October 25th, 2014 – Pin Klao in Bangkok, fight set up by Master Toddy’s Gym
This fight is dedicated to my Muay Thai brother, Augie Matias (and his wonderful wife Dina, and their two kids, Marco and Bella), who have always been supportive of me and has been in my corner – both literally and figuratively – almost since the beginning. Augie donated to my GoFundMe campaign to help get me to fights. Thank you! (You can find Augie’s gym MK Muay Thai in Hawthorne, NJ, USA)
Emma Thomas, who writes Under the Ropes blog and trains at and fights for Master Toddy’s Bangkok Gym, is a friend of mine. She’s helped me to get fights in Bangkok and most recently she had her Wisdom Teeth removed and asked if I wanted to come take over a fight she was scheduled for before her operation but was no longer able to do. Emma and I fight similarly sized opponents, so this kind of substitution is very manageable with very little juggling. I was all for it.
Just within a few days of the fight there were some changes. Another woman from Master Toddy’s Gym was to have her fight debut on the card but she became sick and wasn’t sure she could make it. Without a fighter from Toddy’s, it was more impractical for their trainers to corner for me. Another fighter from the gym, a fellow fighter named Tu from Chicago, was kind enough to offer to corner for me but admitted he didn’t have much experience in it, so I tried to get a corner to come with me from Petchrungruang and put in the back of my mind the possibility that I could just wrap my own hands. It turned out that none of my people here in Pattaya could come with me, but I was happy enough to have Tu in my corner and on fight day Kevin and I headed to Bangkok to pick up Tu and a last-minute addition on the card, another female fighter from Toddy’s named Katy.
All these instabilities are very normal to fighting in Thailand. But the grasping for stability and wanting to make sure that I could still fight even if it was just me in the ring with Kevin and Jai Dee standing in my corner without a clue what to do is enough. One reason I wanted to dedicate this fight to my friend, coach and Muay Thai brother Augie is because has a heart for this, too. Augie is the man who waited in stand-still traffic to cross the George Washington Bridge in order to get to a fight that was anything but reasonable. He’s in my corner no matter what. So the uncertainties of this fight and my ability to be happy about them made me think of Augie. The patron saint of “just do it.”
Getting from Pattaya to Bangkok
We got in the rental car and headed up to Bangkok with the intention of being 30 minutes earlier than we were expected. The promoter for the show was supposed to show up at Master Toddy’s Gym in order to get a look at Katy, who was a last-minute addition to the card. He ended up booking her for two more fights once he saw her, which is pretty cool. We were stuck in traffic forever and ended up getting to the gym a full hour after we’d wanted to, but thankfully only about 20 minutes “late” by the time we were expected. The promoter was still there and greeted me when I stepped through the open gate to Master Toddy’s driveway / the front of the gym. This promoter’s name is Yo and he was super nice. We spoke Thai and he shook my hand a few times (Thai men love shaking westerner’s hands, like every handshake is a “secret handshake”), then he asked me if I knew where we were going. I had no idea. We’d tried to find it on Google Maps based on the little bit of information we had about the location but what we found seemed unlikely. Yo tried to describe to me which way to go and I laughed while telling him, “I live in Pattaya, I don’t know my way around Bangkok.” I pulled out my phone and got on Google Maps to try to see if he could just drop a pin near where the location is but that was no good. So I told him to come outside and see if the location that Kevin had found before was even close, so Yo followed me outside and excitedly met Jai Dee and Kevin as we all peered into the illuminated face of the phone.
At long last I simply asked Yo if he was driving. He confirmed that he was and I offered to just follow him in our car. Chai! (“yes!”) he said and assured me he’d drive slowly – or rather, that he wouldn’t drive reo reo (“fast”). Katy and Tu got in the back of our car with Kevin and Jai Dee in the front and me driving. A whole entourage from Master Toddy’s Gym came out to the street and asked Katy where we were going, but none of us knew. They needed to tell the cab something in order to get there. In the process of needing to turn his car around so I could follow him out, Yo ended up inviting the whole group into his car and off we all went like a little caravan to the fights.
It was remarkably easy to follow Yo. I’ve only followed maybe a handful of people in my time here in Thailand but my experience has been that folks do not alter their driving at all to accommodate a second car in tow. Changing lanes without any kind of warning – turning without any forewarning – and driving much faster than I can (literally, my motorbike cannot keep up) have been the norm. But Yo was very aware of me and gave me warning before every exit, as well as seeming to slow down when a car would cut between us. This isn’t a small thing when I don’t even have the name of a venue to ask for directions if we get separated, and only being able to speak Thai and not being sure if I know what the hell he’s saying if I had to call him for help!
When we pulled up to the venue it was this huge white building, all lit up through the slats at the top, looking like “Thunderdome.” It was weirdly impenetrable (we walked all the way around it, trying different entrances and none actually accessed the top level of the building) and there were a few arches here and there that looked like wedding decorations. Then when we found the entrance there was a ceremony going on that prevented us from entering at all, so we just waited at the bottom of some stairs for a while before Yo could get us permitted to enter as “Fighter, plus one,” or so it seemed. There was also a stray dog that was way into Jai Dee, following us around the whole building like Golem, but way more conspicuously. Jai Dee was also way into the dog, so I was basically dragging him behind me and trying to act like it was no big deal to let my dog into the building with us, “but that other dog isn’t with us,” kind of thing.
Inside was very cool though. All the way up the stairs were a few more dogs, so clearly no big deal that Jai Dee got in. I’d not known what my name was on the fight card – I thought I was replacing Emma but then there was also Sarah, who technically Katy was replacing – and at the top of the stairs these two men with a program in hand started grilling me and Katy about who we were. Katy doesn’t speak a lot of Thai and wasn’t sure (or very keen on) what was going on. I pointed to the two names (in Thai) on the card that said Emma and Sarah, then just vaguely pointed to me and Katy so they could decide which was which. The guy with the program turned to two Thai girls behind him, one quite a bit bigger than I am and the other much smaller. He pointed to the bigger one, then to me. I nodded, smiled, and said hello to her. The smaller one was quite small, maybe the weight I fight when I cut down. It was left up in the air who Katy was meant to fight, since the bigger one was for me and Katy is bigger than both of us. Then this guy kept asking me over and over again if I was Emma and I became concerned, so I went to find Yo. When he appeared and he and the guy with the program started saying the numbers “2” and “3,” I realized they were talking about the fight order. Oh! Yes, sure, I’ll fight as the second fight of the night. No problem.
Getting Ready – The Groove of Experience
I love arriving and fighting right away, so I was happy about the position of fighting second on the card. I sat down and started taping my hands. I’ve never done it before, but I’ve seen it done a million times now and was pretty impressed by how well I could get the tape fitted with only one hand working on the other. Then I wrapped with regular cloth wraps I used for training over that. It felt awesome and I was proud of myself, but these Thai gamblers came over to laugh at me, thinking it was just hilarious that I was wrapping my own hands. They even goaded Kevin, asking him why he doesn’t help me, but Kevin doesn’t speak Thai so he just shook his head and then yelled at me for not “helping him” to understand. “They’re being jerks, Kevin, you don’t have to respond in any way other than that you don’t understand.” I pretend not to speak Thai when I think someone is just trying to tease, which happens a lot, and generally they walk away. What’s funny is that there are Thai fighters who show up to fights alone or with only their buddy and wrap their own hands. It’s generally a sign of experience. Maybe seeing a falang do it is just silly though.
I could tell that Tu was feeling at odds with himself. He wanted to be able to help me as my corner and have some kind of responsibility in the situation, but he also didn’t know for sure how to wrap another person’s hands, so he just watched me for a minute before reasoning that he ought to find out if I need to wear shorts from the production and went off to ask. Once Katy was changed into her shorts and finished talking on her phone to a few more people from the gym who were trying to find the venue, she sat down to have her hands wrapped by Tu. He did so studiously and didn’t do badly, but certainly the lack of experience and practice was frustrating for both him and Katy – Katy because she just wants to focus on her fight and not have to deal with things being wonky and Tu because he’s a fighter and a dude and kind of assumes he should know how to do this stuff. Here’s the thing – you see it done so many times but that doesn’t mean it makes sense when you try to do it yourself. I can wrap my own hands because I do so three times every day; but reverse that to the mirror image of someone else’s hand and I’m not sure. Like tying a necktie on yourself but getting scrambled when it’s on someone else.
The first fight started and Tu was still working on Katy’s second hand. I went and got my own gloves, then softly suggested that maybe we could get my gloves on in case there was a KO. Thankfully, Katy’s fight had been moved to the 4th of the card, so we had a bit more time between. Tu gave me an oil massage and I put Vaseline on my own face, then we put on my gloves. He was going through the right order of things in tying the laces on the gloves, putting a loop over the top part and pulling down to get all the padding pressed into the wrist and off the knuckles, but he couldn’t figure out why the laces wouldn’t slide down properly. First off, it’s because it’s not easy to do. Seasoned pros have to take a few shots at it, usually. Second, he knew how to twist the laces around themselves, which you do before tying the knot, but you do this in order to stop the laces from being able to loosen, so you if you do it before trying to tighten the knot it simply won’t slide. I told him to put one lace under the other like tying a shoe first, then slide, then do the twist. He did so and it worked. Tu shook his head and apologized. But it was actually a good way to keep my head straight, helping him while he helped me so that I didn’t have time to be at all perturbed by the chaos that’s always around fights. As long as the glove stays on, the job is well done.
In the Ring
Two Brits had been promised on the card, so while neither I nor Katy are from the UK (Katy is Canadian, I’m from the US) we both wore a Union Jack flag on our shoulders as we entered the ring. It’s just meant to be emblematic of our foreignness, not really so much the UK in particular. It was a promise by the promoter and wearing the flag was important to show he delivered, so I didn’t mind at all. My opponent and I got in the ring and took our bows, then stood in our corners for a million years while the head-honchos who sit on the stage had a speech at the podium, a lot of clapping, and two fellows taking a ceremonial bang on a drum. All the while different fellows were snapping pictures of me on their cell phones and it began to rain outside, which actually made the ring very cold. Tu told me to “stay warm” and I moved around, trying to keep my right elbow loose as I somehow have injured it recently and it has a jolting pain like hyper-extension when I throw a right cross out of nowhere.
When my opponent and I finally came together in the center of the ring for the ref’s instructions, I realized how huge she was. The fight card said 52 kg, but that seemed like a very low estimate now. We’ve figured from talking to Emma that she was at least 55 and very well may have been much more. She hadn’t seemed so big when I first saw her on the mat but now she just seemed immense. Too late to worry about that now, I guess.
I was a little thrown by her size and, even though I knew in my mind that I wanted to stay close to her the whole fight, I spent the first round backing up and got steamrolled a few times by her flurries. I blocked a few kicks but otherwise didn’t have much going for me in that first round. In the second round she came out hard but I started standing in more and clinched her. Once my knees got going things changed, but she had felt me back up in the first round and knew that her forward windmill punches had an effect, so she did it again. In my head it got a little slow-motion at times and those windmill punches were cartoonishly funny. At the same time, she was trying to end me! I landed some more knees and she came at me with some elbows. I think it was the second round, but maybe third – haven’t watched the video yet – and I answered with big right elbow that I believe landed. I couldn’t tell how hard but her response was to bounce away from me like a speed bag. It may have been best elbow I’ve thrown in a fight melee and it felt really good and she stopped her elbows immediately after.
By the third round I knew she was tired. I just went in and tried to finish her with knees. I’d landed a few on her face (starting from round 1, actually) and dug a few good ones into her body, but my hips weren’t going out and in enough to really have good force. Nonetheless, she felt like she just would not die. She was so tough, coming back at me and going as hard as she could no matter how many times I kneed her or turned her head down. Finally she couldn’t answer anymore and the ref stopped the fight. She didn’t protest. I was impressed she kept going for so long, like a tank closing in on me!
After the fight I got a lot of love from the audience and a few young girls in the area where the other fighters were gave me very glowing smiles. I’m not sure ever how I come off to young female Thais but usually there is a very strange (and enjoyable) gravitation toward me. I dig it, I just don’t understand it totally. A few of the guys who were with the Master Toddy Gym introduced themselves to me as readers of my blog or followers of my page and that was very cool to meet them. I recognized Tyler’s name on my page immediately after meeting him and the other fellow I have unfortunately conflated as either Paul or Peter (the venue was loud at the time he introduced himself), but he was very nice as well.
I watched Katy’s fight, which was fantastic and I lost my voice in the process of cheering for her. She won and everyone was very happy as we chatted afterwards. Emma had arrived just in time for Katy’s fight and we got to talk about my opponent together, who it turned out was Emma’s most recent opponent, who she knocked out with a beautiful right cross (and head kick). I told the promoter I would love to fight for him again and he happily hugged me and enthusiastically confirmed that we have each other’s contact info. Then we drove Emma and Tu back to the gym before heading home to Pattaya. With Emma in the car I felt more sure than I probably would have otherwise to send a message to Phetjee Jaa’s mom, Tawan, letting her know that I would meet them in the morning to head to another fight the very next day. I’d been mulling it over and considered the possibility if I wasn’t hurt from this one. But my friendship with Emma seemed to infuse my gumption a little something extra. I hope we get to fight on the same card some day. I’ll lose my shit cheering for her in the ring.