March 18, 2014 – Loi Kroh Ring, Chiang Mai
I’ve been back in Chiang Mai for about a week and a half, after spending nearly two months down in Pattaya with Sakmongkol (at WKO) and Petchrungruang Gym. It’s been one day shy of a month since my last fight, which was a Yokkao production and against WPMF World Champion Lommanee Sit Hirun, where I received 28 stitches to my face from elbow cuts. As such, I wasn’t able to fight until the stitches healed, were taken out and then the scars got strong enough to risk being hit by direct strikes again. (Scars will always be more susceptible to opening up again, you just have to trust in your guard.)
I was really happy to be getting back into the ring. A month is by far the longest I’ve had off from fighting (albeit still training regularly) in the nearly two years that I’ve been in Thailand now. This was a Tuesday night at Loi Kroh and I expected to be maybe the fourth or fifth fight of the night, but when I looked at the card I saw I was dead last, fight number 7 on the program. Happily, there were two other female fights on the card and since one of the bouts is always an exhibition fight that’s ridiculous and not a real thing at all, that meant that women made up half the program. That’s pretty exciting.
When I walked over to the doctor to get checked out he just smiled at me, asked how I was and then put a check mark next to my name and said riap roy (“everything in order”) and that was that. Easiest medical ever. A group of people from the gym were seated in the regular area where we set up our “backstage” warmup area and it was nice to have a number of women from the gym there to support me, most of them more excited/nervous than I was. Plus, Pook and her cousin Peachy were there again – my favorite group of fans – after not coming to see my fights for maybe four or five months.
The bar where we all sit has a pool table and the Lanna Thai boys were shooting pool with some of the bar girls. Little Neung was beside himself, hollering and making so much excited noise about their game while the tiniest woman I’ve seen in a while giggled and shrieked along with him. When the first female fight went on he called me over to have my hands wrapped – they always choose to wrap my hands right when a fight I want to watch goes on – but he was so distracted by the pool game going on behind me, now between the tiny woman and Big, the oldest (at 20 years old) and most experienced fighter among the Lanna Boys and my favorite fighter at the camp, that Neung couldn’t get my wraps done properly and JR jumped in to finish them up. Apparently there was a high-stakes gamble on that game, involving a kiss or whatever else being exchanged between Neung and the tiny woman. Big won the gamble for Neung and it was just entirely too much of a distraction.
I was distracted, too, watching over Neung’s (and then JR’s) shoulder at the women fighting in the ring. The red corner was from the camp that had set up shop right next to us. I’d initially thought I might be fighting the girl in red because all the female bouts are at the same weight (48 and 50 kg) and one of the regular gamblers had pointed at me when he was talking to her before the even started and the girl had grinned, wai-ed to me and kind of bent at the knees in a little curtsy. It was incredibly sweet and unexpected. Obviously she didn’t turn out to be my opponent; she, her female teammate and I were all in the red corner. Her fight was against a camp I like very much, named Sit Dobwob, that has two young sisters named Nong Benz (the elder, maybe 15 years old) and Somo (the younger, maybe 13 years old). So I was kind of pulling for the blue corner because of the camp (I’d never seen this fighter) but also for the red corner because she’d been pretty sweet getting ready right next to me. Red was great in the first few rounds but blue, who was much smaller, began controlling in the clinch in the later rounds and won the bout by decision. It was the only decision of the night. When the girl from the red corner came back to her mat she stopped in front of me and wai-ed again, then said in English, “bye-bye.” with thumbs up. I don’t know why she was so excited by me, what this gambler had said or if she just loves the idea of a western woman her own size fighting Muay Thai or whatever, but it was very sweet. I should have gotten a picture with her.
Watching the last round of the female fight I tried to follow while having my hands wrapped.
When it was finally my turn to get in the ring I had to wait a minute for my cornermen to organize themselves, then ultimately I was the one leading the group over to the corner. Normally I walk behind Den, but he just gestured for me to go ahead while he grabbed the Mongkol off the wall; a kind of “you know how this works,” gesture. My opponent and I got in at pretty much the same time, so we bowed at the center of the ring together and then went to our corners for the Mongkol to be put on. She didn’t have a Ram Muay, so after sealing the ring she went to stand in her corner and I got to perform mine without having to pay any mind to timing. Lately the women I’m fighting are very crafty and try to time their Ram Muay with mine so that a) they’re walking in front of me when I bow down for my Wai Kru, essentially putting my head by their feet – definitely try to avoid that timing; and b) nobody ever wants to finish their Ram Muay first, so there’s a kind of effort toward controlling the pace so that you’re the last one to your corner. None of that tonight.
In the corner Den splashed water on my face and shoulders, took off my Mongkol and told me “keep your hands up, okay?” As the fight started I felt the parts of my body that I wanted to keep in check: my back foot on the ball, heel up; my front foot light and ready to bounce up for a block or teep; I’d love to have jabbed more. I was still wonky and I felt like a goober, but not off-balance; just kind of not as smooth as I’d like. Within the first round I could tell I had more skill and experience than my opponent, who was bigger (as usual), but I didn’t know the extent of her arsenal yet, so I didn’t know yet what to expect from her. Between rounds Den told me to low kick more, so I tried that in the second round and landed a few, just not as hard or as clean as he wanted. But you could see her thigh swelling up as she sat in her corner between rounds. I was aware of my back foot more than I’ve ever been before, which is a good thing – that means I can correct it under pressure. My hands were a bit floppy but in the third round I landed some clean shots and my guard was tight against some of her punches. If the fight had gone longer I think I could have satisfied myself with standing in against some of that and just firing back, keeping the short range instead of having to close distance over and over again. My left block felt really good. It was coming up without much effort, either mentally or physically – that’s been a lot of work in training and there’s definitely more that needs to go into it, but having little bits of success definitely motivates the practice. And once we started locking up in the clinch it was the end of the game. I don’t think she had much experience in clinching as she just didn’t have any concept of angles or control. My physical strength has been an advantage in the clinch for a long time now, but my more recent training and practice with it from Petchrungruang Gym in Pattaya with all their kids (who are monsters in the clinch) and working with Sakmongkol, my clinch has become much more technically sound. I was controlling her quickly, turning and getting her down on the ground without any strength at all. As this continued and she had to pick herself up off the floor more and more, her heart faded. You can see in the last 20 seconds of the third round the referee is watching her face very closely. She must have shown giving up because after a succession of dumps he put her in her corner and called the fight. Neither she nor her corner protested.
This was a good fight experience for me. I’ve been facing larger, top level fighters, pretty much at every fight, for the past four or five months. A string of losses against World Champions and various title holders is good for me also; fighting the best fighters is part of getting better. Not only are these fighters champions, but they’re bigger than I am – skill, experience, and size makes for very difficult, steep hills in trying to beat these women. But fights like this one lead to growth as well. Being able to use my advantages under pressure and against a bigger body that isn’t using every other advantage at the same time allows me to work out and process my own strengths. Seeing my skills and tactics work allows me to understand better why they aren’t working in other contexts.
Walking away from my opponent’s corner as the ref and her corner help her out of the ring.
I only have a small tender spot on my left leg from checking kicks and no problem with my head scars at all, so that’s a confidence booster right there and I can get back in the ring without needing any heal up time. So I’m fighting again on the 22nd, four days after this fight. It will be testing grounds for the same things I was aiming for in this fight, but with a different adversary with different strengths and weaknesses with which to challenge my intentions. That’s exciting.