full fight video above
November 6, 2014 – Prachinburi, Loi Krathong Festival
This fight was sponsored by my GoFundMe supporter Minu Oh, who has supported me with immensely kind words as well as financing the travel to fights. This one was really far away and a lot of fun. Thank you so much Minu!
I fought the night before this in Sattahip, which was also a Loi Krathong festival fight. So I pretty much celebrated the three day holiday by fighting through most of it. I met up with O. Meekhun at the gym and then we followed them in our rental car while all the kids piled into the bed of Sangwean’s truck. I had no idea where this fight was, but I’d been told by Phetjee Jaa’s parents that it was about 100 km away, so we figured maybe an hour and a half drive.
We followed behind the truck and in traffic we could see Phetjee Jaa and Mawin joking with the other kids, as well as Jee Jaa smiling at me, kind of bringing me into whatever jokes they were having in the back of the truck. At one point we pulled up next to an enormous truck that had “TWINS” gear all over it, suggesting what was inside. We all looked at it in awe for a second, then Jee Jaa and I made eye contact through my windshield and we both smiled.
At a few points in the drive we went through rain and the first time around almost all the kids piled into the cab of the truck, leaving only three or four persons outside who wouldn’t be fighting. Gotta keep those fighters dry! What was amazing about this ride out was that it seemed so endless. Part of that was that my mom, Kevin and I had been driving a lot over the last week, going up to Buriram for a fight on the 1st, then driving through Isaan for a short vacation, then back to Pattaya and a drive out to Sattahip on the 5th and now back in the car for over 2 hours on the 6th. But we also had no idea where we were going, which can make trips seem quite long. The moon was this huge spotlight in the sky (Loi Krathong coincides with a full moon) and we kept passing by festival lights outside of temples. Each time there was this little leap in the heart that we might be there, but then we’d just pass right by it.
After 2 hours we pulled into a gas station and everyone piled out to use the restroom. Jee Jaa B-lined over to Jai Dee and started playing with him. I asked if she was going into the restroom and she shook her head, so I handed her Jai Dee’s leash (he was attached to it) and she very happily started parading him around. (Recently she had a fight all the way up in Phayao, which is north of Chiang Mai – it’s a 15 hour drive or so; they took their little dog Maroy with them, something that I have absolutely no doubt is influenced by how we take Jai Dee everywhere with us. The pictures of Jee Jaa holding the little Shih Tzu in her arms while they stop along the way to temples and pose next to landmarks is just so awesome. She needs to have a dog with her. It’s good for her.) It became evident quite quickly that this last little pit stop was actually in preparation for our imminent arrival at the festival. It’s a good idea to use the restroom first – they’re always inconveniently located and over-demanded at these events – but there was a lot of primping going on as well. That’s very, very Thai and it’s a cultural trait that’s strong with the O. Meekhun family. They’re very aware of and sensitive to appearances. The whole family dresses up for fights and Jee Jaa’s face is powdered before fights, her hair combed this way and that before leaving the privacy of the car. She tolerates it really well right now, but she’s 12. Give her a couple years and the occasional eye-roll will certainly be a greater objection.
Before the fights started we found our way through the crowd to the ring, which was tucked back behind a fence (admission was charged, which is unusual for festival fights) and between some big chedis at the temple. It was a very cool little space. I noted – and maybe this is only interesting to someone living in Thailand for a few years – that the signs on the doors all used the masculine polite particle “krap,” whereas probably 99% of signs out in the general public use the feminine “ka”. That’s interesting to me because it assumes that most signs, things like “next counter, please,” or “please don’t flush anything down the toilet,” or “thanks for your custom” all assume a feminine speaker. The signs I was seeing were similar, indicating to use a different door or to please keep this area clean, etc. but because it’s a temple and monks are all male, the speaker is, of course, male. It stands out for standing out, rather than actually being meaningful in a big way.
One of the kids with us was a replacement for Oo, a 10-year-old who fights for O. Meekhun but has recently become disinterested in Muay Thai. I asked Jee Jaa where he was and she lowered her voice and leaned in toward me, saying kee giat (“lazy”) with a disapproving, slightly gossip-infused tone. Apparently Oo just doesn’t want to train right now; he was supposed to fight tonight but because he’s not training he stayed home and this kid was brought in his stead. So he had to go line up with his opponent and get a thumbs up from the promoter and both gyms. After that I was brought over to see my opponent, who was having her hands wrapped. She smiled at me and stood up so we could stand shoulder to shoulder. She was significantly bigger than her photo on the poster suggested and I’d been told she was 46 kg, but I never believe that stuff anyway. She was closer to my weight than most of my opponents are, even if a little taller then I.
We couldn’t figure out who Jee Jaa’s opponent was though. There was a group of girls near us, one of whom was clearly getting ready to fight and another who had her hair in a fight-ready style but she was wearing a kind of ruffly, off-shoulder top. Fighters do that sometimes, which I find funny, wearing dresses or kind of fancy clothes that they change out of in order to fight. The girl getting ready to fight went in to the ring quickly and annihilated her opponent, throwing her to the ground and raining these bizarre elbows down on her – like, praying mantis style downward elbows with zero power or cutting ability but certainly freaking the hell out of her opponent. The fight was stopped in round 2, I think. The girl who won was making googly eyes at Jee Jaa all night and wiggled her way to the front of the crowd to watch when Jee Jaa entered the ring for her fight. She clearly loves Phetjee Jaa and is in awe of her like a fan-club fan watching a concert. I don’t blame her, but she’s a pretty awesome little fighter herself!
Fire Balloons for Loi Krathong
My mom was really into coming out for Loi Krathong because she had all these visions of lanterns floating over her like the scene in the movie “Tangled.” Unfortunately, the lanterns are more of a northern celebration (Yi Peng) that coincides with Loi Krathong and the expectations she had are hard to find regardless. There were “fire balloons” at the festival and before my hands were wrapped we snuck out into the crowds and sent up two lanterns. I showed my mom how to unfold the paper lantern and hold it while I lit the little ring at the bottom, so that the fire would fill the paper with hot air. A drunken man tried to assist us, which was actually kind of sweet in a way but certainly not desired. The lantern started to tug at my mom’s fingers and with that she let it go, pushing it up a bit until it rose on its own and alighted into the sky, climbing higher into the darkness. My mom watched it with a little smile on her face, until it was just a tiny dot. Then we lit a second one and as that one narrowly avoided getting caught in a tree and then scaled into the sky, my mom let out a howl after it to express her inner feelings at the experience. That scared the hell out of a couple of young Thai guys who were hanging out and looking cool on their parked motorbikes – definitely NOT a Thai custom to howl at the sky – but that’s my mom. They got to see a wild animal for a second. Then Mawin appeared and ushered us back to the mats to wrap my hands.
The Pressure to Hustle
Sangwean was making a big deal about me pretending to suck at Muay Thai for the first round. My fight was only scheduled to be four rounds, which is unusual, and I argued back at him that I’m just not skilled enough as a fighter to dick around for a couple rounds and then turn it around. He wants this for gambling purposes and Phetjee Jaa knows how to do it brilliantly; she’s become skilled in this little hustle as much as she’s skilled in the clinch. That’s not me though. As I’ve done before I tell him that I’m going from bell one and he should place his bets accordingly. That way he can still gamble but knows that I’m not playing along with whatever hustle there is going.
We all went up to the ring together for my fight, my mom standing a few feet back with Kevin behind the corner. Within 20 seconds of the fight I hit my opponent in the face with a punch that knocked her back; she was tough and nodded in response, bracing herself to come back. She was a very cool fighter and I respect her a great deal for the ways she responded to being challenged in the fight, basically girding herself and launching back in. But from my end, I could feel from that first strike landing that I could probably land anything I wanted and she just didn’t have the power to hurt me or the skill to evade me. So I slowed down and tried to pick shots better, learn from this opportunity to try things out. Prior to the end of round 3 I hit her in the face with my knee, right on the mouth. She wasn’t wearing a mouthguard (Thais don’t like to wear them and if it’s not regulated almost universally choose not to) and her tooth cut my knee. She spit blood for the rest of the fight and I wasn’t sure if that was demonstrative or just unconscious on her part. By the end of round 4 she was running from me, all the way to her corner. I decided not to do the “dance off” to eat up the rest of the time but rather kind of pinned her to her corner in a way and we finished out the fight that way.
After the fight I didn’t feel great about it. I shook my head at my mom, who was inspired by the performance as a whole as I’m sure my dominance was thrilling for her and she’d watched me in the ring two nights in a row. This girl wasn’t a bad fighter and she stood in there and threw what she had, but in this case the difference in our ring experience was too much. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to try things out in a fight, something that isn’t always an option if an opponent is much bigger or putting you in danger or difficult positions all the time. I know I grew a lot from this fight by slowing down and being able to try things out because I knew she couldn’t hurt me. But I wasn’t happy with that fight because I felt the match was largely made in the interest of a hustle – Sangwean knew I could destroy that girl and wanted me to play like it was a much better match than it was. That’s what bothered me about it. I want to be truly challenged, not play the part of being challenged. Keeping her in the corner for the last part of the fight was one part resistance to my gym, who I knew wanted me to knock her out, and one part mercy because that opponent did the best she could under the circumstances. I’ve been her in my fights before.
If you fight a lot, if you fight with gambling, if you fight in Thailand, if you fight in America, if you fight at all, there are going to be mismatches at times. Gyms will look to have an edge and they’ll look to have an advantage, and sometimes that means the disparity between fighters is greater than what makes for great fights. This girl wasn’t a bad fighter, she was just inexperienced and it wasn’t a good match for either of us, even though we both came out of it having gained something from it.
What’s interesting about this, for me, is that this fight is not an unusual experience for a lot of fighters, but it’s anachronistic. I took boxing for a short time back in the US. This was during my year long, 6-fight losing streak. My coach, Ray Velez, told Kevin that I needed to pick my fights (I never have picked my fights) in order to build my confidence. In the development of a fighter, whether it’s through fights or just having a really good system of sparring and training at a gym, that fighter learns dominance by dominating training partners or opponents who are smaller, less skilled, less experienced… any of those things. Phetjee Jaa learned how to play the hustle that she’s so good at by fighting opponents – at times – who she had no risk of losing to. I never had this, and so I learned on a very, very slow growth process how to scrape my advantages together. That’s not a “poor Sylvie” statement – I love the way I’ve been brought up – but it means that having these fights now feels out of time with where I am. I do need to learn dominance, just as all fighters do, to smell the blood in the water and go after it. I’ve had to learn that being bettered won’t make my opponent stop and in turn I have to teach this lesson to my training partners in those rare moments when I’m dominating. All that said, by refusing to participate in the hustle that my coach wants in order to be able to clean up on gambling, I’m forcing him to find another way to make money on me. Most of the gamblers who make money on me do so when I beat bigger opponents, because the odds are steep and there’s actual risk involved. As a result, all Sangwean’s insurance comes from how he trains me, and not in how he matches me. No shortcuts. Do the work.