January 31st, 2014 – Pattaya Boxing World Stadium
This is my first fight in Pattaya after two weeks of training with Sakmongkol and about a week adding morning training with Petchrungruang Gym. I was incredibly nervous for this fight, mostly because the three weeks between my last fight and this one is some of the longest time I’ve had between fights in the nearly two years I’ve been in Thailand. In addition to that I’ve been having great progress with my training and my expectations for myself are very high – unreasonably high, really. And then lastly there’s all the unknowns: I’ve never fought in Pattaya, against these opponents, in this venue, with these cornermen, these trainers, etc. Every one of those unknowns is also pretty exciting.
It took a long time for me to get a fight scheduled. We’d asked pretty much right upon arrival in Pattaya and got the “no problem” reply, but then there was difficulty in actually getting a fight booked. I don’t know if it’s that the WKO gym doesn’t often have Muay Thai fighters and so the relationship with the promoter is less direct than, say, at Lanna where the promoter asks me personally after every fight whether I’ll fight again in three, four, or seven days. At Lanna Den can contact a promoter and get a fight within hours and sometimes promoters stop by the camp unannounced to scope out fighters or take photos; whatever. It could also be that there are just fewer venues and fights here in Pattaya. With only two major stadia (much bigger and more “established” as an indoor stadium, rather than the just-put-up-a-ring-and-they’ll-come manner that operates in Chiang Mai) and it seems like fights are two or three nights per week, rather than every night – so opportunity is simply more limited. Anyway, we finally got the fight booked through the help of Kru Nu over at Petchrungruang but he wasn’t able to corner for me because he already had a batch of young fighters heading to Ayutthaya on that same night. We booked the fight anyway and asked Kru Mong to corner and he immediately agreed, then had Kru Mutt call the promoter and get everything sorted. It wasn’t the cleanest method since both gyms were involved in setting it up but they aren’t affiliated in any way other than the fact that I train at both. So my name on the card was Petchrungruang Gym but my corner and – I can only assume – the gym fee is through WKO with Kru Mutt and Kru Mong.
I trained the afternoon before the fight with Sakmongkol (Kru Mong) and missed the chance to organize how we would meet up with Kru Mutt at the venue, so it was up in the air with the promise that Kru Mutt would be in my corner. But Sakmongkol said he’d finish with his Karate class and head over to the venue after us, so he’d have to meet us there. I swung by the gym at about 3:30 PM on fight day to make sure I understood how everything was going to work, trying to minimize the potential chaos that comes from the super laid back attitude towards fights from guys who have been doing it since they were kids. As I reached the top of the stairs I saw Mutt sitting in the ring, rubbing Thai oil on his legs and stretching. Mong was holding pads and both stopped and looked at me with very nice smiles as I wai-ed and said hello. Sakmongkol looked a bit different, almost imperceptibly so, but I pinpointed pretty quickly he’d had a very close shave (he usually has a thin stubble) and looked very fresh. Getting himself right for the night, I guess. Mutt said that we’d each go our own way and meet at the venue at 8:00; Mong would try to join us by 8:30.
I’ve only driven myself to my own fight maybe once or twice before. In fact, my last fight in Chiang Mai I rode the bike down with Kevin on the back. It actually felt nice, even though going as a camp – all in a group – is really enjoyable for me, too. But I think when I have to get in the truck or car and head down all together I kind of get passive just as a way to combat the disorganization that generally surrounds such outings. By riding my own bike I’m in a very active role the whole time, navigating traffic and weaving between cars at stoplights (which you can do and should do in Thailand), which lends well to fight energy. Kevin and I aimed to leave at 7:30, giving us more than enough time to get lost on the way over to Pattaya World Boxing Stadium, which is only about 15 minutes away. Right as we were getting ready to head out the door Kru Mutt called and told me I was to be the third fight of the evening, so to hurry up and get there. I put some Band-Aids over the scabs on my foot and shin and we flew out the door.
standing outside of Pattaya Boxing World Stadium for the first time
Finding the venue was easy. When we pulled in to the driveway a parking lot attendant flagged me down and asked where I was going. I pointed to the stadium (there’s something else behind it and a McDonald’s next to it) and told him I’m a nakmuay (fighter). He grinned at me and told me to park in a small fenced off area behind the backs of two enormous Hanuman statues. I got a lot of looks from mostly men (gamblers) on my way to the front of the stadium – they don’t know me here yet! There’s a huge screen on the facade below the lighted name of the stadium, playing highlights from fights and something that looked like swordfighting demonstrations. There were two guys in fully padded outfits – like the kind of thing you’d see in a self-defense class where women are encouraged to practice their moves with full power against a padded “assailant.” One was brown, one was black, but they didn’t do anything; they were like Power Rangers or something.
Kru Mutt wrapping my hands – expertly, maybe the best wrap I’ve ever had
We located Kru Mutt, bought some tape and gauzy wraps from a supply table outside and headed in. We moved all the way through the venue, which feels like an empty club but has stadium seating around a brightly lit ring with a long catwalk for fighters’ entrances. We went up a few steps to the stage, over it, then around the back and climbed some cement stairs to the warmup area. I sat down and Kru Mutt went to work wrapping my hands while I looked over his shoulder at a tiny Thai girl getting her hands wrapped. I checked the fight card three times, looking at every name and deliberating but ultimately concluding that there was only one female fight on the whole card. Was this my opponent? We were listed at 45 kg – I’m generally 47 kg – and this girl was maybe, maybe 43-44 kg. She looked like a kid. I basically spent the next 10 minutes trying to psych myself up to fight a little kid, “no mercy, Sylvie, just don’t go overboard,” I thought to myself. Kru Mutt told me to relax my fist – I must have been clenching it, slightly freaking out over my opponent.
His handwrapping skills are awesome. I’ve never had wraps done quite like his, even though they’re not drastically different in any way. Almost everyone starts from the thumb, binds the wrist, then makes plaster-like casts over the back of the hand and the knuckle, made of sports tape. Then you cover that with the gauze or “Thai wraps,” then put more tape over the whole thing. What Kru Mutt does that’s really interesting is a gradual cinching – like a corset – as each of the three layers is added. I felt good on my hand but just a little, I don’t know… off when he had the gauze on. Then he does the thin strips of tape from the part running through the fist, going between the knuckles and gripping the back of the hand. As he put each one on I felt the whole wrap pulling together around my hand, like a fitted glove. Then, when the last layer of tape is on he takes a single finger in each one of his hands and manually wiggled the fingers up and down to loosen the wrap just enough around each digit. Best wraps ever.
Mutt told me to change into my shorts and then told Kevin to give me the oil massage. Kevin has never done anything involved in the prefight preparations. He helped Augie Matias corner for me one time in Vegas, but because he’s the cameraman his “help” is kind of not possible. Since Sakmongkol wasn’t there, Kevin was the only option. Mutt told Kevin to give me my massage as a point of respect and distance – as my husband, it makes sense for him to defer the rubbing of oil all over my limbs and torso to him rather than take the “I’m about to rub oil all over your wife” route. The teenaged Thai boys do this job at Lanna and sometimes a trainer, but when the trainer does so there’s a little unspoken awkwardness, even though it’s not contextually inappropriate. I walked over to the little girl I thought was my opponent and smiled, pointing to the padded table that’s meant for massages where he camp was kind of camped out. She gave me a huge, sweet, kind of embarrassed smile and pulled her bags off the top. Was she looking at me like a fan? What the hell was that? I was the only westerner on the card and other than Kevin the only one up there in the warmup area, so the attention was pretty well focused on me a few times. Maybe that was it. I gave Kevin some verbal instruction on how to dump oil on me and smear it around, which he accomplished just fine but after a few moments Mutt came over and began helping, giving Kevin something to imitate. That was good.
The first fight ended in a KO; the second was a KO as well, a fight that included the little girl I thought I was fighting – thank God – an unlisted fight that went on right before mine. I got to see her in the ring through slits in the curtains while I warmed up on the stage behind the scenes. She knocked her opponent out with knees in the first round. Kru Mutt told Kevin how to walk out behind the curtains to meet at the blue corner, then told me three times to go under the bottom rope before heading over to the corner. My opponent walked out first so I got to see the puffs of smoke and theatrics involved in walking out. Then the guy with the headset gave me my cue and it was time to go.
I felt good in the ring, comfortable doing my Ram Muay while my opponent only did a Wai Kru (the part where you kneel and bow three times to honor your teachers), so I took my time. When I started the “stalking” bit where I play the hunter tracking down her corner, I could sense the audience’s energy getting excited. There’s a kind of the-moment-before-laughter in the crowd that I can feel. Kevin took of my mongkol and gave me my mouthpiece and then it was off to the center of the ring.
My opponent was a little taller than I am, strong and fast kicks but more than anything a great confidence in her skills. I tried to move how I’ve been working with Sakmongkol. Mutt had told me to relax and just feel out in the first three rounds, but I’m kind of no good with that. It’s not my style. When I try to do the Thai “take two or three rounds to warm up” game I just don’t start. So I tried to move more and ended up not striking, not being in position to block and moving straight back when attacked. With an opponent with quick, hard kicks and lengthy combinations, that doesn’t work well. My hands guard was relaxed and low and she ended up kicking my elbows a bunch of times, which probably hurt her but definitely banged me up. The first round was very bad for me.
Mutt was very calm in the corner. He told me that she was too tall so not to try to kick her body and instead just jab and low kick, get a rhythm. A Thai gambler scrambled up to the side of the ring and yelled at me not to be afraid – he must have had some cash on me. There was no ice bucket and just a bottle of water I had in my gym bag for the corner. All the other stuff wasn’t really missed, but it felt very minimal. Kind of in a cool way. The break between rounds felt incredibly long and I could actually watch slow motion replays from the first round on the jumbo screen behind the catwalk. I could see I was moving straight back but my guard was okay. My head was too far forward over my hips for my blocks to come up. Instant diagnosis.
I went back out knowing I had to go to work. I started working my jab, even just in the air, like Kru Mutt had said and it was affecting her. I was able to close distance better and we started tying up more. I was landing knees and able to control her in the clinch. I even kneed her in the head once or twice and in the video you can see Mutt very happy over what Kevin has come to call my “cricket knee,” where I use one leg to block my opponent’s knees and then leverage off of it to land my other knee in her ribs. That hurt her and I heard Kru Mutt tell me to go, so I followed, grabbed her again and threw a few knees. I think only one landed of those three but it was enough and she went down.
When we got back up the stairs to the warmup room I felt like I had just been terribly rusty in the ring. I didn’t do the things I’d thought to do and had worked on – mostly blocking kicks with my shins and more lateral movement. I was disappointed in myself and apologized to Mutt, but he just said, “is good; your style.” When I watch the video I am moving more than usual and even one moment of change is an improvement. After taking off my wraps Mutt got a call, said it was Sakmongkol and went down the stairs. A few minutes later Mong and Mutt came back up the stairs and Sakmongkol was very apologetic for having missed my fight. He was still in his Karate pants and had clearly come straight from the gym. I told him it was okay and that I was a little happy he missed it because if he’d been there he wouldn’t have been happy with me. He kept shaking his head; I think he was really bummed he missed it. I would love to have him in my corner but Kru Mutt was awesome. He’s got a genuine calmness and cool efficiency that is very good for me.
On our way out the door we ran into Filippo Cinti, who helped me with my clinching at Petchrungruang the other day. He arrived just a minute too late also. I guess the fights started a bit early and with the KO’s went faster than usual. I’ll send the video of the fight to both Mong and Filippo when it’s up, but there is something about the get-in, get-out of this fight that was kind of awesome. The zip-zip, just missed it… it’s kind of part of the “just another day at the office” feel that I like. I’m not sure if I can have another fight between this one and the fight I have coming on Feb. 19th, but I will definitely try to fight once, if not twice, after the 19th before leaving Pattaya. It has proven to be a lovely experience.