Eighty-First Fight – Benchamin Luketaidon

 July 4th, 2014 – Pattaya Boxing World Stadium, Pattaya – This fight came up, disappeared, I had another one scheduled for the 14th and then that was cancelled and...

 July 4th, 2014 – Pattaya Boxing World Stadium, Pattaya –

This fight came up, disappeared, I had another one scheduled for the 14th and then that was cancelled and this one was confirmed five days before it happened.  Ohhhhhh, Pattaya.  It’s much harder to get fights here than it was in Chiang Mai, partially because there are only two stadia (rather than the 4 in Chiang Mai that run shows every night) and there aren’t fights every night of the week, but also because my gym here has different views about my fighting than I do.  It’ll take time.  It took 6 months or more to convince Lanna that I really, truly wanted to fight every 10 days.

Lead Up

Kru Nu leaned over the ropes of the ring at the gym as he spoke to me, my jab hand paused mid-air as he called my name.  He told me in Thai that I was now fighting nae nan (“certain” or “for sure”) on the 4th.  This was Tuesday, which meant the next day would be my last full day of training.  So many fights have been cancelled and rescheduled that I honestly didn’t fully believe this one would happen, although I really hoped it would.  The good news was that Jozef, the little 9-year-old Slavic kid at Petchrungruang, would be fighting on that card also.  So I wouldn’t be alone, as I was last time.  This being a change, however, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’m not fully part of the gym in that I’m not one of their “official” fighters.  The gym is listed as my gym on fight cards, but they definitely act like I’m this separate thing.  So I didn’t know whether I’d be preparing alongside Jozef at the fights or if I would have a separate corner or what.  Last time I had to bring all my own stuff and didn’t have half of it (I went and bought an ice bucket, my own handwrapping equipment, Vaseline, a towel, etc. this week), which definitely amplifies the not-our-fighter feeling.

We drove out to Petchrungruang gym, the opposite direction from the stadium with our apartment in the middle, in order to meet up with everyone before the fight, rather than just driving to the venue.  A small gesture toward being unified.  We had to leave Jaidee, our adopted jungle puppy, alone in the apartment for the first extended period for this fight.  He’s a good dog but hates being left alone, so we of course worry about what he might do under that stress: chew the furniture, cords, pee everywhere, make a lot of noise, etc.  (He didn’t do any of those things; he was very good.)  We pulled up to the gym and said hello to Kru Nu’s family as they all sat together eating dinner.  Kru Nu started telling me something in Thai that I was having trouble understanding.  He kept repeating “satellite” and talking about TV, but it didn’t make sense.  The importance of the message was evident as Kru Nu stood up from the table and walked over to the TV set that was blaring one of the 10 soap operas that play every night to massive Thai audience, glued to the TV sets.  He pointed to the cable box on the top right of the TV set and said “channel 50,” which I finally understood by remembering that Max Muay Thai, which now takes place at Pattaya Boxing World, can be seen on channel 50 if you get service through one particular provider.  Oh!  He was saying that I was the third fight on the card tonight but the first fight that would be telecast.  He was saying I’d be on TV.  I assume he was telling me so I could tell my friends or something, but really I was just happy that his dad Bamroong might be watching the fight from home.

Kru Nu drove over in a van with a gaggle of kids in tow, while Kevin and I zipped over on our motorbike.  It would be easier to just go straight home from the venue, rather than carpooling all the way back to the gym first.  The venue felt different from how it was in January/February when we were here last time.  Quieter, fewer lights, fewer people, etc.  A Thai man was sitting in the front with a microphone pressed to his lips, announcing over and over again the fight card.  I could pick out “Si-vee-uh Petchrungruang” as he repeated it in cycles.  We parked over in the back, where I shouldn’t have to pay the 20 Baht to leave my bike, and a parking attendant immediately came up to me and asked “boxing?”  I said in Thai that I’m a fighter and he grinned, gave a thumbs up and said “chok dee!”

When we entered the venue all the little kids were wai-ing here and there to the men who must be organizers, gamblers, officials, and regulars at Pattaya Boxing World.  Then these men’s eyes would drift over to me and there would be a moment of surprised and curiosity.  The people sitting in the stands did this also and I could feel a particular look off of one very fat man with a giant birthmark covering most of his left cheek.  I know that look – he must be with my opponent’s corner.  He was giving me the once-over and I smiled but kept walking.  The boys and I put our stuff down on the bottom steps of the stadium seating and the boys watched a highlight reel of KO’s that played on the big screen behind the stage where fighters begin their walkout to the ring.  I wanted to go fix my hair, so I excused myself and headed back out the front door to the restrooms outside the actual stadium.  On my way past the ring I saw the doctor who stitched me up at my Yokkao fight.  He immediately recognized me and wanted to look at his work.  I sat down so he could inspect my forehead, totally aware in that moment that we were literally right in front of my opponent and her camp.  Great, so they can see the doctor inspecting my forehead and figure that I took some elbows.  But I like this doctor.  He was very kind to me when he stitched me, giving me extra sutures for aesthetic reasons and asking me to come back a few days later so he could check up on me.  Now as he looked at me in the dim light and I tipped my head toward the ring lights so he could get a better look, I told him suay suay (“beautiful”) and he touched his own forehead where my scars are on my face, like looking in a mirror.  He’s very fancy and affected in the way he speaks and moves.  He kind of flipped his head back and brushed at his forehead, then furrowed his brow and looked closer at a third scar that I got more recently from my last fight in Chiang Mai.  I told him that one was new and he nodded, then gave me a firm talk about keeping my guard up.  I laughed and told him in Thai, “I won’t make you work too hard.”

Kru Nu wrapped Jozef’s hands first and I followed them up into the stands with my little plastic baggy of tape and gauze.  Jozef’s fight was the second of the night, right before mine.  I watched as his tiny hands were wrapped in gauze, surprised that no tape at all was used.  But he’s little – 27 kg – so maybe they don’t do the whole elaborate handwrap at that size.  He’d be going against a Thai kid who is known to be very strong, so their weigh in had a kilo difference with Jozef at 27 kg and the Thai kid at 26 kg.  Jozef seemed focused.  Kru Nu wanted to wrap my hands up in the actual “green room” above the stage, so we headed up behind the screen and as we mounted the stairs the unmistakeable and familiar smell of Thai oil and sweat hit my nose.   There were two dozen people in the small area upstairs: a bunch of our little Thai fighters from the gym getting Jozef ready, some older teenaged Thai boys who might have been fighters or cornermen, and my opponent in blue shorts and a pink shirt doing marching knees back and forth in a small side room with a chain-link door.

I sat down in front of Kru Nu and he started my handwraps, doing the elaborate building of tape over the knuckles at an impressive high pace.  One of the guys who was with my opponent’s corner came over to Kru Nu and they started talking about me in Thai.  I understood most of it.  He thought I was big and quite frankly I was bigger than this girl.  Maybe a good 3 kilos (6 lbs) bigger, which is extremely rare for me.  And he was complaining before I even took my T-shirt off… that’s always a game changer.  Kru Nu acknowledged that I’m very strong – very strong, he emphasized – but that my muay isn’t very good.  I listened to them talk and watched my hands changing shape with the addition of gauze and tape.  It’s an interesting game that trainers and coaches play.  I’m the smaller fighter 98% of the time in my fight career, so it’s not something I’m very familiar with to have my opponent be the smaller one.  The last time I fought someone smaller was my first fight against Faa Chiang Rai – she got bigger and we were much closer in size in our subsequent fights.  That first fight her trainer had come up to me and sized me up, then told me in Thai “she’s just a baby,” which is a head game I’m used to. That fight I learned how electric a quiet small fighter could be, fighters to be looked out for.  When I was first fighting at Kalare in Chiang Mai, my first 20 fights or so there was always some coach coming up and squeezing my arms and saying I was “too big” even though his fighter outweighed me.  It’s part of their game.  Faa Chiang Rai was actually smaller than I was, but that fight was a draw.  She was technically much better than I was, more experienced, very fast and clever.  So you never know what to expect from a fighter.  In Thailand it’s typical for western fighters to be matched against smaller Thais, especially guys who are 70 kg or over.  For me it’s always been the opposite: I’m always the small falang fighting bigger Thais.  I knew it was a bad match, however, when during the Royal Anthem Kru Nu leaned over to me and said to me, “if they talk to you, you say you have 15 fights, not 80.”  Shit; that’s a big difference.  He told Kevin that he used to always tell the truth about his fighters’ experience and weight but that too many people lie so he was getting shafted all the time.  So he must have lied about my experience, figuring in his mind that because my muay isn’t very good (in his eyes I’m a big mess) that he ought to dial down my experience by a lot because a Thai girl with 80 fights is someone like Lommanee – world champion and bigger than I am = very difficult fight for me. In general Kru Nu has been overly cautious about possible opponents for me, this fight would prove how much so.

Two Thai boys were ordered to come over and give me my oil massage.  Lotus is a Lumpinee fighter and champion many times over (not yet a champion at Lumpinee, but various belts) and is about 15 years old, and the other kid I didn’t recognize but he’s a similar age.  Kru Nu told them in Thai to just put a little oil on my legs, basically telling them to skip massaging my body.  This is interesting.  Filippo skipped it in my last fight and Nook in Chiang Mai skipped it when he was in charge of my massage.  It’s 100% because I’m a woman and for no other reason at all – it’s considered impolite to touch a woman like this, casually.  The boys had clearly never gotten a female fighter ready before.  They did my legs and arms fine, but the boy who isn’t Lotus tried to do the horrible stomach massage part without lifting my shirt and that simply doesn’t work.  He was basically just pressing on my stomach and feeling awkward and confused about it at the same time.

I watched Jozef’s fight from the back part of the stage, looking down the “runway” that fighters enter the ring from.  My opponent sat next to me, across the aisle so to speak, wearing a big red robe while her two fat cornermen hovered around her.  Kevin stood behind me and Lotus appeared at one point to wrap a blue cape around my shoulders for my walk out.  When it was time to go I walked down the runway with Lotus behind me and he stepped in front of me when we reached the ring, pushing down on the top ropes for me to climb over.  Again, not familiar with female fighters. I pointed to the bottom rope, letting him know that I can’t go over.  He then opened the middle rope for me and I wasn’t certain; so I still insisted on the bottom rope and finally just ducked down to go under and let him figure out whether to lift it for me or not.  This is a weird experience for me and I’ve had it a few times.  There was the time that Den bent down the top rope for me, not thinking, and I had to decide whether to point out the mistake and risk him losing face as my trainer or to just hope over the rope and let the officials screw their faces up in disapproval.  I chose the latter in that situation and went over.  That night I lost a fight that everyone thought I’d won and I don’t know for certain that it wasn’t because of the rope incident.  Other times I’ve had to insist on the bottom rope, which is a conflicted experience for me because I hate that women have to go under the bottom rope and yet I end up being the one protecting that practice, even when it’s clearly not in the mind of the men who are helping me into the ring.

The Fight

I could see myself on the big screen behind the ring as we began the walk around the ropes, sealing the ring.  I noticed also that my opponent didn’t have a Ram Muay, which is usually indicative of inexperience.  Within the first minute of the first round I knew what a mismatch it was though.  I hit her hard with a left hook and it cracked her head to the side before she stumbled backwards.  She recovered her balance and put her hands up, but she stayed away from me.  In the clinch my power advantage was outstanding.  I think if the ref had let the clinch go for longer it could have been very bad.  However, between rounds Kru Nu appeared at the ropes with a calm expression on his face and at first didn’t say anything at all to me.  Like, just go do whatever because you clearly have this.  Then he decided to tell me to only jab and low kick – use it as practice, I guess.  Then he told me mai reep (“don’t rush”) my knees in the clinch.  Kru Nu is all about quality over quantity in strikes.  He doesn’t care if you eat five knees so long as you are sure about the one that you throw back and make it hard.  You can knock someone out and you can negate those five knees with one good one.  Slow it down, strike when you’re sure.  So I went back in with the intention to just jab and low kick and I tried it out a bit, but she’d been coached to come after me with kicks more.  I’d even seen her corner yelling at her to elbow me.  I don’t think she’s ever thrown an elbow in a fight, so the chances were pretty slim, but I kept my guard up nonetheless – doctor’s orders and all.  In the end her inexperience with facing up to pressure had her turning from me and the ref called it.  It was a good call.

When I got out of the ring a few guys from the audience ran up to shake my hand.  One Thai guy with the biggest amulets ever around his neck – must be a gambler – and two guys who I’d guess were Middle Eastern.  I smiled and obliged their excitement, but I can’t say I felt the same.  It doesn’t feel good to be mismatched like that.  As I said in my post-fight video, being the underdog in those fights has been good experience for me and being the top dog and knowing how to dominate with control when you have advantages is an important lesson, too.  You can always learn something, but I definitely don’t want fights like this.  Kru Nu came to me afterwards and said he would talk with the promoter about the next fight, so hopefully it’ll be a better match and my fingers are crossed that it’s sooner rather than later.  All this time between fights is crazy for me.

Happy to have been able to try a few things, given the situation of this fight.  Hopefully my opponent gets a better match up for her next fight as well. One thing I realized is that while I have very often been 3 or 4 kilos under my opponents, being on the other side of that, I had not really experienced how much unconscious confidence the weight can give you. When being hit I felt no danger, I shrugged it off. Several of my opponents must have felt this when they went against me, even though I hit hard. It is good to feel this, and give myself credit for the times I fought and beat girls larger than myself. I’ve intellectually been aware of the advantage, but experiencing it is another thing.


Post-Fight Video Update

The Whole Fight

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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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