March 25, 2014 – Loi Kroh Ring, Chiang Mai –
This fight was supposed to be on Saturday, but all the bars in Chiang Mai were closed due to “pre-elections” and some suspected-to-be political bombings in northern Chaing Mai on Friday night. (People were hurt, it was awful. But thankfully nobody was killed.) So the fight got moved to Tuesday. Given that in the US when fights get cancelled you might not fight for months, a three day delay is pretty negligible. The thing that threw me about this is that a) the fight was cancelled only a few hours before it was supposed to take place, so it was pretty last-minute in terms of not happening and I’d already only had a private the day before and no training on fight day, and b) the next day was Sunday so I really couldn’t get much regular training in before the fight on Tuesday, which basically meant I had three or four days off from training with no fight until the end of it. I don’t like missing training by accident and days off are a little tricky for me anyway because I either like to just sleep through them or I get antsy. I had enough days that I was doing both, which put me in a weird place of feeling very lazy and tired even though I’d done absolutely nothing.
Anyway, when we got to the venue on Tuesday I saw that I was the last fight of the night and the other kid from my gym, from China, was just before me. So I knew I had to be my own captain in terms of getting my hands wrapped and my oil massage in time. The boys from the gym can barely focus on one person, so two is a real bother and I’m definitely not going to win out in the priority race between a boy their age and a woman they have to assist in fights every week.
To my surprise and delight Anne Quinlan, a western female pioneer in Muay Thai – she first came to Thailand at the age of 16 and that was around 1979 and the early 80’s, so she is way before the road was cut for me and other women here now – who I had the happy opportunity to meet and interview a year ago. I really like Anne. She had watched the highlights of my Yokkao fight in Pattaya and was telling me I need to be more aggressive. She’s right, of course, and hearing it from her really means a lot to me. I could totally hear her yelling at me between rounds of the fight, although next time I think she should stand closer and actually come over to the corner. Preferably be in my corner and get her back in the ring for a bit!
The fights went quickly. The first fight was a 1 minute into the first round KO, then a demo of Boran, then a fight that looked like it might go the distance. They were already wrapping the Chinese kid’s hands but I had to go impose myself to have my hands wrapped right after. Earlier in the day Nong Jeen, who is big Neung’s 6-year-old daughter, had asked me at the gym about the location of the necklace she made for me maybe 6-8 months ago. It was at home at the time, I don’t wear it to the gym, but I made a point to wear it to my fight for good luck. She happened to be at the fight (she’s only ever been to a few but she loves to be my shadow) and I showed her the necklace, which made her wiggle with excitement. When it was time for my oil massage I walked over to where Nong Jeen was sitting in a neat little row of all the tiny kids at the gym, two of Den’s nephews who are training there now, ages 6 and 8, and a little girl who showed up with JR but I’ve never seen her before, as well as JR’s 9-year-old son. I took the necklace off over my head and called Nong Jeen’s name and she grinned, tilting her head down while I slipped it over her earlobe-length school-girl haircut, “hold this while I fight,” I said in Thai. She just beamed with pride at having focused attention around all the other little gromits.
JR rubbed Vaseline on my face while the Chinese kid, his student, walked to the ring. A gambler came to talk to JR about this kid and JR advised him against placing a bet, saying the kid never trains and doesn’t have good muay. I offered that he would either win by KO or lose by points, which made both men laugh. Then I went to get one last trip to the restroom, which took maybe 40 seconds and I was still adjusting my shorts when my husband and little Neung began banging on the door, telling me the fight ended in KO and I had to come out. The Chinese kid had KO’d his opponent in probably 5 seconds of the first round. Nobody saw it, apparently, because everyone I asked had been doing something else when it happened – like, I don’t know, blinking. I suspect it was a head-kick, given my experience of sparring with that kid once or twice, but I don’t know for sure.
So I didn’t even warm up for this fight at all. We walked over to the corner and I climbed into the ring and faced my opponent. I’d seen her maybe 10 minutes before when I went to change my shorts, so I knew already how big she was, but it wasn’t until we met in the center of the ring to touch gloves that I really appreciated how much bigger than I am she was in pretty much every way. The referee was funny and as he gave us the rules and acted exasperated about the last fight being so quick and told us, “we know how this works, we’re brothers/sisters so just fight clean,” (more or less, the Thai is shorter). We went to our corners to have the Mongkol removed and Den told me, “just keep your hands up.”
The opening of the fight was great. I’d done a few drills, literally 30 seconds worth, with Kevin to try to balance out my left and right hand strikes as I move forward and I did exactly that in the opening strikes. Two left jabs and a right cross that connected and snapped her head back while her body flew back into the ropes. It was glorious. And I never repeated it. Sigh. But I got good low kicks and tried a few times to pivot off to the side and throw a kick or punch on top. Stuff I couldn’t have done even two months ago. I was doing well on the outside, landing punches to the face and body (although I didn’t sit down enough in them for full power and my head shots started to veer off the line) and I landed a nice body kick that surely won me the final round. All those things are advances for me, all improvement, even though they’re just snippets. The fight was very close because I kept fighting on the inside, which in this fight, as an exception to the rule, was to my disadvantage because of her size. She dramatized her knee strikes really well and they looked amazing but felt like nothing. She got tired and dramatized that, too, which didn’t do her any favors. So I was able to eek the win out in the final round by having more stamina, landing harder shots, being smaller and yet fighting stronger, and that body kick. It was a good fight, a very close fight that I probably wouldn’t have won a few months ago. That’s all good. Just have to take those few flashes of grace and figure out how to extend them.
Anne was very excited when I got out of the ring and gave me several really nice hugs, even though I was oily and sweaty. She doesn’t care – she’s a fighter forever. I got a knot on my forehead from an elbow that I walked into, not one that was actually thrown, which is yet another indicator that I need to be more consistent with my guard. But that’s good to know before it’s another cut. When I walked back to our warmup area I leaned down to let Nong Jeen put her necklace back over my head. She was fully waiting for me and it was really cute. I’ve got a weird Pied Piper effect on little kids that I don’t understand because generally I don’t acknowledge them – I’m not a kid person – but our bond is pretty sweet. I’m pretty sure I’ve cemented her future as a Muay Thai fighter, so long as her parents support her in it.