February 5, 2016 – Grand Boxing Stadium, Hua Hin – Thailand (video above)
I’ve had a hard time writing this post. Part of the reason I left New York to come live and fight in Thailand was to enter a different fight culture, and to exit the dramas of the fight scene there which to my sensibility often feels mean-spirited between gyms and fighters – there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of mutual support (no offense, just my experience). So, when I learned that I would be fighting someone from that same scene, I wasn’t excited to be taking a ticket to re-enter that world to some degree. I will say that I do not know Gianna personally and my only experience of her prior to this fight was limited to hearing that she was directing some very trollish comments toward me more than a year ago, regarding the support my 8limbs.us readers were providing me through GoFundMe, something she now explicitly has denied saying. Coupled to this, I also loosely remembered that I had read some harsh comments from her about a man who I believe to be an honest and hardworking person, who had suffered catastrophe at his gym when it was flooded; his family started a GoFundMe to help with the repairs, so that his gym could function again and serve the community for which it exists. I completely failed to see where the vitriol toward that situation came from and it turned me off to her in a strong way. I will admit that this does not add up to me knowing her and some stand very firmly on opposing sides of the crowd sourcing issue – she and I clearly stand on the opposite shores. But no matter where one stands I really don’t enjoy digital hostility, this stuff doesn’t fuel me, and I more or less try to get as far from it as possible. All of this may even have been a misunderstanding between us, who knows – people are often much nicer in person than how they are on the internet, or how people talk about them in gossip circles, but I mention it now because this conditioned how I had to approach this fight mentally, it’s part of the story. I entered this fight distancing myself from the situation and everyone in it, as best I could.
When I found out I would be facing her in Hua Hin in a week, I did contact her husband – who I have met because he used to promote fights in New York and I was on a few of those cards – and made sure that this match up was okay for them. Gianna was technically an amateur fighter and this would be her 10th fight overall and her first professional fight. It seemed like a bad match to me. But he said, “she just really wants to fight,” and that was that. I took the fight, despite having important fights scheduled 3 and 7 days later because as a fighter who wants to fight a lot I pretty much take any fight that a promoter that I have good relations with offers me, if I can financially afford to do so – it is a necessary part of keeping these channels open. So for me it really was a matter of fighting a safe, controlled fight to get me to the next one, but also avoiding any emotional pitfalls of facing someone I believed had expressed hostility towards me and others, for reasons I did not really understand. The very few times I had fought out of anger (maybe twice?) have been some of my worst fights. Everything I wanted to do was to just quietly control what was happening in the ring.
We walked into the venue and I saw Gianna almost immediately. I have to say that she’s unbelievably tall. I pointed this out to Kevin and because she was at a distance he brushed me off, saying, “she’s not that tall, she’s just very thin which makes her look taller.” When we were actually standing in the ring together I believe the general consensus was that, yes, Gianna is very, very tall. But yes, she’s very thin, so our weight is the same. We stood on a scale after the fight, a scale that was definitely inaccurate – it read 100 lbs, which for me simply isn’t a realistic weight when I’ve been doused in water throughout the fight – so I don’t know what our actual weight was on that night but it read the same number for both of us. So no matter what it was off by, it registered the same weight.
Getting down to the fights was a bit of a nightmare. Traffic was horrible and it took us nearly 2 hours longer than it should have, and ending up being about 6 hours in the car. I was in contact with the promoter and let him know I was late, but it meant that we were put at the very end of the card, rather than the 3rd fight. Fortunately, a number of the other fights ended in KO pretty quickly so there wasn’t a terribly long wait before we were up, so I basically drove all night, wrapping own my hands in the car, waited an hour at the venue, fought and then drove back 4 hours. Fighting Sylvie style, I’ve done it before many times, but it added to the unique blend of chaos on that night. My corner was these guys who had been cornering for another guy before me, so there was a rush to come over and get my oil massage done and I tried to express to them what to expect from me in terms of style and they just told me, “we’ve seen you fight here a few times already.” Alright then!
Not long before I got in the ring the promoter came over to me and handed me the phone. This is beyond highly unusual. It was Kaensak, one of the most decorated Muay Thai fighters of his generation, and my former instructor back in the US – someone who helped inspired me to move to Thailand in the first place years ago. He was wishing me good luck in the fight. In fact he had cornered for me in this same stadium a few months before, when visiting Thailand. Very cool that he was thinking of me, even knew that I was fighting, and reached out across all that distance to give me his support. It’s like getting a call from the President.
I will say that Gianna gave me more trouble than I thought she would. I’d checked out one fight of hers on Youtube and it was from maybe 8 months ago, so I only had a basic idea of what to expect. She didn’t look like she could clinch much in that video (every opponent brings out something different), but her height proved to be an obstacle I would have to work around. As much as people fret about weight, height and length can be a far greater advantages than weight as they change all the angles if you don’t work to nullify. My main goal though was to just cut off as much of that reach as possible, as fast as possible, and slowly work to clinch advantage which would show over time. This is how I fight, and even more so in this case, you don’t want to fight at the taller fighter’s comfort zone. Her clinch defense turned out to be not bad at all and took me a little bit to solve. She’s difficult to move and as she puts her hips in this does makes it more difficult to knee, forcing me to fight for more control and position before I could score. My experience allowed me to make small adjustments to be able to keep scoring, and turning, slowly extending my lead, but it wasn’t easily done and that goes to my opponent’s credit – you want to make the fighter work for their advantages. It took clinch adjustments and pushing the pace to allow my comfort to take over until I could secure the fight in the 5th.
A Note About Fighting Experienced Fighters
Fighting in Thailand I’ve learned a lot about facing fighters with 100+ fights, with big disparities in experience. In the beginning I was on the weak end of this, fighting girls who had years and numbers way beyond mine, and then in the last year I’ve also, at times, faced opponents where I now have the experience advantage. Here’s the thing about huge experience differences in fights, at least among female fighters: it doesn’t mean that the fighter with greater experience is going to look like some action movie star while the other fighter just stands there. As I was climbing up my fight number ladder when I faced opponents with 100 fights, or even 200, the differences in the actual fight between us were just not that huge. The only real problem for me came when I faced very experienced fighters who also had a significant weight and size advantage – this can be a bad combination. Between otherwise equally matched fighters the differences are small, but they are often fight-winning. A fighter with 10 fights can absolutely win that fight against a 100 fight fighter. If you are coming to Thailand and you face a female fighter with 100 fights, you can definitely beat her if you have a few years of fighting experience under your belt, and size isn’t against you. A kick is a kick, but the difference is that the more experienced fighter might be able to be able strike out of more challenging positions, or be able to breathe easier under stress (not becoming winded due to emotional or mental stress), or be able finesse late rounds which are the most important rounds; for me, I think the biggest difference is being able to recover from what isn’t working, figuring out how to make things work, and also understanding the Thai scoring system. I fell victim to not understanding Thai scoring many times in my first year or two in Thailand, as female Thai fighters took very close fights with ease. These are the differences between experience and inexperience; it’s tiny things but they are immense at the same time. And in particular, the fifth round of Thailand is a game unto itself, which was very evident in this fight. I do believe I won every round on the cards, and controlled scoring in the 3rd and 4th, but the defensive fifth for me, where she suddenly had to come forward after 4 rounds of retreat, illustrated how uncomfortable she was with that very common play here: the change in direction. I’ve only learned how to properly fight a fifth round in the last 6 months or so!
Before the fight I’d seen Gianna’s coaches from Sitjaopho Gym telling her to throw an uppercut elbow as I come in, a very good technique, and one I did expect. They’ve seen me fight in Hua Hin before. In round 3 she landed it nicely and it touched me exactly on an old scar, which opened. This is one of the drawbacks of being muay khao fighter like I am, cuts and scars are part of the game. I’ve now have 88 stitches, and even a light hit can open a cut, and cuts can in fact stop a fight if they are in the wrong location. This is something I take into consideration in every fight I enter. It makes my guard more important than ever. Happily though, because it was old scar tissue, it didn’t bleed a great deal, so as the fight wore on it affected the fight less and less, though props to her for acting on her coaching which is one of the hardest things to do. After the fight Gianna came over and we exchanged the “you’re fucking tall, man,” from me and “you’re strong,” from her, which pretty much sums up the fight.
What is perhaps most interesting in the big picture about this fight, my first against a westerner since moving to Thailand 4 years and 130+ fights ago, is that I now find myself in the position that many Thai female fighters do, when facing western female fighters. With over 100 fights no one fight really matters. A westerner will come to Thailand for a very short time and have what is, for them, possibly one of the most important and memorable fights of their life, while the Thai fighter is fighting just to get to the next fight, which sometimes is only a few days or a week away. There can be a huge dis-junction in what a fight means. Of course both fighters want to win, but the investments are very different. It feels strange to be so far on the other side of this, just because of my way of life now, but it’s also really liberating.
I wrote about the investments of Thai fighters in the 80% Fight Post.