– full fight video above –
October 17, 2014 – near Phutthaisong, Thailand –
This fight is dedicated to my GoFundMe sponsor Dustin Grant, who contributed to a campaign to help get me to fights. Thanks for your support, Dustin!
We got to Phutthaisong the evening before this fight. The drive up to Buriram is certainly getting easier, but we were pretty exhausted by the time we rolled in to the driveway of the apartment a little before 4 pm. Nonetheless we called over to the Giatbundit Gym and asked what time we should come over to say hello and get information about the fight for tomorrow – mainly what time and where. Dr. Pung (Tanyarat) told us to come by at 4:00 PM, in just a few minutes. So we got back in the car and headed over. There is “Thai Time” which we’ve gotten used to, a certain looseness to appointments with about 30 minutes leeway, but it seems that there is also a “Isaan Time” – which somehow feels much more specific and urgent, but much more loose in realty. You may be told to met at a very specific time, but then not a lot happens when you get there, often for hours. We haven’t really mastered Isaan Time yet.
Dr. Pung made us a beautiful dinner and we were told to come back to the gym the next morning in order to head out to the “match ups.” I’ve been to one of these before, where we all took turns standing on a scale and then our weight was recorded in marker on our arms. Then they line up the fighters in the same weight groups and match them accordingly. As a woman like me it seems unlikely you’ll have a lot of opponents to choose from, if any at your weight at all. This match up was different than the first. There was no scale at all. Instead, we rolled up to this area that looked like a parking strip with a huge mound of sand in the middle of it, like what you’d see at a construction site. There was live music being played off to the side and down a little ways from a gate, which I assumed was a temple due to the kind of music being played. A long time after I arrived, I ended up over in that direction looking for a restroom and discovered it’s not a temple at all. Instead there was a group of men sitting on mats playing this music and behind them was an enormous gong, like 10 feet high, that kids would hit with an enormous mallet the size of a carry-on suitcase, and some mats and pillows that were being sold behind that, then a restaurant that was basically a propane tank and a wok with a bunch of folding chairs behind all of that.
These match ups are a little strange. They seem very disorganized in that people show up in stages and nothing happens at all for a long time before suddenly it starts and then bam, it’s going! There were dozens of kids in maybe 6-8 different weight classes and then a very small showing of adult-sized men and, from what I could see, only me and one other girl my size. But she wasn’t my opponent. Apparently they already had someone in mind for me and the promoter first told me that my fight money would only be 700 Baht. That’s fine, I said. Then he said my opponent is 52 kg, which Pi Dam – who has cornered for me my last two fights in Buriram – asked me several times to make sure I understood. I told him no problem and he smiled, then my name was written down on a piece of paper that was slowly becoming the card for the night. We’re not sure if I ended up fighting the said 52 kg girl, or another girl from her camp (who seemed about 50 or 51).
video of Isaan kids being matched up (above)
The matching of the kids is what was really interesting. There were quite a few men gathered around who had brought pickup trucks full of their young fighters. They all gathered in circles and tried to stand the kids next to each other, but not everyone could see. So someone got the idea to clear those of us sitting on a little shaded bench off of the seats and have the kids stand up there – like on a little stage. The boys all lined up and stood there while all the men looked and pointed and discussed. Then they were instructed to take their shirts off, so the gym managers and gamblers and the promoter – whoever was there – could get a better idea of who matched well with whom. It’s hard to tell with little kids. They did this, having kids stand next to this one and then that one, matching these two and then arguing and rematching to another kid and then having another weight group line up, for hours. It was absolutely amazing.
Some of the last to be sized up were the adults. Seamus (Sham) is an Irishman from Giatbundit Gym and he’d been sitting there with us for a few hours, psyching himself out about whether or not he’d even be matched, and suddenly he was up on the block. He’s had two fights in Thailand. There was this older, very experienced-looking and probably quite drunk Thai fellow who B-lined over to stand next to Sham, clearly trying to force that match. It wasn’t a good match though and nobody paid mind to it. Instead they were trying to choose between these two younger guys on either side of Sham: one was younger and a little soft in the body – he seemed like a good match for Sham’s experience; and the other was a too-cool-for-school type with a body that looked cared after, but certainly not someone who trains all the time. He looked a little mean. Ultimately Sham was matched with the guy who looked like a good match for him but because they only offered to pay him 500 Baht for the fight he was advised by one of the men from the gym to turn down the fight. Sham was at odds about it, but followed this fellow’s advice in a gesture of deference. It would have been cool to see him fight on the card, but most of the other Giatbundit kids got matched so there were quite a few fighters on the card that night all the same. It has been the pattern for me so far in Buriram to go to these match ups but not actually see my opponent. This is because I’m already matched (which I appreciate, because that means I get to fight no matter what), but I reckon I’m told to go to them so that promoters and gyms see me, maybe for future matches or for people knowing who the hell I am. A lot of the match ups felt like they were already decided, even though they went through these posing next to each other gestures – kind of like how some people love a haggle, I’m sure people in this fight community love to go through the motions of matching and arguing.
When we got back to the grounds that night it was completely transformed. I was amazed that this sand pile parking lot we’d met in was now the area around a ring. When they actually put up the ring is a mystery to me – it must have been in the heat of the day – but the sand pile, maybe 20 ft high, served as stadium seating to a group of young kids who followed their grandpa up there with some mats and staked out the best seats in the house. Along the road were carnival games (anything you can think of where you win stuffed animals, it was there) and food stalls. Over by where we parked the car was a huge screen and a whole little field of kids on mats waiting for a movie to start, like a drive-in without cars. The electricity at the entire festival went out a few times, but they finally got it going and the kids cheered when the screen lit up with whatever feature was playing that night. I have to say, the outdoor theater we had in my hometown, around the back of the Museum of Modern Art, was the last thing to stay cool throughout my childhood. I frequented that place in the summer months when it was open all the way until I left for college. Outdoor cinema is awesome.
We put our mats down with the rest of the gym behind the sand pile. The Giatbundit gym would be busy all night as the first 3-4 fights all had one of their fighters, including me. So there was hand-wrapping and oil and Vaseline all at once to get us ready. Sham ran into my husband and told him he’d seen my opponent and that she was huge. When we finally headed over to the ring in the early rounds of the fight before mine to wait, I saw this Tom walk by twice. She was huge, maybe 56 kg and very thick in the thighs. Her hands were wrapped and she wore a red shirt (I was red corner) and white shorts. Pi Dam stopped her and talked to her for a moment, but I couldn’t understand what was said. But the impression was that he was shocked at how big she was. When I was by the ring, waiting to fight a woman who was standing next to me and guarding my feet from a drunken gambler in front of me who kept backing up into me, asked Pi Dam, “Is that a boy or a girl?” I was mentally preparing myself for this enormous woman and Pi Dam never left my side, so I don’t know if it was a misunderstanding or if she was switched out, but I didn’t fight that girl. When I got into the ring it was another fighter, all in blue and her hands already wrapped and ready to go in less time than it seems it would have taken to switch out an opponent. She looked like the girls I fought in Chiang Mai from the Sor. Sumalee gym, Yodying (we fought so many times) and her slightly bigger teammate Sudsiam.
Before I got into the ring Pi Dam had me kneel down, which I always do before climbing the stairs to the ring but this time he knelt with me. I always touch my glove to the ground and rub the dust into my hair, something that is to remind you of your connection to the ground and to be humble in your mortality. This time, Pi Dam dug his finger into the dirt under the ring and then rubbed it into the top of my head, between the coils of my braid. It was really cool to have him do this.
So I get in the ring and I see that the one other girl who was at the match ups this morning is in my opponent’s corner. I don’t know what this means, maybe they brought her in the AM to try to match her instead of this other girl or something, but after the fight they told Pi Dit that they wanted me to fight the smaller girl from the morning in my next fight. Okay.
I don’t know if I was just mentally flustered by the huge girl I thought I was going to face before or the surprise of this new girl coming in or what, but she started off round 1 with teeps that were really bothering me. I just wouldn’t come in. They weren’t hard, they weren’t strong, they were pretty well timed, but I should have just walked through them. Instead I stayed on the fence the whole round and got really frustrated with myself. I should have just relaxed more, but instead I got all up in my head about it. I looked at Kevin outside the ring when I came to my corner and he gave me this, “what the fuck are you doing?” look. Pretty much.
Round 2 I started actually clinching her and she’s not great technically in the clinch but she used her weight advantage well. She’d lean on me and just use her weight to press me into the ropes. Yodying used to do this to me up in Chiang Mai. Nonetheless, in the video you can see this guy’s thumb up in the air at the bottom of the screen; that’s cool because he’s betting on me. The thumb is the red corner, pinky is blue. In Round 3 this weight press stopped working for her and I was landing better knees. She turned me on the tail end of me turning her (clever) and got me on the canvas, falling on top of me in the process. She actually sat on top of me for a good few seconds, for effect but surely for a break as well, and the ref had to chase her off. Shortly after that I landed a knee to her face, near the cheek or chin, and she freaked the hell out. Round 3 was heated, for sure. I got a really nice left block of a kick into a right cross right into her face, followed by a right knee. Unfortunately I tried to turn her in her own corner and put myself off balance, getting kind of half-way put down at the very end of the round. My glove touched the ground, so I suspect that was a point. Like scoring on your own goal, man!
Between rounds 3 and 4 my corner and all the gamblers in that general area were just yelling at me how tired my opponent was. I could feel that in the third round, for sure. You can actually see in the video that she she comes to start the fourth round she touches my glove and then pretends that there’s something in her eye so she can go have her corner wipe at nothing with a towel, buying more time. She’s just spent though and throughout the whole round doesn’t have the energy to do much other than try to convince me to allow a dance off. No way. The ref was very cool in letting the clinch go long enough that I could advance position and score. She turned me and I might have gone down in her corner a third time (I’ve never been put down this many times in a fight), but I don’t remember and can’t see around the ref. She tries to do this mocking arm gesture of “I’m just playing around” to steal the fight and get me to agree to let her just defend her lead. It’s the fourth round though, so she’d have to keep doing this act for a whole last round. And I don’t play that game. It’s never over until the bell rings. So I start dragging her backwards and kneeing as we go and she’s just not responding anymore so the referee calls it off. I think this kind of stoppage is called “retiring.”
I’m happy to have won the fight because I certainly would be pissed to lose with that performance and to this chick’s act, but I was definitely not happy with this fight. I felt I’d done really poorly. That’s not to say that my opponent wasn’t very clever and she was a skillful and tactful fighter as well; my frustration was brought about by her choices and exacerbated by my own. I don’t want to fight like this again though, so in the end I’m grateful for the way in which losses often tell you exactly what you need to be working on – and fights like this give you that information without also having the bad taste of having lost.