December 5th, 2014 – Hua Hin – King’s Birthday Celebration – full fight video above
This fight is dedicated to my friend from Chiang Mai, Pi Eh Paweena. She’s been in my corner for a long time, both coming to my fights and supporting me as a friend and burgeoning fan of Muay Thai. I was nonetheless shocked when Pi Eh donated financially to my GoFundMe campaign to help get me to fights – thanks so much Paweena!
It’s the fifth round of my fight, I know I’ve just won the fourth round and my corner, Modt Ek, is blowing in my ears and telling me that I just have to walk through this round. Of all the people I could have in my corner right now, Modt Ek is way up there in terms of someone who appreciates my fighting style and works with it rather than against it, and his approach to advice works well for me. But I’m conflicted. I know I won the fourth round but I could easily mess up the fifth by being complacent – I’ve lost fights in the fifth just like this before – so I’m telling myself that I haven’t won yet and I still have to work to win this fight. I can’t just run in this round – it’s a Thai strategy, but it doesn’t work well for me. So I fortify myself and stand up off the bench. Modt Ek puts my mouthpiece in and takes each of my legs up into the crook of his arm for a little stretch, then wrenches my shorts up and I struggle with my gloved hands to pull them back down a bit as I walk into the center of the ring. The referee orders me and my opponent to hug before the bell rings and then it’s on. My opponent comes out hard and I push back harder. All I’m thinking is that I have to push all the way to the last bell and that’s what I’m doing, clinching and kneeing while my opponent fades. And then I feel a sharp pain on my left bicep; it’s only for a moment and my mind only registers it, I don’t even really respond at all. My opponent just bit me.
…But let me start at the very beginning. This fight was for His Majesty the King’s birthday and was held in Hua Hin, a district across the gulf of Thailand from where I live in Pattaya and a place I’ve never been. Obnoxiously, Pattaya and Hua Hin are on the ends of a crescent shape around the gulf of Thailand, so a ferry would be a short little trip over the water, but driving is this super long trip around the edge of the country.
The drive took us just over 5 hours in the outgoing direction. Hua Hin is actually a really sweet town, at least the part of it we saw while driving in. The main drag is very beachy and the yellow “Christmas Lights” that I associate with December in the US are strung up all over the place for the King’s Birthday all during December here in Thailand. It’s really beautiful. We drove over these flat but somewhat winding roads through the traffic of the town and our GPS led us directly to the school where the fights were being held. Modt Ek – a per diem trainer at Petchrungruang Gym, who I have taken as my corner for both the Queen’s and now the King’s Birthday shows – chose our parking spot and then jumped out, saying to me, “Lay-dee, gin kaew!” (He calls me “Lady” because he can’t remember my name and told me I had to eat straight away.) We worked our way past the food stalls on the outside of the gate, the food of which was unsuitable for eating before a fight (it’s mostly fried, hotdog-like meat balls) and into the sea of yellow inside. The King’s color is yellow, as he was born on a Monday and that’s Monday’s color (the Queen is light blue; the Princess is purple) , so everyone wears a yellow shirt.
To the left of where we entered there was a huge stage with a large crowd seated in front of it. They were going through some opening ceremony that sounded quite official. The ring was right behind that and I could see my own picture on the bottom of the fight poster – that’s a great sign, means we’re definitely in the right place! I was looking for the restroom and Modt Ek directed me to try over by this area that looked like a canteen for the school. As I followed him I looked into the open-area cafeteria where only a few people were seated, eating, and happened to see the promoter who got me the fight, Yo. We both exploded into our sawatdee! and wai-ing to each other. Modt Ek looked at me with surprised and I explained this was the promoter, who was now waving us inside. We went in and tucked Jai Dee under the table, made introductions between Yo and Modt Ek, a young woman who was sitting with Yo (she’s one of the students at his gym, but she wasn’t fighting), and were invited to sit down and eat. Modt Ek and Yo talked about me between bites of food – a fried zucchini-like dish, salted and sun-dried mackerel, two different soups, and rice – Modt Ek already bragging to Yo that I’d probably be at training the next day, that not even the boys fight like I do. Yo nodded his head in agreement and added back to Modt Ek that I’m strong and never cancel. It’s not unusual to have Thais talk about you right in front of you as if you’re not there – as my Thai has gotten better I’ve become more aware of how common this is, being able to actually know what my trainers are talking about; or the ladies at the checkout counter talking about you right in front of you… it’s everywhere – but what is unusual is having this talk be positive. I was slightly amazed by it and added when Yo looked at me a phrase that I stole from Phetjee Jaa’s father, Sangwean: “Train a lot, hurt only a little.” It’s something I was writing about for a long time before I ever met him, but it’s a good phrase, meaning that if you train hard your injuries from fights are much smaller. Som yer, jep noi. Yo smiled and repeated it a few times. It’s a good phrase.
It was hot as Hades in the canteen, so after we ate we headed outside to a bench where the air was cooler. We stood for the three Royal Anthems that played (at least one of them is composed by HM the King, who is a talented Jazz musician. Fireworks exploded overhead during some of the songs and some people sang along. The last song to play is the official Royal Anthem, which I can sing along to, and as it ended we all bowed and then went back to whatever we were doing. An intense game (maybe Bingo?) was taking place at some tables over to our left.
A pan around from our standpoint during the fireworks and one of the songs played prior to the show starting.
As Kevin and I were sitting there, watching these little kids run around that couldn’t have been older than 4-7 years old with one tiny 2-year-old latched on to their backs in rotation, my eye caught this pair of westerners walking toward us. I was struck immediately by how huge one of them was. “Kevin, look at this guy,” I said, motioning over to the two, “that one might be bigger than Costa!” Costa is a Russian fellow I trained with up at Lanna over a year ago. He is a very cool guy, just an enormous mountain of calm, cool energy and very nice. As they got closer and I could actually see their faces, I realized it was Costa!
I was so happy to see him. He’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever met in Thailand and here he was, totally unexpectedly. I knew that he’d moved to Hua Hin but had forgotten that fact, so when he walked up I was just mind-blown. He introduced me to his friend Ilya, who took some really great pictures of my fight.
Yo had three fighters from his gym on the card, one young woman (maybe 16-18 years old) and two young men (probably 20 years). I was the first fight of the four of us, but still the 6th fight on the card. The young woman was right after me, then the two men in succession. Yo was already wrapping the young woman’s hands even though the fights hadn’t started yet. He had a lot of work in front of him, so I think he was just getting the ball rolling. Modt Ek sat in a plastic chair, watching Yo’s handwrapping with the wry smile on his face, like slightly amused by the process. I think it felt really good for him to be the most experienced, top-dog corner in this situation. He sat me down to do a big professional wrap on my hands and then used my tape to do some touchups on the young woman Yo had wrapped, stepping in to offer his expertise. It was cool to see and well received by all. He ended up helping out with all their fighters, jumping into the corner to do what he does so well. I think it made a big difference for the feel around everyone’s experience. These fights can be really chaotic when your corner is under-manned or unsure; having someone who takes charge of operations with confidence is really just a game-changer. We were all happy to have Modt Ek to help out and I was proud of being the one who brought him.
Just before I was meant to go into the ring, during the fight right before mine, with my gloves on and taped and everything, my opponent walked by us, having just changed into her fight clothes. Her hands weren’t even wrapped. I think she’d just arrived. She looked small because she was wearing a huge shirt over her shorts (I didn’t realize how tall she was until she got into the ring with me), but she was totally unperturbed by the information that we were the next fight. She just smiled and said she didn’t know that and meandered away to get her hands wrapped and her massage, etc. Yo turned to me and said it was no problem, just relax. Obviously they’d move my fight back. But I was definitely keyed into my opponent’s calmness. That definitely connotes experience, that kind of confidence and cool under any kind of pressure. Good to know.
I had to wait for my opponent in the ring for a few minutes, just standing in my corner waiting for her to literally enter the ring. Our fight had only been pushed back by one, so I guess she was still getting ready as the fight before us ended in a quick knockout. When we were both in the ring there was a pre-fight ceremony where we got garlands from a head-honcho and the unofficial sport mascot of Thailand, “Dodo,” in the red outfit in the picture.
We were each handed 1000 Baht before the fight started, which is a nice bonus. My opponent knew to put it in her mouth for the photo, whereas I avoid money in my mouth if at all possible, so mine is in my glove. We had a female referee, too, which was really cool.
Round 1 she teeped me on the glove touch. This used to really piss me off because it’s such a cheap move and feels unsportsmanlike, but I’ve lost my emotional attachment to it. It’s a fight, it starts when the bell starts and I can respect that she’s getting started immediately. It’s not my style, but it’s not that big of a deal. She came on strong though and I was impressed from the get-go how strong, fast and skilled she was. She was also trying to cut or intimidate me with elbow right off. She had this perfect don’t-give-a-damn attitude that can win fights, performance-wise as opposed to point by point scoring. She was landing kicks that I wasn’t blocking and I wasn’t cutting off the ring well, even though I had her moving backwards most of the time. In Thailand that’s not a problem. You can control and win a fight moving backwards the whole time.
Round 2 onward I tried to clinch more to close off the reach she had on me, but the ref was breaking the clinch super quick, like K-1 quick. That’s a problem for me because I generally do best when I have time to advance my position and change angles in the clinch and I need the clinch to win, but I was able to adapt and start kneeing much faster, allowing me to score before the clinch was broken. But my opponent had this great forward-stepping combination with a one-two-knee. It never landed well enough to hurt me, but I’m sure it was scoring. It looked snazzy.
Round 3 it was still pretty close but I started pulling out ahead near the end by getting stronger and more focused while she seemed to be getting tired. Between rounds Modt Ek said to me that I only had to dominate this one round coming up. I was slightly confused by his instructions and had to clarify that it was a five round fight. He confirmed it was but that if I win round 4 then I win the fight, so just focus on round 4. So I pushed and dominated Round 4 for sure. I was aware of the crowd noise and they were definitely cheering for my opponent and not me, which is to be expected on the King’s Birthday. Watching the video after though I can hear that the announcer is talking about me almost the whole time. I hadn’t noticed at all in the fight. At the end of the round we’re clinching on the ropes (my damn back on the ropes; I need to learn how to turn off quicker) and the referee is trying to break us and my opponent just won’t let go. She won’t get off, trying to take time to rest. At the time I thought she was actually caught on the ropes with how much she was not moving at all. Kevin told me I should have shoved her off, don’t let her rest.
Round 5 she came out hard but didn’t have the energy to maintain. I could feel her getting more tired and there were stretches where I could knee numerous times without her answering at all. I was able to pull her backwards and keep kneeing, almost hitting her face a couple times and the referee was in a position where she couldn’t break it quite as fast. At one point in the clinch my opponent actually bit me. I felt it, a sharp but small, absolutely unmistakeable sensation of being bitten on my left arm. I was sure it happened, but it was so out of context of what I thought was going on that I didn’t have much time to process it. A small part of my mind thought about making a sound and alerting the ref to it, but the larger part of my mind was just focused on the objective at hand, which was to keep kneeing. My opponent started baring her teeth to her corner, which at the time I thought was the most bizarre thing ever – was she telling them she’d bit me? Was she asking if she should bite again? Watching the video afterwards I can’t pin-point the moment when she’s biting me, but she starts pointing to her teeth immediately after and I can see in the video she’s trying to get her corner or the referee to see that she doesn’t have a mouthpiece in and to stop the fight to retrieve it. Honestly, I don’t remember her wearing a mouthpiece to begin with but sometimes they’re super small and clear and it’s hard to tell if someone’s wearing it at all. I’m also so used to my opponents not wearing one that seeing her without it didn’t seem unusual at all. So, I don’t know if they forgot to give it to her in the 5th round, if they chose not to wear it because she was tired (this is super Thai from my experience; the mouthpiece is seen as a hindrance to breathing rather than as protective equipment), or if she never had one to begin with and was just trying to get a break in the 5th.
I knew I’d won that fight at the end of it. That’s a good feeling. I actually forgot about the bite until after the fight when I was talking with Costa and Ilya, taking some pictures and I felt a little sting in my arm. I looked and saw a little ring of toothmarks on my arm. We tried to take a picture but it didn’t really turn out; I took another photo two days later when the bruise showed up. She didn’t break the skin, so I didn’t need to care for it at all. When I showed it to my trainers and told them my opponent bit me there was a fairly common response among all of them, which was a disapproving shake of the head, an understanding explanation that she must have known she was losing and had no chance to win (frustration), and then a joke about Mike Tyson. Almost universal to everyone I spoke to was that order. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about it because it feels so shameful, but folks on my Facebook page who saw the initial picture all sympathized with the frustration one has to feel to bite in a fight, so it’s a common enough feeling if not a common action. And it happened, so it goes in the post. Here’s a photo of right after the fight with the faint toothmarks and then two days later with the bruise:
I was very happy with this fight. Daenraam was a very good opponent and one who I would have lost to not that many months ago. I felt more calm in this fight, just keeping on with the flow of things and adjusting to what I needed to do in order to fight my fight. The promoter of the event, who runs a gym in Hua Hin, contacted me a few days later to ask if I wanted to fight for him again. So making new connections is a bonus as well. It was great having Modt Ek in my corner and he happily fell asleep in the front seat on the long drive back to Pattaya. I think he enjoyed himself, leaping in and out of the ring for the other fighters from Yo’s gym, demonstrating his prolific expertise in cornering. It was a good night all around.
A Gallery of Ilya’s photos from the fight:
Complete Fight Record
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