Suranaree Stadium, Korat – Sept. 15th, 2014 (46 kg) – full fight video above
This fight was sponsored by Wing Wong – thank you!
This was my first time in Korat. I think we drove through it on our way to Buriram last month, but actually staying in the capital city of Nakhon Ratchasima allowed us to actually experience the area. I love Korat. We stayed just outside the city in a small resort that was along the main highway but basically surrounded by fields. It was hard finding a place that would permit a dog to stay on the premises and, although I was told by the lady on the phone that it was no problem (in English), when I was actually checking in to the room at the front desk was a big sign that said “Sorry, No Dogs.” Nobody said anything to us when we came and went with Jai Dee, although the staff that did spot us always did a double-take and we kept him out of sight when anyone came to the room. But we probably would never have stayed at this place if it weren’t for trying to accommodate Jai Dee and the bungalow-style set up with separate rooms was actually a really lovely experience. So I’m glad we did find this place.
It was only a 20 minute drive into the main city and to the venue, which was on the grounds of what appears to be a military school, base, or sport complex. My corner Phutai was a friend of Sangwean (Phetjee Jaa’s dad and one of my trainers) and I’d called him the night before to see when I was supposed to come weigh in. He’s a very eccentric fellow, and I really like him. I’d met him in person at the O. Meekhun gym once when he was scouting for the promoter here. He’s very loud and says virtually everything in multiples, which is kind of how all Thais talk but he’s definitely more prone to it than anyone I’ve ever met. And he doesn’t speak English, so while our communication was always successful I was definitely a little nervous about making sure I asked him several times the details of where, when, how many kilos, etc. He told me to come at 6:30-7:00 AM to weigh in, which was much earlier than the 8:00 AM time I’d initially been given. That was fine though; they’d also changed the weight from 45 kg t0 46 kg the night before we drove up, so my weight cut was a slight bit easier anyway.
Cutting the Water
I’d done my water cut for the three days prior to driving up, then had the “dry” day on the actual travel day, so I could only have a very tiny amount of liquid and decided to have plain rice and a fried egg at the end of the day to keep my energy up. I reckon I could have done without the food and it definitely just sat inside me as weight after I’d eaten it, since I was already dehydrated from not drinking all day and still expelling water through urination. But it probably made the hunger element more comfortable in the long run. I can go hungry, no problem, but being thirsty just sucks. You can’t think about anything when you’re thirsty.
A while back I bought a portable “closet sauna” that works by creating a little hot box via a small rice cooker inside a tent, basically. It’s a brilliant little set up and being able to throw it in the trunk of the car and cut weight at night this way was a huge deal. I also invested in a small digital scale (only 300 Baht – $10), but its calibration is a little off and I knew I had to go check it against a 7-11 scale after the long drive since it might have been knocked around a bit in the trunk. It was still the same 3 oz skew, so I just had to do math in my head every time I stood on it. That’s not hard math at all, but when you are trying to hit a number and feel like nothing would be more lovely than guzzling some water to end it all, having to adjust in your head that you’re still 3 oz off even though the number is what you want just isn’t a positive experience. I sat in my sauna for about 30 minutes and got close enough to 46 kg that I decided to go to sleep and let the few ounces that you just lose with time come out overnight. You might sweat, or pee, or whatever and wake up lighter than you were before. But I set an alarm to have time to cut any final ounces in the morning if I needed to.
I didn’t sleep well at all and Jai Dee made me take him outside for an epic grass-sniffing session at about 4:30 AM. By go-time though I was exactly on mark weight-wise, a touch under 46 kg, while wearing my shorts and shirt, so we headed over to find the venue using our GPS on the phone. It wasn’t hard to find, but when we arrived it looked like there was nobody else there to weigh in yet. I walked up the steps to the stadium and there were enormous color posters for fights on the right hand side, although I couldn’t see dates on them. To the left of the stairs was a middle-aged, shirtless man who looked at me with total bewilderment when I wai-ed and said hello. I explained I was here to weigh in and he still looked at me like I was an alien. But he did rummage around and find a small digital scale, while a late-teen kid assisted him and an early-teen kid with designs shaved into the sides of his head started doing laps around the building. That, at least, seemed to indicate that there was a weigh-in taking place. I stepped on the digital scale and the numbers blinked, then set on 47.3 kg. I didn’t cry, but I could have. A kilo and a 1/3 over. I stepped off the scale and shook my head. The guy seemed to not even know how much I should weigh and just at that moment my corner Phutai appeared. He’s like a tornado of energy and he whirled over and told me to stand on the scale. I said morosely that it was high, and that my own scale had read 46 kg. The guy who’d brought over the scale started telling him it was 47 while I stepped up on the wicked little thing again. The numbers blinked and settled on 45.5 kg. The first guy startled and announced we should move the scale, that it must have been on uneven ground. Phutai scratched that whole idea and just led me over to an old-fashioned, analog scale and we all looked with eager eyes while the needle settled between 45 and 46 kg.
“Ah!” Phutai said and I added riap roy (“tidy” or “all set”). He told me to come back at 7:00 PM for the fights at 8:00. My opponent wasn’t there, and nor was much of anyone else and it seemed like the whole weigh-in was informal enough that I didn’t need to hang around. Sangwean had told me a couple weeks ago that my opponent might be bigger than I am, so I wasn’t worried. She’d be whatever she was and I’d fight her regardless.
I sent Tawan, Jee Jaa’s mom, a message and said I’d weighed in fine. She was shocked to learn my opponent wasn’t there and must have had a side-bar conversation with my corner at the same time because she wrote back and was calmer. She said it was no problem, that my opponent was “taller” than I am but that it was no problem.
Back and Forth – the Chaos of “Fight Time”
We got to the venue at 6:40 PM and it seemed like nothing was set up yet. There were some food stalls out in the parking lot and some people sitting in the ticket office, but we would definitely have some waiting around to do at this point. Kevin was overly concerned that we couldn’t bring Jai Dee into the stadium but I’d seen a dog that lived there when we came in the morning and really wasn’t worried about it. So Kevin walked around outside while I went in to see if I could buy some tape for my handwraps, and if not we’d have time to go find a pharmacy. I was again met by a man I didn’t know, different from this morning, who looked at me like I was the first westerner he’d ever seen. I asked where I could buy tape and he pointed me to a table on the other side of a wall. The lady at the desk was nice enough and pulled out two rolls for me, after asking if the tape was for handwraps. I think she considered that I might just be some lost falang who stumbled in to buy tape for whatever reason a crazy person might buy tape. Now the guy who’d pointed the table out had come over and was looking me over and I told him I was fighting tonight. He asked if it was western boxing (say-goan) and I kept telling him that I would fight Muay Thai, not boxing. When I would eventually come back and have my hands wrapped, this guy was nearly second-in-command over the whole ordeal because, I reckon, he’d decided to bet a lot of money on me.
I found Phutai and he showed me the program. I was the sixth fight and start was actually 8:30 PM. He said he wanted to wrap my hands at the second fight and so I must be there by then, but he said it was fine for me to go out and come back. Kevin and I decided to drive back to the room to have a rest there instead of waiting a few hours at the venue or being stressed by traffic or getting lost by driving around the city. I looked at the program as we walked to the car and saw that my fight was listed at 53 kg. I’ve fought that size before. I just wondered why I had to cut weight at all if the difference was going to be that great!
Outside the stadium, before the fights
Hurry Up and Wait
We made it back to the room and had maybe 20 minutes of rest and I ate some dinner before my phone rang and Phutai was telling me to “come now!” (maa loi, maa loi!) Parking was a bit harder this time around but we made it into the stadium before the fights had started, just before 8:30. (I think they actually started at about 9:00.)
Phutai started wrapping my hands immediately, right next to the table where the gloves were lined up to be checked out to fighters. I wondered if my fight had been moved up to first or second but when I finally asked him, Phutai said I would be number 4. The stadium was nowhere near full, but already there were gamblers milling around the stands and a few of the men came by to stare at me and ask me questions to see if they wanted to put money down for or against me. I still had my jacket on, so there was less arm squeezing than what normally goes on in those situations.
Phutai’s hand wrapping is… creative. He stacked lots of tape on areas of my hand that don’t really make sense, but he did so very quickly and studiously, like he was thinking about it but didn’t really have the experience to back it up. He kept asking me if I punch a lot, then would add more tape. When he wrapped the cloth around he covered the palm of my hand, which I couldn’t handle and actually unwrapped that part while he was distracted and re-wrapped it myself. The guy who had helped me find the tape earlier in the night watched me do this and nodded, somewhat knowingly but also probably making an assessment about my own experience. He seemed to approve. My “plasters” had already been made by my corner in Buriram, Frances’ trainer named Dam. (A “plaster” is a mold of tape that is built up on the knuckles and can be torn off at the end of the fight and kept to be used as a plaster cast of sorts for the next time. It saves time, but it also gets harder and harder the longer you reuse them. They’re technically not permitted, so everyone on big fight shows makes these fresh for the show, but in general practice everybody has these molds in their hand-wrapping kits. Trainers usually want me to keep mine because my hands are smaller than their other fighters and they can’t use the shared plasters on me.) As Phutai was putting the finishing touches of tape on my fists the guy who had pointed me to the tape and was now seemingly a head-honcho in my corner due to gambling (I presume) would periodically authoritatively “test” the tape over my knuckles with his fingertips. He’d squish it and press it, as if trying to work it down around each knuckle, the way fighters do inside their own gloves – working the knuckles to the front. The gloves for this stadium are only 4 oz (I love that), so being heavy handed was definitely an advantage I wanted to emphasize.
My opponent was getting ready about 20 feet away from me. She did look pretty tall and had heavy legs, but she was probably 50 kg and not the listed 53. This one guy kept coming up to me, just a random gambler from the crowd, and pantomiming a cross to the body and a left hook to the head. He clearly wanted me to do this. I only smiled at him and then he started trying to convince Kevin to make me do this. Kevin doesn’t speak Thai but he pantomimed back that I am a knee fighter, pointing to his knee and making a clinch gesture with his arms, then adding khao (the word for knee). This gamblers eyes got wide and he darted off, probably to go place more money.
There was a bit of confusion when explaining to Phutai that he couldn’t put my Mongkol on my head yet, since I have to go under the ropes. This is always a clear sign that my corner isn’t used to women, but he figured it out. He pulled my shorts up incredibly high – higher than I’ve ever had any pair of pants on my waist, including when I used to pull my pajama pants up to my shoulders to make my mom laugh, simply because these are shorts so it’s actually unseemly how high they were. I laughed when he did so, remembering the line from John Waters’ “Cry Baby” movie, where the head of the debutante group complains about how tight the Rockabilly girl’s pants are, “hysterectomy pants, I call them!” That’s about how these shorts felt. He also tied the string around the waist so tightly that I knew for sure they weren’t going to slip down (which is good), but I also couldn’t breathe comfortably (which is bad). I had to devote a good 5 minutes to untying that knot to just loosen it up a bit, let alone to make sure both of my ass cheeks were covered! (I do wear undershorts, so actually flashing my butt isn’t a possibility.)
The fight right before mine was two older men and it ended in KO. The crowd went absolutely crazy. Then, I’m not sure why, the KO was ruled a fowl or somehow void and there was another roar, this time of displeasure, and the corner of the guy who thought he’d won all crowded up on the corner to object. Two MP policemen in full uniform and wearing helmets had to pull them down, one by one, and when the last one had passed I climbed into the ring.
Man, that ring was messed up. I love how rickety rings can be, with holes in the boards, tears in the canvas, stains, wet spots, etc. This ring had it all. It looked like the edges had been chewed off by an enormous monster and the number of lumps and holes were too many to count. The crowd was pretty quiet while I did my Ram Muay (my opponent didn’t do one), but when I started stalking her into the corner they all got excited and cheered.
I have not watched the fight video yet, but this was my recollection. My aim was to keep my guard up, my blocking rhythm, block her left kick (she’s a southpaw) and clinch the hell out of her. From the first bell my corner was screaming for me to go at her, to dern, dern, dern! (literally to “walk” but it means just go forward.) I did pretty good in the first round with this, failing to check some kicks but that didn’t stop me. In the first round I could feel my dominance building but knew to turn it up more in the second. I dominated her a lot in the second round, hitting her with a lot of knees, hurting her with them, taking her back and putting her on the canvas. I think most people thought I was going to knock her out in that round, including me, but she was tough and got up. Now I had to go even harder in round 3, to show an increase in the overall progression. You can’t start strong and level out, you have to keep getting stronger as the fight goes on otherwise you look like you faded.
Phutai squirted something out of a little perfume bottle onto his palm and put it near my face. Kru Nu does this too, with something that’s pretty much like Namman Muay – very peppery – as a way to kind of wake you up between rounds. Kru Nu just holds his palm around your mouth and you breathe deeply. That is not advised for whatever the hell Phutai squirted on his palm, which smelled like ammonia but worse – this is for little sniffs, not for big inhalations. By GOD, it’s horrible. And it definitely wakes up your mind.
I went hard in round 3 but her corner had clearly told her to start kicking me with her right leg. I cross-blocked those, for whatever reason, and just kept coming. I think I still won that round and landed some nice punches, but I couldn’t let the rest of the rounds be like that one. By round 4 I could feel her not responding to my knees anymore, which means she’s just too tired from them – I’ve been on that end before, it sucks so bad – and she went down. When she went to the canvas I wanted to hurry into the neutral corner because I thought she might get up, but I was disoriented in that ring and the crowd was going nuts while I tried to find the neutral corner; within seconds I knew it was over. Everyone was very excited. I think this girl is well-known in the area and because she was bigger, the odds were probably against me and those who bet on me must have made a good profit. When I climbed out of the ring people were giving me thumbs up and Phutai was answering people that I didn’t even hear, saying that I train with Phetjee Jaa.
Lots of folks wanted pictures, lots of women, which is always awesome. The fight doctor came up to me and I thought she was making sure I was okay, so I was telling her that nothing hurt. But she was actually just wanting to know about me – how long I’ve done Muay Thai, wanted a picture, etc. I told her I hope to come back soon, that I love to fight in Korat and she answered, “oh yes! Please come back!” That was lovely. (She is at the end of the video.)
After a bit the promoter called me up to him by leaning over the back of the tall stands, where he was sitting in the VIP section. He looked very familiar to me but I don’t think I’d met him before. I climbed up the stairs while the people I displaced in my process gave me big smiles and thumbs up. I got to the promoter and sat by his feet, thanking him for the fight. He asked if I was leaving and I was hoping to get back to the room so I nodded and he stood up to pull money out of his fanny pack. (Men wear these leather fanny packs as their money satchels, almost universally. Den tries to be suave with it by wearing it over his shoulder, like artillery, but it’s still a fanny pack.) Normally money is handed in an envelope with your name on it, but it looked like he was counting money for me. I looked away because I’m socialized in my own upbringing to do so, but everyone else was looking right at him, probably for the exact same reason. He handed me a wad of 1,000 Baht bills and all the people watching him in the immediate surrounding on the stands applauded when I took it and wai-ed to him in thanks. How bizarre and a little bit cool. I found my way back down the stands and got a few more cheers from folks as I did so.
As I got my stuff together a lady came over to the desk to check out some gloves for her daughter, who was up in the next fight. This woman gave me a huge grin and thumbs up, then told me that her daughter (who is probably actually 53-55 kg) had fought my opponent and lost. I think she was very happy to see my fight, maybe as a kind of comeuppance or something. I smiled at her daughter, who gave me a very sweet smile back. There’s something really satisfying about affecting women with my fighting. I absolutely love when women come up and want pictures afterwards, and this mother and daughter duo, who are involved in fighting also, was just awesome. I don’t mean to be all hippie about it, but the level of community that comes out of fighting makes me blink with utter disbelief when I’m asked about the “violence” of what I do. Yes, there’s some violence in what we do; but if that were the crux of it, even the majority of it, then people would recoil from it, as is the typical natural response to actual violent acts. But it’s been my experience that people are largely drawn toward the energy of fighters and fights – conflating the two is like confusing a camp fire with a raging brush fire. They’re the same element but not at all the same expression.
Post-Fight Video Update
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Complete Fight Record