September 29, 2014 – Thepprasit Stadium, Pattaya – full fight (above)
There is something somewhat un-Kosher about me fighting The Star, as was true the first time we fought about 7 months ago here in Pattaya. The issue is that I train at Petchrungruang Gym, which has a very close personal relationship with the Sor. Klinmee Gym out of which Star has been fighting and was raised up as a fighter. The first time, I got the fight booked through WKO, which was my second gym back in February and Kru Mutt from WKO cornered all my three fights then. This time around it was both more transgressive because I am more strongly associated with Petchrungruang than I was in February, and also because the fight was booked (again) out of my second gym (this time O. Meekhun) and because Star has had some difficulties finding fights latey – she’s somewhat left the Sor. Klinmee Gym and has gone up in weight. I agreed to the fight because we both (Star and I) want to fight and are having some difficulties, and I’ve not been embraced fully as a fighter at Petchrungruang Gym,. I did, however, out of respect to Kru Nu, get permission from him to take the fight and also asked to use the O. Meekhun gym name for the fight, so that even on the card it would not be Sor. Klinmee vs. Petchrungruang – the “brother vs brother” feeling and all that.
Turns out they didn’t change my name on the card, even though I did witness Sangwean calling the promoter to get him to do so. Star, however, didn’t use the Sor. Klinmee name and was instead listed in both English and Thai as “Sit Sor,” which is kind of like “student of S.” I’m not sure if that’s the same “S” as S. Klinmee, but it doesn’t matter. She did have a bunch of Sor. Klinmee fighters in her corner, as well as my last opponent in Pattaya from a different camp, Cherry Sityodtong.
When Sangwean first set up this fight he knew that Star was now much bigger than I am, whereas we’d been more the same size back in February. She grew, I didn’t. He wanted her to come down to 50 kg for a weigh in and I could just step on the scale at my regular 47 kg and eat the weight difference. The next day, however, the promoter called back and said that because Star is in school she couldn’t cut the weight. To be fair, it is “finals” week at the schools before all the kids go on the six-or-so week vacation and cutting weight while taking finals would be bothersome. Bothersome, not actually so much that it would destroy your scores, I reckon. But I don’t care. I’ll fight her at 52 kg just as readily as I would at 50 kg; bigger is bigger. Sangwean was pissed because not having a weight check means no “side bet,” which is a foundational bet between both parties. Without the weigh-in, there’s no side bet and so the possibility of a large 10,000 + Baht style fight was off the table. They’d just have to just play the odds with the gamblers in the crowd. According to Sangwean, I went into this fight the 3:1 underdog.
A very exciting thing about this event was that I would be on the same card as Mawin, my training partner and older brother to Phetjee Jaa – he’s 13. I’ve never seen him fight live, so that was something I looked forward to. He’d been sick the week before and hadn’t trained much, which unnerved me for purely selfish reasons in that I got less clinch practice than I’d wanted and was accustomed to. But I’m still light-years ahead of where I was with clinch 7 months ago when I fought Star the first time, and I’d just barely lost that decision. The question was going to be: will my growth in clinch technique out-do Star’s physical growth in size? She’s a multi-time champion, so it was a tall task, but one I really looked forward to.
Sangwean wrapping my hands at the back of Thepprasit Stadium
While my hands were being wrapped Star walked by and I thought, “wow, okay; she’s not that big.” Certainly not as big as I was imagining or how big she had looked the last time I saw her, sitting on the back of her dad’s motorbike when they stopped by to say hello at O. Meekhun Gym. Once I was actually in the ring with her, though, she seemed to change size all the time, between “kinda big” and “really big.” She’s nowhere near the biggest fighter I’ve faced though, so it was more about dealing with a height and reach. Angles plus a little more mass.
I’d been working on pushing and staying close, I’m always working on clinching and I’ve developed a rhythm and high guard with my arms that’s been going well for me. I just wanted to use all those things in this fight and keeping the heel of my back foot off the ground helps me to do that. I didn’t keep the heel up, so a lot of those other things were less smooth and consistent than they could have been, or how I would have liked. But given the circumstances, I think I fought to the best of my abilities. I just needed to push a little more in the moments when I had her in trouble. She’s very experienced and tough, so I never felt her wanting to quit – which I can feel in some opponents and those are the fighters you can KO with just one more knee. So I don’t know that I could have knocked her out, but I could have taken the fight with just a little more pressure and dominance at the right moments. Honestly, in the fight I thought that I had won. I was very surprised when the ref indicated her corner.
Round 1 was feeling out distance and power. She landed a few kicks and I landed some good, strong hands that snapped her head back. We didn’t clinch up until the end of the round and in there was pretty even. Round 1 is not a scoring round.
Round 2 I came out stronger and moved forward more, when we clinched up I was able to turn her. I’m so f***ing proud of myself for turning her! I’m very, very new to the whole throwing-in-clinch thing and she’s heavy, so being able to do this in a fight and under pressure is a huge development for me. And I put her on the ground with it, finishing with a feint knee for emphasis. That’s just for a little visual point, I wasn’t actually trying to knee her – the referee told me I can’t knee her when she’s down. I know that.
Round 3 started off with a beautiful teep to the face, right on my mouth and nose, from Star. It snapped my head back and my mouthpiece must have pinched the inner skin of my upper lip because it bled for about an hour after the fight, but it looks less impressive on film than it might have in person. Or how it felt. But I just got back to work and came back after her. I think I dominated round 3 pretty clearly and my corner was excited, although they were yelling at me to throw more than just one knee at a time. Sangwean and I had a little back-and-forth after the fight regarding this point – he told me that she was landing lots of little knees but I contended that I was landing harder knees that were more straight, meaning higher points. One guy in my corner agreed with me. But when I watched the video last night I saw that while her knees felt like nothing, she’s really good at performing the knees as if they’re really getting in there. Gotta work on my own drama, its a big part of Muay Thai scoring.
Round 4 I was fighting uphill a bit and I think that her double-inside clinch hold and dramatic-looking knees took the round for her. I should have pushed into her when she was kneeing but I left my ass back and it looked like I was getting nailed in the belly and chest, whereas she probably wasn’t even making contact on a lot of those. Being bigger, when she can stand upright and pull on me it looks like I’m being overpowered; when I can move her it’s like magic, so I should have done more of that. I lost round 4 and maybe lost the whole fight because of that. If I’d known in my head and in the fight that I’d lost round 4 I could have come out stronger in round 5 to take it back, but I didn’t. I mistakenly thought I had won round 4. In the corner Sangwean was yelling at me to grab and knee her, some gamblers were telling me to box her (my punches were almost always landing), and Phetjee Jaa was calling to me from just behind my seat, telling me dern, dern (“walk” or go forward).
Round 5 she was just defending her last round and so she just had to run and teep. Interestingly, I suspect that if I had done that after round 3, when I’d just dominated, the fight would have looked better for me. Aaaaaah, the performance elements of the narrative scoring of Thailand! I love it, but it’s hard to be aware of it in the ring as the fighter always. Not for my opponents, they’ve done this for years, some of them like Star, nearly a decade. The fifth round can be a bit tricky, because if you are the one moving forward in that round you are generally conceding that you’re behind in the fight. And if you’re winning and moving forward it can look like you’re desperate and you can actually lose like that – potentially. And, lastly, if you’re moving forward in that round you’d better be scoring. I was moving forward, but not scoring. I landed a really nice turn and straight knee that was probably the best strike of the whole round, but other than that a lot of what I was doing was simply neutralizing. I would grab her and we’d tie up, but I wasn’t getting scoring knees or other strikes in. I thought I’d done enough in the rest of the fight and that the final round was enough for my favor, but what fights feel like, what they look like, and how they’re judged are all different things. I don’t think I got “hometowned” in the way that I definitely won and then lost the decision, but in the same way that a close fight will usually go toward the defender of a title, a very close fight might sway in favor of the local champion. And maybe I just didn’t do enough anyway.
After the fight a man from Star’s corner came up to me. He was someone I knew, the father of Yod Cherry Sityodtong the last girl I fought in Pattaya, and who also was in Star’s corner. He was extremely complimentary of me, almost amazed at how strong I was against a 52 kg Star, someone nobody other than Sangwean thought I had a chance against. He insisted that if I fight anyone my size I win, no problem, over and over. Gang mak, gang mak, pantomiming the clinch head jerk. It was wonderful to have such an open response and praise from basically the enemy camp. I must have made a big impression.
a still from the fight (above)
me with the O. Meekhun crew after Mawin’s win (above)