(above) parts 1 and 2, full video
March 8, 2015 – Khorat, Thailand
This fight is dedicated to the Golden Horse Monastery, to all the people who have supported me in all different ways, and especially to Master K – who gave me my Muay Thai heart.
Kevin, Robyn, Jai Dee and I get out of the car and start walking toward the entrance to the temple festival. The bright neon rods of light cast a cold light over the walkway and indicate the path forward. “Be prepared to be the only non-Thais here,” I say to Robyn and she smiles, responding with something like, “can’t wait.” People are staring at us as we get to the arches of the temple grounds. I’m used to this so I only really notice it because I’m feeling the “newness” of it through Robyn’s perspective, but I also remember to take Jai Dee’s leash out of her hands and keep him close to me as we enter into the crowd; a lot of Thais are wary of dogs and our western loose-on-the-leash attitude doesn’t always fly well when people are afraid of the dog. There are also lots of temple dogs on the loose and they are way interested in Jai Dee. They approach in a pack and Robyn immediately takes on the role of bodyguard, putting herself between the pack and our leashed monster, keeping them at bay.
(above) arriving at the ring, Dean Taylor is there
The fights are just now starting as we find the ring and we’ve met up with Dean Taylor, who is filming for his movie. But there’s no easy way to find my corner, which is a group from the Petchrungruang gym. There are many mats with fighters, many people standing, some on chairs or step ladders. We slowly circle the entire ring on the outskirts or than once and I try to call the number I have but it’s too loud to understand where they’ve set up shop. I’m getting stressed, we’ve been looking for a while. Kevin can see I’m stressed and he’s telling me to calm down but that actually just pisses me off and now I’m more stressed. A random Thai guy walks up to me and starts asking me if I’m fighting. I’m polite, I tell him I am, show him my name on the program that’s in my hand, etc. I tell him I’m looking for my gym and he tells me to go to the announcer’s table. Like a lost kid in a grocery store! I don’t do this but within a few minutes he must have done so because I start to hear my name announced several times into the microphone. And perhaps as coincidence I then recognize one guy from my gym and B-line over to him; there’s the whole crew, nestled behind an Isaan-style truck, which is metal, wood siding and a tractor engine. Now I can chill out.
I get my hands wrapped by the guy Kru Nu calls “Chicken Man,” a moniker he gives in English because it designates the man as the owner of the chicken farm behind the gym. I actually don’t know his real name. As he’s wrapping my hands he’s telling me my opponent is just around the corner; I’d seen a fighter who looked about the size I fight (heavier than I am, but generally the size I face) but she already had her gloves on. Kevin had assumed that was my opponent and based on where Chicken Man said my opponent was stationed this other fighter probably wasn’t there for me. But I told him I hadn’t seen her yet and he just nodded and kept wrapping. When he’d finished he quickly got up and the entire group from the gym vacated the area with the mats to go corner for another guy from my gym.
On the program I was listed as the 7th fight, but I’d been told I was the 5th fight and now that I was listening to the announcer it sounded like I was the next fight. Oh, Thailand. There was literally no Thais left at the mats, leaving me alone, so I asked my friend Robyn to give me my oil massage. It’s generally hard to get this done through this gym because the guys aren’t used to cornering for women; they’re massively uncomfortable giving the oil massage to a woman due to the transgressive nature of touching a woman in public, so they’ll either totally ignore it, get a girl to do it (if they can find one), or make the youngest of the boys handle it because they are pre-men. I was a little proud of myself for not relying on them to take care of me and just getting Robyn to do it; and was immensely grateful that Robyn was there to do it! The corner took so long to come back from the fight they were currently working that I had two total strangers putting my gloves on me while my opponent waited in the ring for me and the audience of gamblers stirring.
I’d seen my opponent just before the fight when I made my last trip to the bathrooms. (I pee a million times before fights; always have and, it appears, always will.) She was short, built in the arms and legs and very tough looking. She didn’t acknowledge me at all. The guy who had approached me before and who had gotten the announcer to alert my team to my presence came over during my massage and asked me to knock her out in round 3. He must have put money on it. I said I’d try. Betting on knockouts in particular rounds is not uncommon. A few other men stood around during my massage and gawked at me – probably the tattoos, but who knows? – and an old monk stood a bit behind them, smoking a cigarette and watching this all unfold with a steady gaze.
Chicken Man and the guy Kru Nu calls “Small Man” came back and collected me, and we all walked toward my corner through the crowd. There were the usual murmurs and random hands reaching out to squeeze my arms as I passed. When I got to the corner I knelt down and I heard a woman behind me say in Thai, “oh, she wins for sure.” She was looking at my tattooed and muscled back as she made this exclamation. Kevin yelled, “Baby! Clinch first round!” and I ducked into the ring.
The first round was pretty good at a “feeling out” round for both of us, but feeling out power and threats rather than putzing around, which can sometimes be the tactic in those rounds I felt like my kicks to her legs were working – well, hurting her – and I was taller by a bit, so my reach was great. That’s very unusual for me in fights and I don’t think I know quite how to use that advantage since it’s something I so rarely experience. She snapped me backwards with a strong punch early in the first round and I reckon that’s where my black eye came from, but other than that she didn’t land much in terms of punches or her many attempted elbows. I received a head kick on my right side (her left front kick) that was hard enough to make me feel a bit drunk for a second but not hard enough to affect balance or vision or anything. Also, the first time we clinched up she put me on the ground. Okay then. Getting to know each other, right?
In round 2 we clinched more and instead of throwing me, as she had in the first round, she just got really low and kind of stuffed the whole game. I’m not sure if I changed something that made her unable to throw me or what – something I should figure out, for sure. But she definitely had trouble when I locked her up top and I was able to turn and then knee quite a few times, which is something I train but don’t train enough and therefore haven’t gotten going in my fights just yet. Well, that statement is already outdated because I was doing it here, but I need to do it more. And I kicked her leg out on a caught kick, which made me very happy. I can never get that on the boys. Look at how she jumps and exaggerates her knees in the clinch though. It’s beautiful. I’m working on that and getting it by and by, but it’s a process.
Up until the end of round 3 she was a damn pit-bull. Just scratching and ready to go all day. I started catching her kicks more and wasn’t as effective as I’d like, but when it was working for me it was kind of changing her game. We both went to the mat at one point, which pissed me off because she straddled me the way these girls do to show dominance; I popped up and landed probably the best right cross to the body I ever have, knocking her into the ropes. She jumps right back at me like an action hero.
I felt as the fight went on that she was becoming more affected by my pressure. She didn’t get tired as some of my opponents do, but I could just feel that she wasn’t responding as quickly. I landed one knee to her head and it changed the whole game. She came out of the tie up freaked out – maybe even pissed off a bit – but instead of punishing me for it she was more hesitant. By centimeters, really, but enough for me to notice. And so I kept pulling her into the deep water and slowly she stopped being able to fire back so much; when I had her in the double lock and was pulling her head down, I landed a few knees to her face and the ref gave her an 8 count. I always want to come back from those breaks “cooler” than I do, but this time was aggressive enough to make up for whatever I’m still lacking in aesthetic finesse. I grabbed her and wrenched her down again and the ref jumped in.
Someone from the officials’ table handed me a wad of money. I don’t know if that was a bonus or part of the derm pan (the inside bet placed on the fight by the two gyms), but it’s always awkward to have to reach through the ropes and try to grasp anything with your gloves on. Awkward but totally awesome also. Some fighters just put the money in their mouths and you’ll see this in lots of magazine photos because it looks cool, but I was a bartender once and money is just filthy, man. So I fumble with the gloves.
Outside the ring all these women wanted photos with me. I love when this happens because it’s usually women or young teen girls and they are so excited about getting the photos and often nervously request a second one if it doesn’t turn out looking nice. So I’ve started telling the person with the camera phone to always take a couple and make sure it’s suay suay before moving on to the next person. Of course there’s the glee of feeling like a celebrity, but there’s something much more than that because none of these people actually know who I am – they’ve just seen what I am and that’s the excitement. It connects to women in some way and it’s incredible. When we got back to the mats and Robyn and Dtee’s father started taking off my gloves, this older lady had followed us over for a picture and her friend kept turning the phone around to show her someone was trying to call while she was trying to snap the photo – the phone always trumps the camera so she couldn’t get the picture. It was kind of hilarious and we were both giggling like idiots. The lady with the phone finally answers and says, impatiently, “call back in a minute!” We got the picture. Standing there behind the truck again with my gloves off and my jaw locking up from the head kick, the crowd now occupied with the fight in the ring and Robyn fiddling with the bizarre patterns of tape on my hands, I felt so much that this is it. There is chaos before, during and after the fight and there’s calm throughout as well. You go in and do what you love, what you train, what you’ve asked for and then you come out and there’s this excitement that ripples around. But then it’s quiet again. I changed my clothes and watched Dtee’s fight from ringside, the strings of lights criss-crossing overhead, tree branches over that and the moon almost straight up above us. Where else in the world can you do this? Where else in the world can you do this enough that it becomes your normal? I just felt so fucking lucky. And that’s part of why people all gather around you after you win a fight here, these sweet-smelling, powder fresh ladies pressing against me for photos don’t care that I’m covered in sweat and oil and funky smelling gloves. In ceremonies with monks there’s often a part where you pour water into a receptacle while chanting. If you don’t have water you can touch someone who is doing it and that contact forms a chain so that you are conducting the power as well. After the fights these people want to make contact because they too know I’m lucky and you can transfer luck; you can share it.
The 100 Fights
And that’s what these 100 fights in Thailand are. They are a conductor of energy, which is neither created nor destroyed – only channeled. Hundreds of people have supported me through their belief in this vision to get here; many have helped me to be able to say “yes” far more often than I otherwise could have; and thousands have recognized that this impossible goal is actually neither: impossible shares exactly the same fault as the concept of a goal and that’s stagnation. One stops you before you start and the other releases you from the action at the end. I’m grateful that the people who are with me in this, who have supported me, don’t put too much stock in either concept.
I feel indebted to those who have helped me and to those who inspire me; those overlap quite a lot. For this fight and the celebration of 100 fights in Thailand I had my friend Robyn by my side, who has patiently watched me discover in myself the things she already saw years ago. I thought about Kru Ba at the Golden Horse Monastery, who embodies the seemingly impossible contradictions between God and Man, Body and Spirit, Muay Thai and Buddhism and in his laughing face and explosive kindness makes all these contradictions appear unified, ordered, and valuable. And I thought about Master K. I always think about Master K, but for this achievement I felt especially bonded to him. It was he who first gave shape to my heart for Muay Thai. Even when he doesn’t agree with me or wants something else for me, he always finds it within himself to be proud. The way in which I am most like him is that I will not stop; and so maybe we call this “the first 100.”
Alternate POV video: Dean Taylor Go Pro
Post-Fight Video Update
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