November 18, 2014 – Sriracha, Thailand – full fight video above
This fight is dedicated to Michael Regala, who sponsored me through my GoFundMe campaign to get me to fights. Thank you, Michael, for your support!
This was my 3rd fight in 4 nights. We rode out to this fight, somewhere in Sriracha, in the back of the O. Meekhun truck. Meeting at the gym to head out is always a big question mark. Sangwean usually calls me about a half hour before he said to meet at the gym and has a sense of urgency about him, telling me to come over right away or, in the case of today, asking if I have handwrapping supplies yet. I did already, so he said, “okay, okay,” and hung up. Then, once you get to the gym with all this urgency around the timing, you never end up leaving until a long while after the initial time you agreed to meet. Ohhhhhh, Thailand – the clocks here are like Dahli’s “The Persistence of Memory.”
Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.”
It turned out that a lot of folks were coming with us on this trip out. Sometimes it’s just the fighters, sometimes there are a few kids to help out in the corner or watch, and sometimes there are just a ton of people crammed into the bed of a truck. When we arrived at the venue I understood why there were so many guys with us. One of them was the father or uncle of the young fighters at the gym, but the rest of them are adolescents who got a free ride out to the festival to cruise for girls. I reckon festivals are a plum event for young people to gawk at each other and maybe flirt a bit. You get people from all the surrounding areas together in one place with activities, food, lights, music (and dancing), carnival games and rides… seems fun. As the truck inched its way through the narrow streets beside a temple wall, the pavement just crawling with people milling through the food-stalls and crossing the street to check out the other games and rides, the young men in the truck took the chance to leap out and those of us who stayed could finally stretch out legs. It was a long ride to be so crammed together in the back like that. I sat up on the side of the truck bed so I could see out over the top of the cab. There were so many people in every direction, music of different rhythms and beats playing simultaneously from different sides of the street, the smells of all the different foods, and the neon lights. Those are synonymous with festival events here and are beautiful blues, greens, pinks and electric whites and yellows. They’re long rods of color and usually spray out in semi-circles, forming neon flowers reaching into the night.
On one wall near the gate of the temple was a big vinyl poster for the fights. I was on it and my name was phonetically “Jenna America,” and Phetjee Jaa, looking about 7 years old, was next to me. My photo was one that Kru Nu had taken of me many, many months ago, and Jee Jaa was probably actually 8 or 9 in her photo (she’s in her last stretch of being 12 years old now). I wondered why the promoter had such strange photos of us. Later on when I finally saw him I realized he’s a promoter in Pattaya and he might have actually gotten the photos from Kru Nu – who would have quite old pictures of Jee Jaa (she used to train there years ago when her family lived in the gym) and this odd one of me, probably saved on his phone.
Once we’d parked the car (in a genius location because Sangwean knows what’s up and we were close enough that it was a super short walk but still outside the festival so we wouldn’t be hemmed in) and laid down our mats, Phetjee Jaa and I were taken over to the promoter. We weaved our way through the crowd of spectators, which was pretty small at that time with only the first fight of very tiny kids starting up. Jee Jaa and I were lined up in front of the promoter, who is a very large man – immense for Thai, really – standing over 6 feet tall and probably 220 lbs. He’s very “cool,” in the sense of being very serious all the time. We wai-ed to him and he cupped his hand behind Jee Jaa’s head in a sweet, familiar acknowledgment of his being pleased to see her. He then instructed us to wai to a row of men who were sitting in VIP seats nearer to the ring. One of them looked familiar to me, perhaps the son of the famous promoter Onesongchai, but I couldn’t be certain. We stood there for a few minutes waiting for some other female fighters to come line up with us, which is a typical part of pre-fight posturing. The fights are already arranged but it’s customary sometimes to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your opponent so that the coaches can frown and nod approvingly, or let the gamblers have a go at deciding who looks bigger or tougher or whatever. I’m always careful to keep my warmup jacket on when we go to do these things. I’m never bigger than my opponents, but there’s almost always an “oh shit,” expression on coaches’ or fighters’ faces when my arms are exposed. Thai women just don’t look like me.
I was told my opponent hadn’t arrived yet. Both the girls in that lineup were for Jee Jaa and my opponent was being cornered by their coach, so that’s why I was brought over as well. I can’t tell you my relief at this realization, as neither of these girls at the lineup were even remotely appropriate matchups for me, so I was a little confused. Also, thank God Jee Jaa wasn’t going to fight the pudgy one – that would have been a terrible match as well.
Unfortunately, Jee Jaa’s matchup wasn’t great anyway. It’s difficult to find female fighters for Jee Jaa that are within reason of her own weight (she’s regularly taking on opponents with 5 kg on her – she’s only 33-35 kg) that have much experience. Jee Jaa has over 100 fights (probably around 170) and is only 12 years old. So she just outclasses everyone. In this fight, within the first round it looked like Jee Jaa was just doing bagwork. Just prior to the fight right before Jee Jaa’s ending, my opponent showed up. She’s from a really good team in Bangkok that has some top fighters on big shows, the Bangkok-Thonburi University team (“Grungthep” is how you say Bangkok in Thai). The promoter lined us up side-by-side. She was pretty big – taller and probably around 56 kg. She smiled this huge smile when she saw me, super happy to have such a small opponent. This photographer who had been at Jee Jaa’s lineup looked at us with a furrowed brow and glanced at the promoter, who was on his cellphone. The photographer seemed to feel it was a size mis-match. The promoter flipped his hand and nodded, a kind of nonchalant, “no problem,” gesture, which made the photographer look surprised, then he kind of shrugged.
The promoter told me to go have my hands wrapped, then said the same to my opponent, apparently I was to fight soon. I hurried back to the mat but knew I’d find nobody there to wrap my hands. I had the camera in my hand, ready to film Jee Jaa’s fight, and I snaked back through the crowd to tap on the promoter’s shoulder and tell him that I had no trainer because they were all at the ring already. That I’d get my hands wrapped after. He had to nearly bend himself in half to get his ear low enough to hear me but he looked at the ring with a “Eureka!” expression and then told me to “go film.” He knew.
My fight ended up actually being pretty late into the night. Right after Jee Jaa had changed her clothes after exiting the ring, Sangwean (her father) told her she’d be cornering for me. She nodded and I got excited. There were two boys from our camp who went to fight and so there was this arriving and departing of people at the mat, but I just slowly got ready, relaxed and watched a little of the fights. At one point, when everyone was at the ring for one of our fighters, Mawin appeared in front of me with two Mongkol looped over his shoulder: the red one belongs to O. Meekhun, the black one was mine and had been borrowed for the fighter currently in the ring. Mawin has this really cute way of standing that’s kind of how one would normally stand with hands on their hips but his palms are both flat against the small of his back, so his elbows pop backwards like chicken wings. He looks like a tiny man in this posture and he looked at me sideways and asked if I was the next fight. I said I wasn’t sure, the announcer hadn’t said anything, and he said he’d go find out but then just kept standing there in this little pose of his. I don’t know why it’s so funny, but I love it.
When it was my turn to fight we all lined up and snaked through the crowd while the announcer said my name over and over again. (It was being said as “Si-vee-uh” and not Jenna, as the poster had said.) I climbed into the ring and Phetjee Jaa scaled the stairs after me, putting the Mongkol on my head after I’d ducked under the ropes. This placing and removing of the Mongkol is a prestigious role, one usually played by the older, high-ranking men of the gym. When I was at Lanna in Chiang Mai, when Andy would come down from the mountain on rare occasions and attend my fights, the trainers would always defer this role to him, as the owner of the camp. To have a 12-year-old girl do it is not only unusual, it’s possibly transgressive. Obviously, Sangwean is making this decision for the visibility of it – having Jee Jaa in the position of trainer is something that’s become a path for her as she trains young boys at the family gym. But then there’s also that Sangwean wants to call me Phetjee Jee, which is very flattering for me because he clearly holds his super-daughter in high esteem and comparing me to her – naming me with her – is not a small thing. I’ve rejected the name because they have a dog named “Jee Jee,” and Sangwean said he could just call me Phetjee Jaa II. I’ve refused both names, my fight name is Dahaknoi “The Little Hulk”, but his placing of Jee Jaa in my corner and in this high position is a meaningful move. I believe this action of her pro forma giving the blessing and taking off my Mongkol before the fight is perhaps a historic moment for female fighters.
a historic feeling gender moment – a 12 year old Phetjee Jaa gives me my blessing and removes my Mongkol
As I was circling the ring in my Ram Muay I heard the announcer repeat my weight several times (47 kg) and then say that this was for a belt at 50 kg. He did not announce my opponent’s weight, which was certainly way above 50 kg. But I was glad I caught this announcement. Nobody told me this was for a belt and the reason I’d want to know this in advance is because this chick probably wouldn’t be taking the first two rounds lightly with a title on the line. We looked at each other from across the ring as we stepped out of our corners to meet in the middle. She smiled that smile again, the one that seemed to imply that she was just overjoyed by how small I was. As American boxer Timothy Bradley says, she’s “next to learn.”
She started out using range and keeping herself at the center of the ring. She had this really beautiful pivot, really tight and making it hard to come in. But when fighting giants, clinching is the only way for me. You have to take away that range. My corner was yelling at me for not blocking, which is certainly something I should be more diligent with in fights, because that’s where she was scoring. She wasn’t really kneeing so much in the clinch. But I need to get my back off the ropes.
Round 2 she was using her length and size better. She started out with some side-to-side kicks and a nice teep, but once we’re in the clinch she doesn’t know quite how to use her weight to her advantage. Or I was good at going around it. The crowd was definitely betting on my opponent, so my corner was screaming at me to do more straight knees, which I didn’t hear from inside the ring but they did reiterate when I came back to the corner. I got a nice left kick in there though, which makes me happy. We finally got off the ropes and clinched more in the middle of the ring, where I could land some longer knees and I got her down to the canvas once. That got the crowd a little antsy.
Between these rounds is my favorite, where Sangwean is instructing me from outside the ropes and I’m misunderstanding maybe a third of what he’s saying. Phetjee Jaa is poking at my stomach where she wants me to knee this girl, then Sangwean has Mawin and Jee Jaa act out what I should be doing by yanking the head down. Nothing like kinesthetic example.
Round 3 we both start out with some teeps but hers are longer and better. I catch her kick and land a nice right knee off of it and that’s when I really felt her being drained. Her responses were just getting slower. She wasn’t smiling anymore, for sure. She did have some great skip-knees on me against the ropes though. This is why I have to get the hell out of the ropes – they didn’t hurt me at all but they look great and they score. Get out of the damn ropes. Turn. I know that I kneed her in the jaw at one point, maybe near her corner, and she wasn’t wearing a mouthpiece so she kind of cut my skin open with her teeth. (This happened a few fights ago also.) Shortly after that she gets this standing 8 count and I can’t remember or see in the video what that was directly from other than she was starting to not fighting back and her head was getting pulled down more and more. I came back at her and put her down again and after that her knees just weren’t even making it up off the ground enough to land on me. She was pretty well spent at that point. Jee Jaa was yelling at me to go, go, go! That girl smells blood. Nongnoon stopped fighting at that point and the referee called it. Her corner was furious and yelling at the referee, su! su! (“fight!”) meaning she could go on, but that’s not what she wanted. Her body language and face definitely agreed to the end of the fight.
I don’t know what belt this is. The belt itself says “Omnoi” on it but this wasn’t Omnoi Stadium (which is in Bangkok) and a lot of times the belts that are presented at fights are kind of “stand ins” for the title and you don’t get to keep them. You can have a copy made in Bangkok, which I did for the first ring belt I won in Chonburi at the Buffalo Racing Festival. I had that one made as a keepsake because it represents a very important relationship in my life, which is my relationship to the O. Meekhun Gym, who brought me to that fight as well. So this belt, or the title, is likely a stadium title for Sriracha in some way. I liked having the little gromits come into the ring for photos. Going from watching Phetjee Jaa on TV to training with her, to having her corner for me, remove my Mongkol, and take pictures with me in the ring after fights… I wouldn’t ever have thought of it, it’s just too crazy. But the best word for how I feel about it is gratitude.
This old guy in the crowd who raises my hand up as we’re leaving is the same dude who did exactly this same thing on my way into the ring – you can see it at the very first second of the video. He knew, man! As Sangwean and this guy (whose name I don’t know but he reminds me of my oldest brother, Gabe) were removing my gloves Sangwean immediately started showing me how I should have gone out to either side in the clinch, how to escape off the ropes where I was stuck. He’s shown me this before in training. Then he smacks my glove to say, “it’s okay,” (more or less), like a little slap on the wrist, while the Gabe of Thailand tells me I need to wrench the neck down. Instant correction. I love it. Well, it feels nicer after a win; that kind of instant correction after a loss is equally valuable but it doesn’t feel as good.
Complete Fight Record
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