October 10, 2013 – Thapae Stadium
I had a bit of a rough week of training leading up to this fight. I managed to ding up my right shin when I kicked pads on the first day back after my last fight. Incidentally, I told Daeng that I didn’t want to kick on my left shin because I knew it was tender from blocking a gazillion times against Cherry, but I thought my right shin was fine because I didn’t feel anything on it at all. Within a few kicks on the pads I had a big bubble that hurt and was already turning purple. Nice one, Sylvie.
So I rested both legs for a few days and then happily tried my right leg again. It hurt but I kicked through it because my kicks felt good. I wrote about why kicking through the injury was a good thing at the time. That said, I then had to lay off my shins again for the rest of the week. So I did a lot of hands and knees on the pads and kicked when I could with shinpads on or just in shadow.
This fight was already later in the month than I wanted it to be. Last month I only got two fights in and I told Den I wanted three this month. As such, starting as early as possible would be best, but after my last fight I had a very quick 24-hour bug that kind of had Den giving me the side-eye and he wouldn’t set up a fight for me until the 10th. So I was really happy to be getting back in the ring and even more happy when he told me he’d already set up my next fight for the following week. I feel differently about fights when I have two lined up. I feel better.
the walk-in to Thapae Stadium
I like Thapae Stadium a lot. When we arrived it was fairly empty and we snaked our way back to the warmup area through a thin crowd of bar patrons and men standing about. A few Thai men announced my name as I walked through and I smiled at them, although I didn’t recognize any of them. Once we put the mats down I had to go all the way back to the front to grab a program in order to know when I was fighting. Turned out I was the last fight of the night and there were two other female bouts on the card. I knew Sud Siam Sor. Sumalee was fighting – I fought her maybe a month-and-a-half ago and lost a close fight on the decision, but I also saw that her teammate who I have fought maybe 10 times, Yodying Sor. Sumalee, was also fighting. I was excited for two reasons: 1) women now made up about half the card; and 2) I got to see women I know fight against people who aren’t me and therefore see different sides of them in action.
Both Yodying and Sud Siam were fighting opponents from the same camp as the woman I would be fighting. So I watched their fights with interest to see whether or not a style would emerge – like if they’re kickers or good in the clinch or like to back up or whatever. They looked like they were not great in the clinch but were very strong and liked to style in a way that demonstrated confidence. I actually liked both opponents as fighters better in each fight, but both women from Sor. Sumalee know how to counter kick to land points and are super adroit at eeking out victories at the last round. And both did just that. And I wasn’t the only one hawk-eyeing competition – I saw both Sud Siam and Yodying take seats in the close circle of chairs around the ring during my fight, so they probably know they’ll be fighting me again and wanted to see how this would shake out.
the fight card
For whatever reason, Little Neung really likes to lay the mat out right underneath the painted insignia of the stadium. This is swell because it’s a good spot to see the fights, but it’s also a terrible spot because fighters have their pictures taken in front of the painting all throughout the night. So we were frequently moving out of the way so that photos could be taken and basically being “that guy” who’s in the way for no reason. It does, however, allow you to interact with folks as they come around. The Muay Siam photographer came by with a western dude who drew a lot of eyes when he took off his shirt because he was quite covered in tattoos. As I looked them over I could tell he was American and I thought to myself probably Native American or possibly Mexican. He had a really cool tattoo along his collarbone and chest, like a necklace, that my husband mistook for the traditional warrior Sak Yant of Southeast Asia but from the half-moon shape of the “pendant” I’d guess Navajo. This is what’s so cool about tattoos to me – they have all this meaning and also no meaning; you can make assumptions about someone based on the markings as symbols, but symbols only mean anything at a moment of recognition.
After apologizing a few times for standing on our mat, which was in the way, the guy disappeared and then came back a minute later with his shirt back on and introduced himself. His name is Cy and he is indeed American, originally from around Arizona and now training out of “The Yard” in California. He was very nice, cool energy. Cy said he was a “fan” of my videos and said he was having his first fight in Thailand the next night and asked for my advice. I don’t think the advice I gave him is what he expected, but it’s what I thought of. Basically I told him how to enter the ring and which direction to go in to seal it, how to be polite when the fight is over and go to the opposite corner to give respect, how to wai to the officials and judges. Then I told him a bit about the fight arc in Thailand and scoring. He listened and he heard, but ultimately what you do with any of that information when you’re actually in the ring with someone imposing their will on you is another thing entirely. He’ll do fine, I’m sure, but there’s no advice that really comes with you into that ring other than what you were ready to hear already. You just do what you know.
meeting Cy before my fight
When I had finally figured out who my opponent was I watched her get ready. She spent a good 10-15 minutes (not all at once, but maybe 5 minutes at a time and repeatedly) working on her hair in the mirror. She has a short ‘do that spikes up in the middle, like the Euro-soccer haircut but much longer. She combed and fluffed it – something I’ve seen the Thai boys do in the mirror at the gym a million times – and I just kept watching her, intently, trying to figure out if she was right or left handed. She seemed to use the comb with her right hand but she kept standing square all the time, never putting one foot forward as indication of a dominant side. Finally, finally someone took a picture of her and when she posed her right hand moved to the front a little bit and her left foot popped up so the heel was off the ground. Lefty, for sure.
ready to go
Right before I had to go over to get my gloves on Pook, Eh, Ann and Pook’s daughter Earn arrived. “The Cavalry,” I’ve decided to call them. I was excited to see Pook’s daughter with them. She expressed interest in Muay Thai some months ago and actually came to the gym for an afternoon of training with Nook. She was amazing – within 20 minutes she was throwing kicks that looked better than mine did a year ago and her punches had good power. Her dad in Bangkok put the kibosh on her training – understandable given that he’s more conservative, she was only 12 or 13 years old and is middle-class, so a Muay Thai gym isn’t exactly the most natural place for her. It was sad though because Earn was passionate about Muay Thai and was so excited by the experience. Seeing her at my fight made me so happy because it was another chance for her to be inspired by women performing against what’s expected of them.
Then, when I was over getting my gloves put on I was greeted by my Thai language teacher, Kru Simon, with whom I’ve taken private lessons for about a year now. He’s never been to my fights but we talk about them a lot. I was able to point to Yodying as the opponent I’ve discussed with him so many times. It made me nervous to have him there, simply because it was the first time he would be seeing me live. In Thai culture there is a lot of joking that westerners take personally and seems very unkind – it’s not uncommon to talk about someone’s weight or a loss in a fight in a manner that in the west seems terribly offensive. I definitely didn’t want to be dealing with that later. But, I reminded myself, I can beat anybody. So I decided to be confident and excited to show off in front of him instead.
Walking over to the ring I got a lot of encouragement from older Thai men in the crowd. They gave me thumbs-up and told me “geng, geng” (strength!) as I passed by. I got up into the ring and noted immediately how slippery the canvas in my corner was. I took note and then took my bow at the center of the ring, then returned to the corner for what felt like a long time for my opponent to enter the ring. We were introduced to the audience and a table of men chanted, “USA! USA!” in a manner that anyone in the world can imagine because apparently those guys get around, globally.
In my corner before the fight Den told me to keep my hands up and take this fight to “learn something.” He meant that I should try things, that I would have room to experiment. I’d decided before the fight that I wanted to test out my block-and-walk that works so great against Kevin in our pseudo-sparring and has worked well for me against a couple sparring partners recently. It might be tricky against a lefty, but it should still work.
From the opening bell this chick, whose name means Diamond Tiger, was coming at me with elbows. In retrospect, she threw elbows pretty much exclusively. I don’t know if that’s typical for her, if she had it out for me, if she wanted to finish the night early and get on home or what, but those elbows were coming. Strangely, I didn’t seem to care much about them. Between rounds Den warned me to not come in with my head down, “chin down, okay,” he said and then showed me how he wanted me to march in with my arms out straight. I nodded, thinking that this is what I had wanted to do anyway, and got back into the fight with that block on my mind. I tried it, wasn’t altogether successful but definitely had some movement that was working.
Left hooks were landing. I tried a lead right uppercut that was blocked, perhaps even accidentally, but it’s the first time I’ve ever thrown it. And we clinched a lot. I was getting some good knees in with the clinch and I could feel her getting tired. More than that, I kept getting her head down and was driving my right knee into her forehead, repeatedly. She used her arm to block my leg – a terrible idea – but I didn’t do the right things to really make it as bad an idea as it is abstractly. I should have jumped over her block, as one would if the leg was blocking. And I should have kneed her chin or her face, not the forehead. But she was amazing, taking those knees and still going. I right-crossed her body twice, trying to further tire her and she just kept at it with the elbows. She took my back because I was turning too much in the clinch (turning myself, not “turning” as one should an opponent). I managed to swing around and attempted an elbow, that maybe connected after the break. I also got to try a spinning back elbow in the third (I think) – it didn’t connect, but it’s definitely the first one I’ve ever thrown in a fight.
Ultimately she just got worn down. I have a lot of respect for her tenacity – I’ve seen opponents give up long before the point she got to and she was tough as hell. She was also a good fighter and I think against a different kind of fighter she would have appeared very dominant and nasty with her approach. I’d like to see her against someone else, another time. But, while I was able to bring a few things into this fight that I have been working on and that haven’t made it to the ring before, there are definitely things from this fight that I want to get right back into practicing to get them sharpened up, to water the little seedlings I saw here. My greatest success in this fight, I think, was that I just went. The fight started out strong from the get-go and it could have gone a number of ways, but just getting into the heat of it and pushing is something I feel is new for me. I used to be a very slow starter, but this felt like I was ready much earlier in the fight. Kevin told me afterward he was glad it ended early because he was afraid if it had kept on one of two things would have happened: 1) she would have gotten lucky with an elbow getting through; or 2) I would really hurt her. Both possibilities were there, and that is an exciting fight – both to be in and to watch.
getting my wraps taken off
We’re continuing to shoot these post-fight videos immediately after the fights. It’s fun because the venue is always so dark and loud. A bunch of people were standing at a polite distance, snapping photos of me, waiting for my wraps to be off and the camera to come down before working their way in to congratulate me and ask me about my training. I love this excitement from people who are just visiting Thailand and come to see the fights for fun. They see something they don’t expect and they get really amped up, almost breathless at times – I love it because they are feeling what I feel; they get in the ring a tiny little bit.
my thoughts right after the fight