April 27, 2015 – Trat, border with Cambodia – dedicated to Emma Thomas – full video above
We’re following the Google Maps “dropped pin” sent to us from the guy who arranged this fight for me, and it’s just this narrow road that snakes through the mountains and skirting along the waterfront, where I keep seeing signs that indicate landing ports for ferries that take folks out to the island Koh Chang. It’s just thick jungle on the left side, and pretty much the same on the right except for these signs promising that there must be water over there for the boats. This guy, Ruang, really takes the cake in booking me fights that appear to be in the middle of nowhere.
We find the festival grounds and park the car, then head over to the aluminum walls that always serve as a fence to enclose the area where the ring is – the only way they can charge admittance fee at a festival is to create the illusion of a stadium. A lot of folks just find a high spot and watch over the wall. From inside you can still see over the aluminum sides all the lights of the festival and the blaring speakers and the tops of the backup dancers on the stage next door. It’s unbelievably loud, all the time, and I don’t even notice anymore. Ruang shows me this tent that he’s set up next to the truck. It’s camouflage colored and about big enough for 2 persons (or 5, if you’re Thai) and he’s really adamant that I lie down in this tent to rest before my fight. I’m the 11th fight on the card, but that’s only for the listed fights. There are probably actually close to 20, including little kid fights that don’t get listed on either end of the program. It’s already a half-hour past starting time and it hasn’t started yet, so I’m thinking I have at least 2-3 hours before my fight.
I had a little dinner and watched these tiny girls start the night out with a wicked little fight. The one in the red corner was amazing and the blue corner was tough, getting up after being knocked down quite a few times. Not “hurt” mind you, just knocked over the way little kids get knocked over doing anything sport-like. Ruang comes over and indicates the tent yet again, kind of insisting I take a rest by continuing to point out that it’s there for my use. I tell him I’m watching this fight and when it’s over I oblige Ruang and crawl into the tent, leaving the door open, to have a lie down. As I’m closing my eyes I hear the singer on stage next door doing a cover of The Cranberries song “Zombie,” which is very popular in Pattaya, so maybe popular everywhere since this is so far away. She clearly doesn’t know or understand the lyrics in English, so she’s kind of faking along but doing a really great impression of the original singer’s voice. It’s weird, but not “bad.” I’m a little surprised when I wake up a while later that I’ve managed to have a short nap.
There were actually a few female bouts on this card. They were all entertaining, if not a bit scrappy. I had no idea what to expect from my opponent, really. Ruang had told me she’d be 47 kg like me but the fight was listed at 50 and when I finally saw her I’d guess she was more like 52. For hours before I got in the ring the two announcers on the microphone would say “hello, hello” in English every time they said my name and mentioned I was American. It was funny. When I actually got into the ring and was sealing it they were blabbing about my Sak Yant and as they did so and I was passing by their table (which was just outside the ropes) I smiled at them in response to what they said. Then they started going off about how I speak Thai. They were the most “casual” commentators I’ve ever witnessed and I liked them, even if they did call me a man a couple times. I don’t love that.
Before the fight a lady came up to me and said something about my opponent and leg kicks. At first I thought she was telling me to leg kick, but then she kept saying chawp, chawp (to “like” something), which makes more sense when saying my opponent likes to do them. But I wasn’t sure which way she was advising me. I did find out quite quickly in the ring that she’d meant to watch out for them.
I kinda hate the Max Muay Thai traveling ring that this promotion uses. I understand it’s their sponsor, but the decal on the canvas doesn’t absorb water so it becomes incredibly slippery. Like fighting on linoleum. As I was sealing the ring I was remembering how difficult I find it to fight on slippery canvas, which isn’t the greatest mindset to put myself into, but that’s something to work on. Back when I first came to Thailand in 2010, women’s fights could either be 5 rounds at 2 minutes or 4 rounds at 3 minutes. They stopped doing the 4×3’s in Chiang Mai by the time I moved here, so I always fight 5×2. But out here in this area these options still get decided prior to the fight. Ruang actually asked if I could do 5 rounds at 3 minutes, which is what boys do, and I said “absolutely.” But when we touched gloves in the center of the ring to get the rules before the fight there was a debate across the ring between the two corners over how many rounds and minutes it would be. The announcers basically called that debate as it went on. She was big, not a cardio machine, so her corner wanted 4 rounds; my corner wanted 5 and that’s what we landed on… maybe because she had the size advantage? Not sure. But good for me.
She hit hard. She slammed my legs with a few low kicks – not enough to say that she “likes leg kicks,” probably only 2, but they were effective in putting the hurt on my thighs. I had some trouble cutting off the ring and attacking because it was so slick. I always seem to struggle with this more than my opponents, but when I watch the video I don’t look too annoyed, so maybe they just hide it well from me too. I landed some good knees, she landed some knees; she landed some kicks, I landed some hands, and the clinch was scrappy. She even did a spinning back elbow, which for her didn’t work out so great because I just caught her and basically had her back, but that’s a level of comfort to try that stuff, which I think is awesome. Between rounds my corner wanted me to just walk in and punch, then clinch and knee. Basically, slow down and be a tank. So I did that more and more as the fight went and in round 3 I landed an overhand right – a move I’ve been working on in the gym, kinda for fun, and kinda as a new weapon as I fight taller fighters a lot – and dropped her. She tried to get up but her corner had called it off. I don’t know she was much more rung by the punch than I realized at the time; or, if they just already saw that the fight wasn’t going to go better for her and was about to get worse. But I was super happy to have both attempted and landed that overhand right with such success – I definitely knocked her down and stunned her, although I do suspect with the 8 count she would have been able to continue for a bit. Only my second TKO by hands, and the first one was a long time ago. I’ve been working so hard on my clinch game now for months, and really sticking with it in fights so that I can progress in my clinch counters, only recently I’ve started adding my overhand right to my and already it is paying off.
About the punch. We had humorously nicknamed the punch the hand grenade in practice, because of how you want to toss it up and over. I’d even begun joking on the bag, putting the glove to my teeth to pull the pin out before throwing it. In this fight I actually do the same thing before throwing it (you can’t see it in the film, and surely my opponent didn’t notice – my husband hardly believed me when I told him), miming the pin pull, and then letting it go. I wouldn’t mention it except that it shows that I’m getting much more relaxed in the ring to do that kind of thing, an important part of growth.
Ruang had hired a group of young women to corner for me. It’s pretty awesome to have all women in my corner, even if I don’t know them. They’re always very nice but a little freaked out – or very curious – by me. The young women who got to be chief in my corner was named Jen. She wanted to be a dancer on the stage next door rather than in the Muay Thai pit, which was really sweet. She was also massively interested in my tattoos and the scars on my face (she could only really see the new one in that lighting). She kept asking me about the stitches and tattoos, if they hurt. Every question was about, “doesn’t it hurt?” Yeah, I guess. That’s the question non-fighters ask me about Muay Thai as well, “doesn’t it hurt?” Sure, a little bit. But it’s not the first, or even 10th thing I think of when asked about my experiences of Muay Thai.
Jen and me after the fight.