Weigh in for this fight was a day before the event. This is normal for the US but is atypical for Thailand and it drives Den nuts. He complained about it on numerous occasions because it’s just not the way things are done in his experience. In Muay Thai there is not a great disparity between what one fighter walks around at and what weight s/he fights at, so cutting a few kilos to step on the scale at six in the morning and then fighting at night after rehydrating and eating isn’t a big deal. I’m not sure why this event had us check weight the day before – maybe it’s one more piece of western encroachment in Muay Thai productions – but it was a nice experience seeing all the fighters beforehand.
I’d cut a couple kilos since this fight was at 46 kilos and I was walking at about 47.5 – 48 kilos the week before. I did my water weight cut, in addition to a few days of running with a sauna suit because my trainers didn’t know what I was talking about when I told them I was drinking excessive water to cut weight. So it was a little hellish, but not too bad considering how small the cut was and it’s only a few days. I’d checked my weight the day before at the gym and had hit 46 kg, then checked my weight a few times in the AM prior to going to weigh in at 3:00 and my weight was at 45.5 kg, which I was pleased with because coming in just under seems like a good guarantee in case the scale is off or whatever.
While we were in the car driving over to the venue, Den told me that the promoter had called and said my opponent was at 46.5 kg in the morning, which was – I guess – meant to imply they would agree to leeway in the weight. I disagreed. Den then said something off-hand about how coming in underweight looked bad but I didn’t quite understand why – like it implies lack of control or doing too much or something. Anyway, when we finally found the right area of the immense sports complex where the weigh ins would commence we strolled in right as the first fighters were stepping on the scale. It was all men, wearing only their pink or baby blue Muay Thai shorts (I was given a pair after already weighing in), looking lean and with puffed chests. Whatever. My opponent walked by me and I noted how short she seemed as she hurried past to the other side of the crowd. But we smiled at each other and were pleasant.
Thakoon called me over to step on the scale (we were going in order of the card, it seemed) and I pulled off my sweatpants and jacket to walk over. I wai-ed and said hello to Thakoon. I’d trained at his gym, Sasiprapa, in Bangkapi four years ago on my first trip to Thailand and found him to be incredibly kind and business savvy, as well as experiencing good training at his camp. I was happy to see him and he greeted me warmly, his eyes always bright and questioning behind his rimless glasses.
My opponent stepped on the scale first and there was a little muttering when the digital screen rested at 46.9 kg. She stepped off and stood to the side and Thakoon gestured to me. I waited for the digits to clear and it took a little too long. Finally Thakoon stepped on the scale to reset it and I got on, the numbers blipping around and then finally deciding on 44.5 kg. Den gave me a look. I wasn’t even looking at him, but I could feel it. But I guess the scale could have been set so that it permitted a 1 kg or 1 lbs allowance. It is also possible I’d lost more weight over the hour between weighing myself and the weigh in or, more simply, a disparity in the scales. It doesn’t matter. I was on weight, my opponent was over. So there were some looks a short discussion and I nodded my head to convey that, yes, my opponent had to go run it off. Then I hurried over to Nong Toom and asked to take a few pictures. She was beautiful and tall and regal. I told her in Thai that I trained at her old gym and she smiled politely and told me, “chok dee.”
We were photographed as a group (the video above is me running in after a change of shorts), all the fighters except Saenchai, whose flight was delayed. We took a few shots, the women on one knee in the front row and the Thais and westerners divided by colored shorts on either side of the promoters. When we dispersed I happily grabbed some water and electrolyte drinks out of my backpack and started drinking. I wasn’t fully dehydrated for very long, but was dry enough that I didn’t have enough spit to chew gum. That was gross. Everyone else moved over to the bleachers and started eating rice with pork and a fried egg out of small white Styrofoam containers.
After a while my opponent appeared again on the other side of the arena and Thakoon called me over to watch her step on the scale again. It rested at 46.4 kg – an impressive drop for what little time she seemed to have disappeared – and I said that was fine. Thakoon told my opponent to shake my hand, which she did, and then the room got a little more awesome because Saenchai arrived.
We were reorganized to take photos with the whole group, now that Saenchai had arrived. Unfortunately, I’d already changed out of my shorts and the photographer and Thakoon agreed it was best to just take the picture instead of waiting for me to run and change again, so I’m the only nerd in track pants and shoes. This one dude who was told to crouch down with the ladies was pissed, which is funny in itself, but I think eventually in another picture his opponent crouched down, too. Symmetry is key. Then they had Saenchai take the belt off and they held it up between him and his opponent.
When we all stood up I tracked Saenchai down and asked for a photo. He smiled and patiently took a few snaps, then asked me where I’m from. I told him “America” (Thais don’t acknowledge “the US”) and he gave me a big smile and thumbs up. Then I told him in Thai that I live in Chiang Mai and train at Kiat Busaba up the road and he nodded approvingly and said, “chok dee.” Upon looking at the pictures, Kevin decided we needed another take and I had to grab Saenchai again for a second take. He was just as generous as the first time and even hammed it up a bit by putting his fist under my chin for the second set. He’s the following things: much smaller than you would ever imagine; far more humble than you would imagine; incredibly confident in his body, which makes you immediately forget how small he is, even just after you’ve noticed it; very nice, very generous and forever youthful in the way that male Thai fighters often are. Another fighter, a Channel 7 champion named Seeoui (I totally think people are saying my name when they say his name because they are pronounced similarly – then I remember everyone calls me Si-vee-ah and not how my name would actually be said in Thai: See-wee) was walking arm-and-arm with Saenchai and then suddenly took a surprise shot at Saenchai’s crotch – like a ball-tap. Saenchai’s response was instantaneous and playful, just a flash of expression across his face that you would see in any Thai camp among any pair of Thai kids of pretty much any age. It’s completely juvenile and hilarious, and oddly adorable.
Muay Thai Warriors
I was in the middle of breakfast when I got a call from Den asking me if I could get to the venue an hour and a half before we’d been scheduled to arrive. I looked at my watch and saw that the time he wanted me there was in 10 minutes. I said I was eating and would get there in about 40 minutes, which Den said was fine. Apparently Thakoon wanted me to “learn to walk,” as Den put it. After a few questions I deduced he meant to rehearse the walk-out. That made sense. I’m pretty good at walking.
So Kevin and I ate, packed up our stuff and then hopped on my motorbike to get to the venue which is about 5 minutes away. We actually rode up to the building behind the big tour bus that was carrying all the out-of-town fighters from the hotel where they were staying (which is a stone’s throw from my own apartment, incidentally), so we arrived with everyone else. We were immediately divided up between westerners and Thais, then given very confusing instructions on how we were meant to walk out. It’s not that the instructions themselves were unclear, it was more that the guy giving them was speaking into a microphone while standing a few feet away from us, his voice booming out and echoing across the whole space and not matching his lips. What? – I say this, but the show was impeccably produced, and beautifully organized by Thakoon and his team.
The woman who would be fighting Nong Toom, a 19-year-old Brit fighting out of Phuket, named Zahrah, and I kept exchanging looks and giggling. Finally we were brought out to sit in front of the stage and watch the Thais go through the walk out. You’re lifted to the stage on a small elevator between two giant screens; you’re crouched down until you reach the top, then you stand and hold a pose for about five seconds while smoke blasts from either side of you. You step out to the center and hold that pose again while the music changes, then you walk to the right and pose, then the left and pose, then back to center while the giant screens display your name, image and stats. Then you shadowbox at the center for another five seconds while smoke blasts everywhere and then you strut down the runway and enter the ring. It’s pretty awesome, actually; it’s loud and exciting and they really want you to sell yourself with the pose and shadowboxing – but don’t smile, this is serious, they say. I’ve never been told not to smile. Everyone practiced their walk out twice and the DJ finally got the cues right for when to change over the music. Saenchai and Nong Toom’s walk outs were especially elaborate and/or theatrical, in both hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine manners. The Channel 7 champion couldn’t not smile; and Zahrah was instructed to blow kisses as her pose, which I noted was not required of any of the male fighters. I didn’t get to practice my walk out at all though, so my entrance was my dry-run.
As I sat watching the rehearsal I saw Master Toddy walking around in the official white and red polos of the event organizers. He looked great, very thoroughly himself. I was given a bunch of gear, including normal stuff like anklets and a fight top (which was unfortunately a half-top, which I’ve never been keen on fighting in) as well as a female groin protector and breast protection. I’ve never worn either (I’ve worn a male cup and will do so again, but that female guard is a little bit immense and also fails in that it isn’t made of steel like a male cup), so I decided to leave both aside.
My opponent was in my same dressing room, which has everything to do with not having young Thai women alone in heavily male spaces. She probably came to our dressing room because there were two more young women there. Den was cornering for Nong Toom (he’d been asked to corner for Saenchai was well!), so he brought her over from the other dressing room as well, so we actually got the lion’s share of the women. It was awesome having Nong Toom there; she had her hair braided by my opponent’s mom, which actually got Den all crazy obsessed with what my hair should look like, and Nong Toom flirted hilariously with the Channel 7 guy. I’m not sure why he was in our dressing room, actually… he was meant to be on the other side. Men are very sexually suggestive with each other in the gym all the time, it’s part of male humor, so when this Channel 7 champion stripped down to the tiniest undies to get his oil massage and was kind of crawling around on the table to flirt with Nong Toom it was exactly as two men would joke but also not because Nong Toom is now a woman. It was a really interesting display of gender performance and humor in a very masculine environment. I laughed a lot and my opponent pretended not to see any of it; her response was probably the more acceptable one for ladies.
My opponent and I were scheduled as the last fight of the event, but we had to be wrapped and ready to go on in case the first two fights ended in KO. So we were ready as the first fight began, then waited out the second and by the third knew we had about two hours before we’d be on. Lots of time to kill. I watched some of the fights (Nong Toom and Zahrah were an exhibition, but it was cool to see them move around – both women’s skills were evident even though they never escalated) and Saenchai’s fight was amazing. We sat in the back on plastic chairs behind a sea of purple shirts, indicating students in the sports program at the university. They got up in groups to go have their photos taken with Nong Toom and Saenchai and Seeoui (Channel 7), as well as giving me long investigative looks when they noticed my hands were wrapped.
I went back to the dressing room – now empty except for my opponent and me – after Saenchai’s fight and waited. A guy who handed out equipment shuffled in and out and hurredly put my gloves on my hands and tied them a good two fights before I would go on. Kevin ran out to find Den or Daeng because they should really be the ones doing my gloves and when he came back my opponent brought Kevin a can of beer with a big smile. He politely declined since he wouldn’t drink it and she slumped back to her chair. It was a nice gesture and a refusal that may be interpreted differently across cultures. Daeng arrived and taped my gloves and then Den followed and started asking me if I was sure I’d eaten enough. He was really concerned that I hadn’t eaten rice in the morning, so I ate two bites of rice to appease him.
Before the fights started Den came to get me and bring me outside to get a picture with Muay Thai legend Diesel Noi. This was an awesome gesture by Den, making sure I got to meet him after seeing him and getting all fanatical the day before. As we were leaving weigh in and walking to the car we saw two men pull up on a motorbike. The guy on the back stood up and was just so tall, said something to Den, who directed him inside, and then headed in. Kevin and I remarked to each other what intense, cool energy that guy had – totally like an aged champion you’d see in a boxing club in the US somewhere. Den told us that was a champion but ran out of opponents quickly. Then he off-handedly mentioned his name was Diesel Noi and we freaked out; Den seemed surprised we knew who he was. Watch the video below of Diesel Noi kneeing pads – he’s literally the reason knees to the groin are not permitted in Muay Thai anymore. And look at his face in this photo – the man look legend!
some Diesel Noi padwork
As the seventh fight was going we headed out to the arena. Den wrapped my robe around me while Nong Toom delicately moved pieces of my hair into place. Then the fight ended in KO and my opponent and I had to stand behind the stage for our entrances. She went up in blasts of smoke and then I followed. I’d seen Nong Toom and her opponent go over the top rope and intended to do the same, but they had stage-hands dealing with the ropes so my opponent and I both had to go under. Once in my corner, Den put the Mongkol on my head and asked me again if I was hungry. At this point, I don’t know what he would have done if I’d said, “yes,” but I laughed and said I was fine. He took my robe off and said what he always says, “do your best, okay?”
In the center of the ring the ref spoke Thai to my opponent, then looked at me and said, “this is a real fight, okay? Follow the rules, okay?” I laughed and said “I understand” in Thai and he smiled, then sent us to our corners.
In the first round it was evident that my opponent was not going to run from me the way many of my opponents do. Den said that was a good thing, to throw more combinations and stay close because she wasn’t backing up. In the second round we clinched more and it was clear that she had a very strong grip in the clinch. I wasn’t able to get my hands on the inside the way I’ve been trained, mostly because I kept going over the top and around her head with my left arm instead of working it back down and inside to create space and throw knees. She cranked my head down hard and just held it. I landed a few knees that weren’t very good and so did she, but when we broke she often had assumed a position that seemed to be eliciting happy cheers from her corner, which I reckon means it looks dominant even if it’s not necessarily scoring.
I wanted to be a tank in this fight, just move forward and not stay on the outside. But I kept finding myself just standing on the porch, just right within striking range but not striking. I landed a wonderful lead uppercut to right cross right on her face but didn’t follow up; and all my kicks were low. I just couldn’t get myself to link things together. My main focus right now is to relax in my fights and be less tense, to allow all the technique and training I have to actually come through. But I was finding myself unable to move in the ways I wanted to and when we tied up I was sideways, like 10 fights ago. Really frustrating to keep finding myself there, but I was careful to let it go and just keep focusing on the moment in front of me.
In the third round we toppled to the floor and my opponent was on top, then I got caught in the clinch with her throwing a million knees, all of which scored and none of which hurt me at all – that’s the crap thing about when you’re in the fight, is that things that don’t affect you still affect the fight. I kept coming in but wasn’t able to take back any of that round.
In the fourth and fifth it was a matter of my not being able to bring the energy up and pressure my opponent in a way that kept me in the fight. She just had to ride it and she still brought it, which makes her such an awesome fighter. This fight exposed a lot of holes in my training and gaps between what I train and what I can access in fights, so besides it being an incredible show to be a part of, it was also a really good fight for me to have for my own growth – even if it’s hard to swallow.
It was awesome having Nong Toom in my corner. I was listening to Den and totally focused on what he was saying, then he would stop speaking and I would go all Stan for a second, like “holy sh*t! Nong Toom is cornering for me!” It was also very cool to have this big event in my “home town” of Chiang Mai, so I had lots of support from people at my gym, folks from other gyms (check out Wyn and Wayne giving me fist-bumps at the end of the last video), and a crowd of super excited northern folk who got to see a bunch of great fights in the middle of a Friday afternoon. It’s more than I ever imagined for myself, meeting hero and heroine fighters and sharing not only space but a fight card with them, so being amazed is certainly a stronger feeling than anything that would come out of winning or losing.
Now back to work.
The Whole Fight