December 8, 2013 – Maejo University 80th Anniversary Festival, Chiang Mai –
There are a number of universities in Chiang Mai – it is a heavily student-laden community, which gives it a certain vitality – and Maejo is one of the biggest schools. I’d never been there before, although I had somehow convinced myself that my language school is “right near” the campus due to the name of the road it’s on, but the actual campus is, in fact, nowhere near where I thought it was.
Daeng’s son Tor happens to be a student at Maejo. He recently transferred from a campus four hours away in Prae to the more local Chiang Mai campus. The campus in Prae doesn’t have a Muay Thai program at all and Tor was training by himself, so moving to the Chiang Mai campus allows him to be part of the boxing team (western boxing) and he’s closer to home to be able to train at Lanna a few days per week. So Tor was our guide through the campus to find the sport complex, which ended up serving as a warmup area rather than the venue itself. This was an anniversary festival and so everything was outdoors, like most festivals – neon lights, food stalls, games where you can win stuffed toys (the Thai boys made quick work of that and tasked some of the ladies from the camp as guardians of these stuffed novelties while the boys had to work my corner), a tiny roller-coaster and a small Ferris Wheel. What was most interesting to me was walking through the agricultural area of the university, where we passed a petting zoo of pigs and sheep, as well as a number of tent-covered shops selling plants and an area of hay bails set up to look like the American Southwest-style “Dude Ranch.” Being from this area of the world, I laughed at the caricature but kind of loved it also.
Daeng had brought his family for the festival – his wife, his infant son (Dten), a few of his wife’s sisters and his wife’s parents. (In Thai culture it is still very common for a man to live with his wife’s family in marriage – women traditionally inherit property and are responsible for taking care of their parents in old age. While this arrangement is not universal, it is “nuclear family” typical out here.) With so much of his family in tow there was only room for Kevin, me, Pook and her daughter left in the truck and Den drove a second car with the Thai boys and some folks from the camp. It was a pretty large group, which felt nice.
The Order of Chaos
I knew from very early on that it was going to be a chaotic night. Right off, the fight was on a Sunday, which is unusual and is generally a day off. I didn’t expect Den to be there at all because he usually goes home to see his son on Sundays, but he came back for the fight. On top of this, Daeng had refused to tell me when we were leaving camp until fairly late in the day. He’d refrained of course because he had to organize his family and so didn’t know exactly when he’d be getting to the camp himself in order to pick us up and head out, but I honestly didn’t know when to eat dinner because I had no idea at all when the fights were meant to start, an important part of getting ready to fight. Then, upon arriving at the venue my fight was listed at number six of the evening but got moved to number four, then three, then back to four in a matter of 30 minutes. I was just trying to stay focused and get myself ready to go into the ring now or in an hour – it’s hard to be ready for both.
getting gloves on
Big Neung had brought his wife and his 6-year-old daughter to the fights and Nong Jeen (his daughter) was dressed in a matching pajama set. Why not, right? She likes me – I’ve given her some English lessons and she follows me around the gym sometimes – so she would stand just a few inches away staring at me with a huge grin on her face while my hands were being wrapped, then she tried to help with my oil massage and lacing my gloves – she’s not great at tightening the laces but she can tie a good knot; it did have to be redone – and finally, as we were waiting beside the stage out near the ring she carefully swiped her tiny index finger under my left eye to smooth out a glop of Vaseline. Her mom called her over as she was doing this to give me some space and Nong Jeen immediately tried to wipe the remaining Vaseline on her finger on her mother’s nose.
Nong Jeen in her PJ’s watching over me before my fight
I’ve fought Sud Siam once before and lost a very close decision. She’s one of the largest opponents I’ve faced and is a Lanna Champion at a few weight classes above me, around 54 kg (119 lbs) to my 47 kg (103 lbs) I’d guess. She’s a good fighter in that she knows how to win fights but she’s not a overly skilled fighter in that she basically does two things: left kick and laying on an opponent in the clinch. That’s about it. So all I had to do was block that left kick and come in to land knees. I’d practiced that with Daeng all week.
Because I fight so much, I’ve made up my mind to use my fights for more experimentation. Master K and I spoke on the phone recently and he complained to me that my opponents already know everything I am going to do because I do not vary my technique – exactly the same complaint I just lodged about Sud Siam up there in the paragraph above. Master K told me, “we know already you can knock out with your knee, so do something else first. You can always knock out with your knee in later rounds if you want.” So I made up my mind to use the first two rounds of this fight to throw my hands. Just consider it a boxing match for the first two rounds, especially because I already knew that Sud Siam hates being punched.
This worked out well, actually. I was pretty pleased with the way I was able to close in a little bit and land a few shots that I otherwise never would in a fight because I’m trying to do so many things at once. She was bothered, for sure. When I came back to my corner between the first and second rounds Tor told me to stop leading with the left hook and to throw it after a jab or a cross. I’m not sure that I implemented that, but it was a good experience.
I won round 3 and my corner got excited, told me to go in and do the same thing in round 4. I was making the same mistakes all throughout the fight though. I was getting caught up too tightly around the shoulders in the clinch and not breaking away to land good strikes, and I was only really throwing one knee at a time as a result of the awkward positioning. I was tiring her, to be sure. In fact, I didn’t hear the bell at the end of round 3 and from her body language and completely defeated walk back to her corner – seemingly out of nowhere because I hadn’t heard the bell – I thought she was quitting! She came back hard in round 4 and I lost that round instead of gaining on my momentum in round 3. So it all came down to round 5 and for whatever reason I perceived that I’d done enough in round 5 midway through to start being the “backwards fighter.” That was the wrong perception and round 5 was actually a blow-out for Sud Siam. I lost decisively in the end.
I was very disappointed. I got out of the ring and immediately asked Daeng and Den why I’d lost, to which Daeng just said, “later.” Little Neung, as he was unwrapping my hands, told me that her kicks scored higher and she must have landed more of them than what I was giving her credit for. They don’t hurt, so I don’t really pay much attention to them, but I need to – they still score. I wasn’t punishing strike-for-strike, so I was losing points without realizing it. If I’d been more aware, if I’d had a different mental experience of the fight, I could have turned it on and smashed her. I’m smaller, but I can hurt her. She can’t hurt me, really. And I’m an idiot for not remembering that this is exactly how Sud Siam became and has maintained her champion title: she knows how to win fights in the fifth round. I should have thrown it all in – just gone for broke even if I was losing on points and just made sure she had to earn every little point. I could have just gone back to boxing, even if hands don’t score.
It’s a hard lesson. It sucks. But it’s what I get for what I put in and now I know better. I fought Sud Siam’s teammate Yod Ying close to a dozen times and we’ve made each other better fighters as a result. Maybe Sud Siam is my new Yod Ying, bigger and better, and if I can face her more times over the next year I will advance beyond her.
Post Fight Video Update
The Whole Fight