February 7, 2014 – Pattaya World Boxing Stadium
On Tuesday, as I was warming up, Sakmongkol told me that the promoter had called and wanted to know if I could fight this Friday. I still had a knot on my left shin from my previous fight (the Friday before, four days prior) and I have a fight scheduled on Feb. 19th for Yokkao 7 against a world champion Lommanee S. Hirun and I would like to be as free of hurt as possible for that card. I go into fights with black eyes, sore shins, freshly removed stitches and twice now a broken nose – it’s never proved a problem for me – but these gyms and promotions don’t know me yet down here so I want to be worry-free to them as my initial introduction. However, I calculated out that fighting on Friday still gives me 12 days to heal up before the Yokkao 7 fight and it also gives me more time in the ring as “practice” for this next fight. And it’s a fight, which I love. So I decided rather quickly and let Sakmongkol know I was game. Unfortunately he wouldn’t be coming to this fight either, since it coincided with the final big night of shows at Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok (they’ve built a new one and will move shop later this month), but Kru Mutt would be in my corner again. He’s awesome.
I trained through Thursday, almost a regular full day but minus bagwork in the afternoon, but I did go clinch with the kids at Petchrungruang and had a great time. On Friday we met Kru Mutt at the stadium just before 8:00 PM. At my last fight here I was the third fight of the night, the card was all kids (at 45 kg my fight was one of the biggest on the program) and we were in and out taking only 2 hours to go from walking out our front door to arriving back for a shower. Pretty slick. When I saw Kru Mutt outside the venue tonight he handed me a program and I actually couldn’t find myself on it. I didn’t even see the listing for “Nancy America: Champion of America” until after Kru Mutt was already asking one of the event planners in Thai.
It happened that my opponent’s father was standing right in this group and he looked me up and down before saying, “You fight my daughter.” I actually recognized her name – The Star Sor. Klinmee – as having recently been Muay Siam magazine when she won a title against a very good Japanese fighter named Saya Ito. She was listed on the program as WPMF World Champion and “Thailand Champion.” Usually one is a champion of a region of Thailand, like Northern, Central, Northeastern (Isaan), or Southern. But it was written in English, so who knows how they translate things. I asked the father how much his daughter weighs and he stalled, then asked how much I weigh. I laughed and said I’d asked first and he reluctantly replied, “46 kg.” I nodded and said I was 47 kg – when I finally saw her and indeed when we squared off in the ring she was taller than I am. She might fight for titles at 46 but we were pretty close on this night.
My opponent The Star Sor Klinmee in Muay Siam – WMPF and WMC titles
I was scheduled as the 7th fight on the card and it was a big night with lots of Russian fighters on the program and therefore a lot of Russians coming to watch in the audience. Kru Mutt gave me a thumbs up while relaying this information, indicating it’s a good night with a big audience. It meant a lot of time to wait though, so we stayed outside for a bit while a group of Thai men – mostly seeming as though they were working the event or with fighters but some gamblers, all hovered around me and asked me questions about how long I was staying in Pattaya, whether I could rematch the opponent I knocked out in my last fight (sure, maybe after the 19th), and then finally what my name actually is because it became evident that “Nancy America” isn’t it. Thais really don’t like saying “Sylvie,” it’s hard to pronounce and doesn’t sound like anything reasonable so it often becomes “Si-via,” which I dislike a lot. “L” makes an “n” sound at the end of a syllable and “v” is pronounced “w” in Thai, so I even try to pronounce it Thai-style as “Sin-wee” but it still never takes. So I spelled it, in Thai, for a guy who was struggling with it and as I did so the whole group of men erupted in looks of shock and exclamations of poot pasa Thai dai! (“Can speak Thai!”) Incidentally I had been speaking Thai this whole time, but spelling really illustrated it, apparently.
After the Royal Anthem played we went inside to watch the show. There were no ropes on the ring so it was at this moment a stage with a long catwalk connecting it to the “back stage” area. A young Thai woman was performing a traditional dance under a spotlight with beautiful, smooth movements and traditional music playing, which has a kind of haunting sound to it. So beautiful. As she was closing her dance a man in old-style Boran costume walked slowly out along the catwalk, the white of his rope-bound fists standing out in the dimness behind the spotlight. He stood on a block behind the woman as she posed in her final position and then exited the stage. The man began a Ram Muay and then did a really cool, bouncy Muay Boran demonstration that had a lot of Muay Chaiya (southern style) movements in it. Very cool. After that there was an elaborate theatrical performance of how Siam defeated Burmese invaders. The narration was all in Thai, which I thought was amazing given almost nobody in the theater audience was Thai. The Burmese were really awful, slitting women’s throats in front of their children and dragging little toddlers by their hair. The sword fights were exciting with flint sparks flying every time the blades clashed and there was cannon fire (or something) that came from all sides before the battles began. It was deafening but they played contemporary Thai rock songs that often are “walk out” music for Thais at fights. I’m not sure if the song is about Muay Thai or about Muay Thai defeating invaders back in the day. It was very cool though to see this historical performance of the spirit of Muay Thai right before a show of fights. It would be like watching a Revolutionary War reenactment before a gun show or something.
The cast of the historical reenactment performance. The elaborate hats are the Burmese.
After the first fight we moved up to the “green room” area up behind the stage. Kru Mutt wrapped my hands while a few Thai and a few Russian fighters postured around in the small space. Kru Mutt told me to relax, that we still had a lot of time but that it would be a long night. I said that it was great we got to see Thailand win against Burma – it’s an often told story, the plot of numerous movies, including Ong Bak 3, and the context of countless monuments and legends – like Khanomtom. He was emphatic about pointing out, “yes, first we lose but then we come back and win.” It was an interesting correction. Is this why Thais love the rematch so much? Is it that they cannot be defeated even if they lose at first? Is it that unless you include the initial defeat it feels like revisionist history? Or is it just important to be accurate?
I got my massage and started warming up. It was hard to know what fight we were on until I figured out that the blaring of Europe’s “Final Countdown” indicated that the winner of each fight was receiving a trophy. The trophies got bigger with every fight. I did notice that everyone had the same shorts on, like how at Mauy Thai Warriors we had shorts for or from that promotion. I didn’t have them but when I saw that my opponent was wearing a pair I went to ask Kru Mutt about it. He clearly hadn’t noticed and said, “Okay, later,” and then went off to find wherever these shorts might be coming from. The pair I eventually got were pretty big but I love getting shorts.
My opponent mostly hid herself in one of the rooms to the back of the “green room” but she peeked out every now and again. She looked very small in this context, although when I finally faced her in the ring she was bigger than I am. She was also incredibly well-oiled. That’s not bad – you can do that in Thailand. In fact, when I fought in Isaan and big Neung was my corner he mixed so much Vaseline and Nam Man Muay massage oil that I looked like I’d been dipped in gloss. That’s what my opponent looked like. As I started shadowboxing one Thai teen stood very close to me and watched. His hands were wrapped but he was still wearing jeans and a T-shirt. About five minutes later another young Thai guy, obviously from my opponent’s camp or at least in her group, ready to go out for his fight any minute now, started mocking my shadowboxing. Thais are merciless when they make fun of people in imitation and this guy was being a jerk, making fun of me. It didn’t bother me though, for a few reasons: 1) he wouldn’t bother if my shadowboxing actually looked like shit; 2) the other kid who was watching me had a look of surprise and interest as he watched, not of “what the hell is this?”; and 3) who the hell cares about this guy?
The nice guy who had been watching me was excited to speak English to me and my husband, so he asked where we come from. As I was doing something else, he told my husband that my opponent is very good, has great knees but not good hands. That was good to know prior to the fight – I fought a girl with “good knees” at Muay Thai Warrior and wished I’d paid attention to that fact, even though I had heard it before the fight.
As the fight before mine was going on I was “on deck,” watching from between the curtains on the downstairs stage that connects via the catwalk to the ring. Two little Thai boys were creeping around behind and also tangled in the curtains pushed to the side of the wall behind me. I sat and watched the rest of the fight on a TV monitor because I couldn’t see through the elaborate stage decorations. Kru Mutt put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I go first,” an English literal translation of a very common Thai phrase, and then he and Kevin went off stage right to meet me at our corner.
In my corner the ref came to look at my gloves (they check the tape and then make you turn your head back and forth to check for earrings and, I’m guessing, hair pins or clips or whatever; they used to do this when I played soccer as a kid) and he asked me if I speak Thai. I said ka, which can mean “yes” but can also mean a lot of things that don’t necessarily indicate that I understood his question. So I clarified dai ka (“can”) and his eyebrows shot up, maybe because not only did I confirm that I do speak Thai but also indicated that I knew why it had been unclear before. Kinda funny. Kru Mutt had told me before the fight to go slow and be relaxed in the first round. I had balked when he said this, reminding him this was (for whatever reason) only a 3 round fight, each round 3 minutes. (This is unusual and I don’t know why it’s this way, but it was good practice because my Yokkao fight is this way also and I’ve never fought 3 minutes and haven’t fought only 3 round fights since forever ago.) He said again to be relaxed first round, then go hard in the second. I felt pretty certain I wouldn’t do this – I don’t do the “feel out” well and am a late starter anyway. As it happened, The Star had other plans also and, instead of touching my glove, as the bell sounded she kicked me in the head. So it’s gonna be like that.
We were clinching right off the bat. She’s a knee fighter, I’m a knee fighter – there would be knees. She goes down in her own corner in the first round but that was mostly a slip. I was pushing her but I can’t take credit for it, nor was any given, I’m sure. My punches were landing but not affecting her much in this round – she’s a pro. But her kicks definitely scored and the round is hers. There was a guy sitting near my corner who had apparently been telling Kru Mutt how great my opponent is and that I was in trouble. (Kevin heard all this, I was doing my Ram Muay.) Mutt nodded and listened, then told the guy he thought I’d win the fight. Between rounds 1 and 2 this guy was grinning at me from the ringside. I think he expected the first round to go quite differently. I don’t think the Pattaya audience is used to my particular style yet – the little woman fighter who can get hit and keep moving forward, Rocky style. I think The Star is used to just blasting her opponents.
Round 2 I got some low kicks going that landed hard. My punches were working better too, just letting my hands go. I think my transitions into the clinch are much improved, punching or kicking on my way in instead of just jumping or falling in. My knees were affecting her better than hers were me as well. I could feel her reaching for breath at times, although not showing it outwardly. But she was slowing down. Kru Mutt was happy and I definitely won round 2.
In round 3 he wanted me to punch her body more than her head. I was able to land a few body shots and indeed work back up, like a low punch, left hook and then a knee to close in. But she got me on the canvas early in the round and I didn’t do anything big enough in the rest of the last round to seal it. It was a close fight; Kevin thinks I won and he never ever says that, but Mutt thought the decision was right and I wasn’t surprised by it. I thought I could have won but didn’t feel it was an unjust decision. I just had a ton of fun in this fight – I was actually laughing in the corner between rounds. No injuries, totally a perfect fight to gear up for my next one.
The Star Sor Klinmee with the trophy after our fight, in Muay Siam online. (You can see Kevin in a red hat behind her leg – a rare sighting!)