody to take care of Jai Dee for us here in Pattaya, so we have to take him with us to fights. We also really like having him there and definitely would prefer taking him along rather than leaving him behind even if we had a choice. At about 4:00 Sangwean called me and told me to come now. It was raining outside and it took me a little bit to get my stuff all together that I’d need for the fight and do my hair, but we were out the door within about 15 minutes. It felt rushed. Driving a motorbike in the rain isn’t fun. It’s cold, the rain pools on the seat and runs onto the seat of your pants, soaking them through. Jai Dee doesn’t love being rained on either, we don’t have any kind of rain cover for him, so he just kind of leaned as best he could into me or Kevin to try to stay out of the rainfall.
At the gym, nobody was ready to go. I think he’d called me to come immediately so that we could leave the minute the rain stopped, but that didn’t happen for quite a while. So we just sat at the gym while some kids ran around, pretending to train, and Phetjee Jaa came up to greet Jai Dee (she loves him) and then scooped up one of the little dogs that is relatively new to the gym. The little dog is named after the fight name of the gym’s 10-year-old fighter, Maa Roy (“come riches”). There are two other dogs named Jee Jee and Jaa Jaa, after Phetjee Jaa; the kids obviously think it’s great to name the dogs after themselves and Sangwean hates it. Those names are “play” names, but they’re also auspicious to a degree – you’re named something that incites winning, fortune, acclaim, and then the kids give the name to the dogs. I see both sides. But I love dogs, so I generally think it’s cute.
So Phetjee Jaa is standing there with this little fluff dog in her arms and she asks if Jai Dee is coming to the fights. When she watched my fight in Korat on the tablet at the gym, there’s a moment between rounds where Kevin panned down and showed Jai Dee asleep at his feet. She got very excited and called out, “Jai Dee!” when she saw him, then made us go back so she could see it again. I know she’d love to bring her dogs with her to fights, but we kind of only get away with it because we’re falang. I asked Phetjee Jaa if she was coming to the fight and she misunderstood me, thinking I was asking if her dog was coming and she shook her head “no.” I was sad. Why wouldn’t she come? Finally we were ready to go and I saw that all the kids were showered and dressed to come with us. Thank goodness. Sangwean tried to get me to ride in the cab of the truck (this is pretty standard if you’re the fighter that night) and showed me where I could tie Jai Dee’s leash to the side in the bed of the truck. I told him I’d be staying with Jai Dee in the back, which allowed me to sit with Kevin and most of the kids. Phetjee Jaa, their little fighter Oo, a half-American kid I’d never met before who was quite the giggler, and Jee Jaa and Mawin’s little cousin named I.Q. He’s awesome but never says anything. There were mats laid out on the bed of the truck for us to sit on and a tarp (really a sign/ poster made of tarp fabric) folded up on the side for us to hide under if it started raining again.
As we drove out the kids were excited and talkative. Jee Jaa’s favorite dog, Jee Jee and the two black puppies (one is Jaa Jaa and I never learned the other’s name) followed us out all the way to the main road.
The drive to the venue was estimated to be about an hour, but just getting through Pattaya City on Sukhumvit Road was a chore. We crawled through the evening traffic as it drizzled and the sun fell below the horizon. It must have been 30 minutes to go only 3-4 kilometers along the highway. In that time, however, we got to watch the kids giggle and sing along to the music that was playing on one of their phones. Phetjee Jaa showed me and Kevin the scar from her recent surgery, an operation to remove a benign cyst from her left forearm.
Man, that scar is wicked. It’s a long line, about 4 or 5 inches long and it’s got 7 perpendicular (intersecting) lines from the 7 stitches that closed it. But those stitch scars are probably 2 inches long also. She smiled as we tried to film it. When we finally got moving on the next highway the kids started to slump down in the bed of the truck to stay out of the wind. Kids are kids, so two of the boys had failed to bring any jacket or sweater and Phetjee Jaa tried to shield them by lying down across them with her big black hoodie. Sangwean must have seen them in his rear-view mirror – or they texted him on the phone – because he stopped under an overpass and all the kids piled into the cab of the truck, like ants fleeing to the ant hill before rain. And then it was just Kevin, Jai Dee and me in the back. The rain held out though and the night was beautiful. I built a lot of memories as a kid driving with my dad through the mountains of Colorado, or on the few road trips my family took out to California for family reunions, or even just camping trips. Riding in the open back of a pickup truck is a memory builder for sure. Jai Dee is more comfortable in the open air than he is inside the car. He’s gotten better on our trips out to Isaan but there’s still a world of difference between his enjoyment of riding on the back of the motorbike and his tolerance of being in a car. The bed of a truck is a medium between the two – like a giant motorbike but still enough instability that he’s a little uneasy and is willing to cuddle with me for comfort. I’ll take it.
Chonburi Buffalo Race Festival – the Venue
We arrived at the venue at about 7:00 PM. The colorful neon lights that spray out in a half-sun radius are a tell-tale signal for festivals, but this one was so huge it looked like a full on, semi-permanent night market. The tented stalls stretched in both directions from the road, just rows and lanes of food, clothing, shoes, sweets, and carnival games with giant stuffed animals. I couldn’t believe how huge it seemed. The car was parked just across the street from the boxing ring but the rain had been so on-and-off that nobody was yet crowded around it for the show. There was also no cover to the ring, so the canvas was completely soaked from the intermittent showers. While this obviously meant it would be quite slick, I also loved the idea that I might actually be fighting in the rain. I asked Kevin if he could light a fire somewhere so we could recreate the end scene in Tony Jaa’s Tom Yum Goong, or “The Protector” in English.
We found a spot under a row of canopies set up behind the stadium seats next to the ring. There was dry ground there and the kids laid out the mats on the gravel before heading out to buy food and enjoy the festivities. There was an Isuzu tent and maybe a half-dozen cars on display to the right, in front of us, and the ring got rained on for maybe another 10 minutes in the time between our arrival and the start of the show. Guys came out with mops and a huge bit of cloth to dry it off as best they could before the show started. On the program I was listed as the 7th fight, my name was pretty much “Siw-wee,” which became “Cherry” when the announcer got his mic going. To be fair, the kind of “s” my name takes in Thai (ซ) looks a lot like one of the “ch” sounds (ช), so in the low light and small print it’s an easy mistake.
The fights began quite suddenly and Sangwean wanted to wrap my hands right away. I’m not one to argue, but I thought probably had 2 hours before I’d be in the ring. Then Oo came up and told me that my fight was moved to number 3. The urgency increased slightly. Sangwean has an interesting way of wrapping hands that I kind of like. He doesn’t build up the knuckle, which he says interferes with the angle of punches, which he likes to kind of slide down. I don’t punch like that, so it’s a moot point, but I appreciate that he has a method. He lays the tape on the back of my fist, then like an assembly line passes the fist off to Mawin for the cloth wraps, and then takes it back to finish off the tape on the top. I had my pre-made “casts” from my fight in Buriram out and Sangwean inspected them, then asked if I wear those. I said I do, but it’s up to him as my wrapper, laaeo dtae khun (“up to you”). He decided to use them and even though it’s clear that his kids don’t generally wear them, Mawin had no problem working them into my wraps under the cloth. The wraps felt great.
At this point the same guy who works at both Thepprasit and Pattaya Boxing World stadia as the equipment manager, bringing gloves, shorts, cups (groin guards), etc to fighters and recollecting them after fights, showed up and told us that my fight was for a championship belt. Tawan, Phetjee Jaa’s mom, and Mawin kept repeating to me over and over again ching champ (“championship fight”), perhaps because they weren’t sure if I understood. I did understand, but I don’t think much about belts and I’ve only ever fought for one once before, also at a last minute notice where I didn’t know until moments before the fight that it was for a belt. So you can’t really change much about what you’re going to do or think or feel in that time. My flatness was mostly because of feeling sick though. I was pretty tired and cold, a little foggy and my nose was stuffed up. I’m kind of a jerk when I’m sick, just really detached from everything, but this actually helped with my “fuck it” attitude for the fight and I think it worked toward my advantage in this case.
As my hands were being wrapped a girl showed up on a mat near us, maybe 30 feet away, and my corner got all excited, telling me one by one to look because that’s my opponent. She looked short, but kind of stocky. Sangwean had said she was 45 kg, but I always forget that they use someone’s I-can-cut-to-this-weight as the number, even if there’s no weigh in. So, I walk around at 47-48 kg but I’d be called a 44-46 kg fighter because that’s what I would cut to, if I make a cut. So, she wasn’t currently 45 kg – she looked like she was probably my same weight, given our small height difference and then the difference in build. I’m so used to seeing girls at 50+ kg as my opponents that I generally assess them as “about my size,” even though that’s not my size at all. Those girls cut to my walking around weight, or above. All this is to say that she looked like I could crush her. But I also know to never underestimate fighters and she was probably very clever and experienced. Sangwean told me she’s a kicker, so just block and knee. End of game plan.
The whole O. Meekhun crew gave me my oil massage. Up until now I never let them massage my stomach, for two reasons. One is that I hate the stomach massage, so skipping it is no skin off my teeth; the second is that they have this habit of commenting on my body in comparison to Phetjee Jaa, who is the only other female fighter they ever deal with. I’m a flat-out muscular and very lean lady. Comparing my body to a 12-year-old killer isn’t fair, but it’s also not something I’m interested in hearing. Because part of Phetjee Jaa’s grand finale at shows where she does fake fights with her brother in bars for a small side income is to lift her shirt and show her ninja turtle abs to the audience, I know that focusing on my lack of ninja turtle abs is something that the family is wont to do. But before I could say anything Phetjee Jaa herself was rubbing Vaseline on my stomach before dumping namman Muay oil on it. As she smeared it around she commented to her dad that my stomach is “big.” Compared to a 12-year-old, my entire body is big – I’m wider, taller, thicker – I’m also not Thai, so my build is less willowy. This immediately became a joke to Sangwean who started calling me “soft,” which is pretty much the same word for “fat.” Lovely. Not an uncommon Thai joke – I heard this from one of my trainers in Chiang Mai for a while before I told him on no uncertain terms that I was not interested in hearing any comments on my body, positive or negative, teasing or complimentary. It didn’t hurt my feelings in this case, here with Phetjee Jaa and her family. But it was annoying, since that was precisely why I’d avoided allowing my torso to be massaged up until this point anyway.
The equipment manager came over and handed me a pair of white Isuzu shorts with blue on the waistband. He had a red pair in his hands for my opponent but he stood there for a minute while I changed out of my own blue shorts and into these, obviously being supplied because Isuzu was the sponsor. The shorts were enormous and I actually had to have my corner adjust them because my gloves were being strapped on. Sangwean was beside himself laughing at the size of them, all baggy and cinched at the waist by the drawstring the way you see tiny little kids with used, oversized shorts in their early fight careers. He kept saying, “Baby, baby,” saying I looked like one of these baby fighters. It was, indeed, very funny. I could only see the shorts while looking straight down, so I didn’t appreciate the absolute ridiculousness of them in full until I saw photos afterward. Just before the fight Sangwean noticed that my opponent hadn’t changed into the Isuzu shorts and was wearing her own, nicely fitted pair. He went to find the promoter to try to either force her to wear the shorts or to get me back into my own pair, I reckon, but there was no time. I just had to wear the diaper pants alone.
The equipment manager came back around with the title belt and started strapping it around my waist. I misunderstood what he was doing and assumed that I would be wearing the belt into the ring as a fake champion, “defending” the belt that wasn’t actually mine. I think I made this assumption because of John Wayne Parr’s recent Instagram of just such a situation, where he had to pretend to be a World Champion as a last minute replacement in a fight and was promised he could keep the belt if he won. (He lost.) But the guy was just checking the size of it and immediately went over to my opponent to try it on her as well, so that he didn’t have to fumble with it in the ring. Clever. And I guess this was really happening, no imposter-syndrome necessary.
So we head over to the ring and walk around the bleachers to the blue corner. Little Oo, who is probably only 3.5 feet tall, is carrying my Mongkol on his right shoulder like he’s the head of the pack. The guy I call “Grandpa” and another, round fellow who is always at the gym but I suspect is either Oo’s father or uncle are wearing the vests to act as my corner. I climb up into the ring and bow to all the judges and the referee. Kevin and I are the only westerners around – the only two at the entire festival, it seemed – and the referee is surprised when I affirm to him that I do indeed speak Thai when he asks. The equipment manager gets into the ring with a gold tray with some garlands on it – the real flower kind that smell so good when you have them around your neck. It’s a sweet smell, like cold honey. He also parades around the belt while a head honcho, I assume someone from City Hall, since that’s what this stadium is associated with, gets into the ring and lays the garlands over each of my and my opponent’s heads. Then we snap some pictures. My opponent is real sweet and smiley. That usually means a really nasty fighter.
Round one starts and my opponent is teeing off with these jumping teeps and some kicks. She’s clearly very comfortable kicking and then getting out, defending the point. I don’t block so great in the first round, but my guard is high and it remains that way, so when she starts throwing elbows in the first or maybe second round, nothing is getting in. But she performs them really well, super dramatic and they look like superhero moves even though they’re not hard and they’re not landing. At one point in round one I catch her and end up crushing her to the ground. It’s actually a foul because I don’t turn her or do this slight lift in order to kick her legs out (you can’t lift in clinch, but you can hide a slight lift and tip someone over that way). So what I did is called “breaking the back” and it’s a foul. The referee chastised me for it but my corner was going nuts with excitement. After the fight Sangwean complained that when I did that move I showed my cards and everyone knew how strong I was, so the odds all shifted from being in the red corner to the blue corner (my corner). Basically this is a complaint because the early rounds are when bets are placed, so if I’d looked crappier in the early rounds he could have bought in cheap and cashed out against the odds. But since I showed how strong I was so early the odds shifted and he didn’t make a lot of money. Sorry; next time I’ll fake a limp.
Between rounds 1 and 2 Phetjee Jaa told me to spit out my mouthpiece. This is normal for almost every corner, to take it out between rounds so you can breathe. But O. Meekhun never takes it out between rounds, so I just thought “wow, they remembered.” But then Jee Jaa was telling me that my opponent wasn’t wearing her mouthpiece and it became evident that they weren’t going to give it back. They were basically saying that a mouthpiece is a handicap and if the referee isn’t checking, not regulating (they usually check that you have it upon coming back from each round) then why should I have to wear it if she wasn’t. I’m more comfortable with a mouthpiece, especially if I’m going to be walking into elbows and such, so I demanded they give it back, which confounded everyone. I think that they see it as something that hinders your breathing and you only wear one if you have to. I see it as like wearing a groin guard, which is also regulated and checked by most referees (for men; women it’s optional) – it’s certainly not a disadvantage to have that protection. But it was an interesting experience, to be sure.
Round two my opponent was feeling confident and did this jumping knee on me, which I just kind of took and didn’t care. It was fancy but she had no power behind it. I started grabbing her in the clinch more and now I was getting more comfortable. I don’t remember if it was after round 2 or 3, but my corner somehow believed I had a tiny cut in my hairline. We may have clashed heads but I didn’t feel anything. We were both throwing elbows – I threw and landed more than I ever have before, although you can’t really see them in the video. Goes to show how performance is something you have to develop to really show your points. I saw her corner point to whatever cut it was believed I had and indicate to her to go after it. I assumed I was cut and thought there was now a time limit and I’d just have to go forward for a finish.
Round 3 we tied up and she managed to turn me and put me down into the ropes, following with a fantastic knee that was for effect only (you can’t knee a downed opponent, although you can knee while they’re falling) and unfortunately she ended up falling over also, which took the dominance of that move down a notch. But that moment changed the fight. I got up quickly and went after her, ready to get the point back. She dodged me for about 20 seconds but once I got ahold of her again she was screwed. She’d hit her nitro-boost early and I still had plenty of gas in the tank. I started pounding her with knees – they didn’t look great but they were hitting her in the ribs and blowing out her gas tank pretty quickly. I remember she got something on me near my corner that normally I’d kind of back away from – that’s how I lost my fight against Star the other day, just one moment in the fourth round where I got a string of knees and didn’t respond; it lost the whole fight for me – but this time I thought in my head that this was for a belt and I ought to fight until I can’t anymore. It’s kind of funny because I’m not really motivated toward or by belts at all and I was only told about this one right before the fight, but the fact that the fight had this outside weight added to it, simply by the announcement of it being for a stadium title, motivated me in that moment to appreciate the gravity of what was at stake. So I pushed back and ended up hurting her.
I kneed her in the head in one of the earlier rounds. Maybe round 2; maybe round 3. I don’t know. But I started hitting her in the head multiple times in round 4 because she was tired and bending her head down in the clinch became super easy. I was actually hurting my knee because the skull is much harder than the knee joint, so every time I tagged her it sent this shock of pain through my knee and I could feel it swelling and bruising. But I kept hitting her with it anyway. Later I thought about something Joe Rogan said on his podcast while talking with Dana White; he said something about how so many people are unprepared for sparring because they don’t actually want to fight, they just want to kick someone’s ass. In other words, they’re not willing to experience pain or take hits, they just want to damage someone else. This is totally the kind of mythology that’s supported by American’s obsession with undefeated records. I thought of it because I’ve had different trainers over the years tell me not to block kicks because “it hurts.” Yeah, it does, but it hurts my opponent more, so I block anyway; I win those exchanges and I don’t mind the dinged shin to watch my opponent’s kicks become lighter and more infrequent because of the pain it causes them. What was stupid was that I should have just hit her in the middle of the face rather than the forehead/ brow area, which would have ended the fight and done less damage to my knee. But I wasn’t thinking about it. The referee ended up stopping the fight after I tagged her face for the 4th or 5th time. She didn’t object to the stoppage. She also didn’t acknowledge me at all either of the times I went over to apologize and offer respect. I don’t blame her.
The equipment manager, who is a rather grouchy man in general but who recently has started smiling back to me when I acknowledge him at all the different stadia, gave me a big thumbs up and told me “very strong,” when he got into the ring to put the belt on. We got to take a bunch of pictures in the ring with the belt strapped on my waist. It was a cool feeling to stand there and get the garland again and have the belt put on, just because it’s something I’ve seen on TV and at fights, although I didn’t feel particularly connected to it. I was more excited by having Phetjee Jaa come in to the ring for photos with me – a year ago I never, ever would have imagined that happening. I used to watch Jee Jaa on TV and just loved the idea of her, how she fought and she was my hero. Even meeting her never entered my mind – when she was banned from fighting boys I thought I’d just never see her again since she was only on TV for Aswindum – let alone training with her, teaching her and Mawin English and riding out to fights with the family and having them in my corner. It’s nuts.
You don’t get to keep the belt. That’s kind of a bummer, but I understand it. They used the same one later in the night for another fight, the main event between two guys at about 65 kg where one was actually thrown out of the ring. I think that guy won, actually. But so we took some pictures and in the low light they weren’t so nice, but the excitement of everybody was great. I hoped there would be a good picture from one of the photographers ringside that would appear in the newspaper in the next few days, but I kept checking and it never turned up. Kevin and I decided later in the week that we’d pay to have the belt copied – out of money that family offered us – which is how you get to keep a belt. It’s expensive and you have to order it from Bangkok, but I’ve never won a belt and probably won’t very often. It’s a nice keepsake and Master K has been asking me for a nice picture wearing his Suriyasak team belt (I was awarded that prestigious belt from him by being his first and only student to win three fights by KO in a row; I actually did 4 in a row last November), so having some pictures for Master K is important to me also.
Waiting Until the Last Fights
Phetjee Jaa handed my mouthpiece back to Kevin and he was holding the camera, so he just stuck it in his pocket rather than finding its case. (Its case is actually just a plastic tub for gum that I saved.) This displeased Jee Jaa and she frowned at him for not respecting my equipment, so Kevin pulled it out of his pocket and found the case; her face brightened as he put the mouthpiece in its proper place and handed it back to her so she could place it back into my gym bag. I noticed that not even half the other fighters on the card agreed to wear the Isuzu shorts – they were too big for everybody.
The promoter didn’t pay anybody until after the main event, which was the third to last fight of the night, out of about 15 fights. So we had a lot of time to sit and watch the other fights, I changed into some dry clothes and walked around with Jai Dee, got some food, etc. while the kids ran around with a soccer ball. I’m amazed at how groups of Thai kids take care of each other, wide ranges in age all playing together and roving around like packs of wolves or something. It shouldn’t be amazing because that’s how I grew up with my brothers, but for some reason (maybe even for that reason) it really moves me.
Sangwean had me taste these really bizarre and expensive steamed nuts of some kind that tasted very bready and almost like a tunafish sandwich on sweet wheat bread. I didn’t like it, but it was interesting. Based on his inability to be adventurous with food and my description of the taste (he hates fish and all things seafood), Kevin refused to taste the delicacy and I had to eat his sample. But it’s good to always take two bites of something, even if you don’t like the first one. Sometimes there’s a wide difference in experience between the first and second bite. This wasn’t one of those cases, but it’s good to try.
Sangwean ended up going over to an area under the Isuzu tent, which was a good vantage point to watch the fights. He waved me over with an overhand beckoning of his hand and when I got over to him he told me to collect the kids and come watch the fights. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. A similar thing had gone on when I went with the family to Phetjee Jaa’s fight at a military base in Bangkok and I was the only one who watched the fights with him. The kids prefer to wander the food stalls or sit on the mats and push each other. Jee Jaa was cuddling with Jai Dee, spooning with him on the mat and getting very interested when she learned that he eats ice cubes, which she started feeding to him out of my ice bucket. A long time later Sangwean finally got Jee Jaa to come over to him under the Isuzu tent. She walked over, looking every bit like a 12-year-old at the halfway point between obedient child and disinterested teenager, kind of shuffling on her sandals. Sangwean put his arm out and hooked his hand around her hip as she approached. She stood there next to him like that, leaning into his shoulder with her body while he held and occasionally patted her hip. They’re a really loving family and it was sweet to see this affectionate display of their father/daughter relationship that is not entirely in contrast to, but certainly is discernible from the trainer/fighter dynamic in the gym. Jee Jaa put her arm on her dad’s shoulder and they both laughed about something, then she walked off toward the food stalls again with a mission.
We headed back in the truck just after midnight. Most of the stalls had closed already and it was darker. Kevin had predicted earlier in the evening while rain was pronounced that we’d see some stars. All the kids piled into the cab of the truck except for I.Q. and the little half-western kid, who were laid out next to each other to sleep on the way home. Kevin and I were wide awake but very relaxed, the “perfume” of a win making everything feel calm and sweet and easy. Jai Dee curled into me as the cool night air turned to wind on the highway and just as we passed the last stoplight in town we saw an enormous, green statue of the Hulk. A sign, for sure. The moon was nearly full and as the clouds started to break apart we could see all of the constellation Orion in the sky.
When we got back to Pattaya we first dropped off the first little kid asleep in the back of the truck, wearing Phetjee Jaa’s black hoodie. He lives in this incredible gated neighborhood that is all mansions and elaborate gates, just astonishing wealth not even a kilometer from the cinderblock and tin rooves of the O. Meekhun gym and its neighbors. Sangwean rang the doorbell and walked with the kid to his door, waiting for his parents to come open the locked door. It was nearly 2:00 AM and nobody was awake, even though their dog was barking non-stop and getting a few more in the neighborhood going. Sangwean borrowed our phone to call the house and after maybe 10 minutes the kid’s mom appeared at the door to let him in. I remembered dropping off my friends as a kid and how you’d always wait to see them actually get into the house. It was again a moment of Sangwean’s gentleness and care, how patiently he waited. We snaked back out of the neighborhood and onto the main road. On the way back to the O. Meekhun gym he stopped on the side of the street and bought something from a vendor that I assumed was late-night food for him or the family. He came back to the truck and handed me a stick of what he’d purchased and indicated it was for Jai Dee. It was rat intestine, which Jai Dee happily slurped off the stick like a long spaghetti noodle. The rest of the bag was probably for the gym dogs. And finally when we got to the gym everyone emptied from the truck except Sangwean, who slowly backed out the short but steep driveway again while Kevin and I let Jai Dee run around for a minute and then organized the motorbike. Sangwean was waiting at the bottom of the driveway, his headlights pointed down the unpaved road that is often eaten away by rain and can sometimes have very big, very deep gaps in it. I didn’t understand until we got down the little driveway, but I realized he was lighting the way for us with the truck’s big head lamps so we didn’t happen into any of the pits. It’s not a small thing at all, but it feels like immeasurable care.
The entire experience of this fight is one I want to remember. And maybe that’s why I’m having a copy of the belt made to keep. It’s like Orion’s belt in the sky – a series of points that indicate an entire figure; instant recognition to recall a memory.