October 26, 2014 – Rayong, Thailand –
This was a “match up” fight in Rayong. I’d fought the night before in Bangkok for my 90th fight, got home to Pattaya at about 2:00 AM, fell asleep by around 3:00 and was up again at 5:00 to go meet the O. Meekhun Gym and ride in the truck out to Rayong for these fights. I was definitely exhausted, but had decided the night before that the opportunity to fight twice in 24 hours was pretty unusual, so I’d like to give it a try. I do have a policy to make decisions before going to bed and stick to them when I get up – deciding when it’s time to get up will usually just result in cancellation. While I was feeling pretty tired and uncertain whether or not I’d even be matched, I was happy to be riding out to the unknown in the bed of Sangwean’s truck with Jai Dee in my arms and Kevin next to me while all the little kids piled in to the cab of the truck.
Me and Jai Dee catching some sleep on the ride out to Rayong. He’d had a late night with us out in Bangkok also.
We drove for about 2 hours and then arrived at a ring that was set up right along a small two-lane street. There was a big market on the next cross street and a few pedestrians from there had meandered over to the lot where the ring was to check it out. There were quite a few comments along the line of mee falang duay (“they have westerners along with them”) as we pulled in and only Kevin and I were visible since we were in the back of the truck. But once the group of kids had piled out of the car and we all headed over to the scale that was set up next to the ring I was less noticeable.
There were quite a few hopefuls there, mostly little kids around 8-12 years old and a few older than that. I only saw one other girl there, but she didn’t look like a fighter. We lined up and one-by-one stood on the digital bathroom scale, then the number was called out and a man to the left scrawled the number on the left forearm in permanent blue ink.
We all waited at the back of the crowd while the line moved over the scale. I saw one woman who was very thin and looked older than I am – maybe in her early or mid thirties. But after about 20 minutes there suddenly seemed to be lots of young women and they were all within my fighting weight range. We saw one who Kevin and I nicknamed the “Thai RENA,” after the Japanese fighter who this girl kind of resembled slightly, more in her coolness and being pretty than actual features.
That was the girl Sangwean wanted me to fight. He called her down from where she was standing on this platform and she took one look at me and said she was gluua (“scared”). She did get it together and came down to stand next to me once. We were similar in height and she weighed 50 kg, but her overall demeanor was suggestive of her being the most experienced and kind of the one in her group who might be the best fighter. I don’t know, this is just what Kevin and I thought and discussed based on her general aura, or whatever. The announcer on the microphone got all the female fighters to stand on this platform first, so the crowd could get a look at us and match us up. All the girls were from one school, so it was pretty much me against any one of them (the smallest was 50 kg, the biggest 55 kg) or this other older Thai lady I’d seen weigh in, but she was the smallest at 40 kg. The girls clearly didn’t want to fight me. Probably none of them had ever fought a westerner and were nervous about that in general. The shortest one was kind of the joker of the group and she started doing this inching away thing where none of them would stand too close to me, then shove someone else toward me. They did a “one, two, three then hop back” kind of thing that was funny, then pointed to me and this 40 kg woman who wasn’t part of their group and all started clapping, clearly imitating what the gamblers do when a match has been made. It was cute, but I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to get to fight. Nonetheless, I was very happy to have come out, even just to experience this madness. For more on this scenario of the match up read my post On Being a Ringer.
The gamblers and coaches saw that the match wasn’t going to be made at this point with all the girls jumping around. Two had gone over to the 40 kg girl and asked her how many fights she had. She said 25, which they didn’t like but she added that she “loses a lot.” They liked that and then asked her to punch their hands to test out her strength. This little hustler punched like a complete limp noodle and one of the girls arranged herself next to her and hugged her, like, “okay, I’ll take this match.” The younger girl had a 10 kg weight advantage in that option and it was not a match the crowd went for.
So we got off the platform and a row of young boys went up. Maybe 25 kg or so. There were these two little boys holding hands, one looking very nervous. It was so sweet, these two holding hands, that I had to film it. It was only after I’d done so that I realized that any two boys who were matched then locked hands and were guided through the crowd and under an awning to give their names to the secretaries, thus being put on the card. These little boys I filmed were either holding hands because they were friends and wanted to be matched together (who doesn’t prefer fighting a friend?) or because they were just nervous and needed a little contact support. Neither got matched. But I did think to myself that my first experience of warming up next to my opponent in Thailand had seemed freaky to my western sentiments. Imagine holding your opponent’s hand before your fight, eh?
When the little one with the huge teeth that had been holding his friend’s hand got off the platform he took a seat up on the ring next to me. He stared at me for a little bit, then started calling, “Bpee! Bpee!” (“older sister/brother”, an informal catch-all title) and when I looked at him he asked me who I’d been matched with. I told him I hadn’t and he then relayed this information to a woman who was sitting across from both of us and had certainly heard me also. It was very cute. He wanted me to get matched, I guess. As I was standing here the coach of the gaggle of girls came over with Sangwean (my coach/ Jee Jaa’s father) and there seemed to be an agreement that I’d fight the biggest of his girls, who was 55 kg. I was a little unclear about it but Sangwean asked if it was okay – I told him I want to fight and it’s just up to him – and then told me to give him 500 Baht. I didn’t know what that as for. I thought at first I had to pay this girl to fight me; then I thought it was the smallest side bet ever; then I realized it’s the guarantee you give to the promoter, almost like a deposit, when you get your name put in for the card. So we walked over together (not holding hands) and gave our names to the two ladies who wrote identical copies of the fight card. Each fighter’s name, then the money (in total) given as deposit. Almost every fight was the 1,000 Baht that we were giving. Sangwean gave my name as “hak-da-noi”, which would be “Hulk the Little,” which I corrected to just be “hak noi” and dropped the “the”. When they announced it before my fight though it was nit noi, which means “a little bit.” Sigh… eventually it will be right.
I was happy to be matched. Sangwean led me over to where the kids were already sitting on the mats and chowing down on grilled chicken and sticky rice. I went and got the same for myself and Jai Dee. The vendor I bought my water from, as well as the vendor of the chicken, asked if I’d been matched and both expressed their excitement to see me fight. That was pretty cool. The guy I call “Grandpa” from the gym who corners for me came and got me, dragging me over to the area under the tent again but I didn’t understand why. There was another non-Thai guy there and I slowly realized they wanted me to act as translator: “where are you from and how many fights do you have?” were the main pieces of information they wanted. He was from Jordan and had no Muay Thai fights, but had a vague background in western boxing. I was kind of proud being the translator there.
Back at the mats the coach of my opponent came over after wrapping her hands (already??) and started telling me, in broken English, how he would train me for free at his school. I told him I lived in Pattaya, too far from Rayong, but he didn’t care. He said he used to train Kaensak and Yodsanklai. I told him I knew Kaensak and had trained with him in New Jersey, which this guy got very excited about and asked me to give him a message. I wrote his name in English on the tablet of one of the young fighters who wouldn’t fight me – she kept smiling at me, she was very sweet – so they could find him on Facebook when they had internet. I took a photo with the coach and sent it to Kaensak, who confirmed that “Uncle Somsak” had been in his corner from when he was 13 years old all the way until his final fight in Thailand. Pretty fucking sweet to make connections like that across the globe.
My opponent got completely wrapped and oiled and changed by the first hour after we’d been matched. It seemed early to me, but I also didn’t know when we were fighting. We’d matched up at about 10:00 AM and the fights were to start around 11:00 AM. She was even drinking an M-150 energy drink, which seemed a terrible idea without knowing when she’d be in the ring. Sure enough it was about 4:00 PM before we actually fought. That’s enough time to get over whatever crash she might have experienced from the sugar and caffeine, but certainly that drink was no longer helping by that time.
There were four other fighters from our gym matched. Two kids whose names I don’t know – one very new to Muay Thai and maybe 12 years old, one who used to fight then stopped and is coming back to it (he has 50 fights) and is the same age – little Oo (10 years old, 5-6 fights now) and Mawin. The 50 fights kid gassed out early and lost on points. The newer kid got stopped in the 1st round and apparently didn’t have much ring presence, so he got the piss taken out of him by our corner for a while. Poor kid. I wanted to tell him “it’s okay,” but he’s got to experience this part of it – he’s Thai, he knows the culture – and it will be forgotten soon enough. Oo won on points and had a weird attitude about it all when he got back to the mats. He’s very talented, way better than his experience should allow, but it seems like he’s not as enthusiastic as he was maybe 3 months ago. He’s 10; he’ll have many phases. Mawin and I were fights 22 and 24 of the day. I’d been napping on the mats and felt refreshed after each time I woke up, but then would feel the sleepiness of having not slept the night before and traveling so much creep back up. I wasn’t feeling all excited to get in the ring; I wondered if I would feel fatigued in there. But I hadn’t taken the fight because I thought I’d win – I took it because it was a unique experience and whether I was tired or feeling great had nothing to do with that. I wanted to fight two fights back to back, winning or losing had nothing to do with it. Besides, I thought, if I’d taken the day “off” as usual I would probably be doing exactly what I was doing now, just indoors and with Channel 7 Muay Thai fights on in the background instead of the live show right in front of me. Seemed like a good enough rest day to be here on the mat.
Sangwean and Grandpa were clearly going to bet on me. They told me to play it cool for two rounds, then knock her out. I’m simply not a good enough fighter yet to be able to do this – the taking rounds off part. If I start slow, I’ll probably stay slow. I get where they’re coming from. In my last fight with them in my corner I’d faced a really good opponent who had 5:1 odds on me. In the first round I’d been kicked around a bit, which probably made buying bets for me pretty inexpensive, but midway through the round I clinched her and crushed her to the ground. The crowd saw how strong I was and all the money shifted sides and the odds went out the window. Sangwean and Grandpa had pulled the pin on a grenade and launched it into the ring, waiting to be the only ones knowing it would go off in the 3rd round and rain down money. I’d shown my strength too soon and everybody saw the grenade. So they’re trying to get me to help them make more money on odds that can’t favor me when I’m 7 kg (15.4 lbs) lighter than my opponent. In an effort to just let them know what I’m going to do and let them place whatever bets they want, I said I wasn’t going to “take the first two” easy. I just can’t. I was tired from the lack of sleep, the long travel, having fought the night before against an even bigger opponent, etc. Grandpa nodded thoughtfully when I explained all this.
When I got into the ring it was announced that my fight was only 3 rounds. Well, that settled it. No way I could throw out two of the three rounds. I went in strong and tried to stay close. I knew the size difference would disappear in the clinch but this girl was great at tagging me with long kicks. She wasn’t as experienced as most of the opponents I’m used to facing are, but it’s a typical exchange to have the size advantage vs. the experience advantage. It wasn’t until quite recently that I had the experience advantage – I was always smaller and less experienced. But the difference in experience was very evident here. I really respected that she was fighting me when all her friends wouldn’t. She also kept trying to hurt me with kicks, which was awesome. My shins are just too sharp and I win every shin clash – ever – so when I started blocking she became less interested in the kicks. She did this amazing spinning thing a few times though, something that is unwise to be sure, spinning all the way around off of missed kicks. But she was handling it with intention.
Between rounds 1 and 2 Grandpa and Sangwean asked me excitedly if I thought I could knock her out. I reckoned I could. There must have been some money being thrown around on the particular bet of a KO on this fight because my second round was only 1 minute and 12 seconds long. You’ll see rounds go long when they’re looking for a KO, so surely a shortened round is to avoid one. She was ready to quit by round 3 and the referee made the call after she turned her back and literally ran away. I went over to “Uncle Somsak” and paid my respects. He was clearly very unhappy with the situation, but he patted me on the shoulder and gave me a “good job” kind of thing. My opponent and I each got a yellow gift-wrapped package (mine is a hot water dispenser) and a T-shirt. Then the 1,000 Baht we’d paid to fight was given back to us and divided between the camps. As the victory my ka-dtua (“body price” or fight money) was 600 Baht and having lost hers was 400 Baht. It was that way with the other kids of the camp as well. Curious.
The end of the video when we’re walking through the crowd you see a guy in a polkadot shirt. That’s “Uncle Somsak,” the former trainer of Kaensak and the coach of my opponent. I didn’t see it at the time because I was walking in front but both Sangwean and this lady who is the mother of one of the kids at the gym put their hands on Somsak in a respectful but also comforting manner. He called me the next night and told me again that I could come train with him for free. He’s very far away from where I live, so it’s not something I can do, but it’s a nice connection through Kaensak and a nice offer, for sure.
Mawin fought after me and won against a taller, heavier opponent. Then we all piled back into the truck and headed back to Pattaya. I felt more awake than I had earlier in the day and the sun was getting low, making the ride back really beautiful. I calculated out that I’d fought twice in about 15 hours, which is pretty cool. It seemed reasonable enough of an experience and it turns out I’ll be doing it again in this coming month. If I can do it once, certainly I can do it again. When we got close to Pattaya all the kids came back out of the cab of the truck (they’d started out the journey back home with us, since we were wet and covered in boxing oil it seemed that they weren’t allowed in the car, but it started to rain a bit and they all went inside). Phetjee Jaa loves Jai Dee and she hugged him and rubbed her face into his neck for a bit, then he played the gentle hand-biting game and finally fell asleep with his head on her lap. She thought that was like a magic trick, as her dogs don’t sleep with them. As we were riding along the last stretch of highway that leads to the gym and their home, the kids all sang in unison some Thai hit song I almost recognized and then “One More Night” by Maroon 5. It was remarkable how they would transition from the chorus in English, which they knew the words to, and then nonsensical approximations of what they thought the rest of the lyrics were but not English or Thai words, but they all made the same nonsensical words together. They’re very sweet kids. I feel lucky to be able to have these experiences with them, wedged somewhere both on the inside and the outside of their world.
Post-Fight Video Update
Complete Fight Record