March 17, 2015 – Ayutthaya on Nai Khanomtom Day
This fight is dedicated to my GoFundMe supporter Taryn Laramie, who is also a martial artist and knows personally the difficulties and triumphs of traveling for competition. It means a lot to me that Taryn’s message basically said, I know it’s hard, here’s my support. Thank you so much, Taryn!
I get out of the car and run back up the narrow alleyway we’ve just turned down, which is clearly not the right way, and place myself in front of a soup vendor. He refuses to make eye contact for a moment, then I have to wave off his uncomfortable looking around for a moment before I just start talking, “Pi ka…” His eyes change and now he’s looking surprised as I continue with my sentence, asking if he knows where the Muay Thai ring is around here. Any time I’m talking to someone new it’s the same dance-around: a brief moment of serious discomfort and kind of being ignored while the person tries to prepare themselves for dealing with a westerner who probably doesn’t know what they want. Then there’s the realization that the effort will be pretty minimal and there’s a moment of surprise, then query, then helping me. It’s a fun game. This soup vendor tells me to go back up the highway I just came from about 1 km. I thank him and run back to the car while every single customer sitting at the folding tables of the soup stand stare at me.
I hardly even notice this anymore. But for my friend Robyn, this is her second trip to Thailand and her first time in a non-tourist spot, so she’s feeling every single set of eyes on us. “Why are they staring at us like that?” she asks me. I laugh and try to think of an explanation. It’s just that we stand out. There are exactly six westerners at this entire festival and only two of us are women. It’s just interesting.
I’m supposed to be rematching Muangsingjiew for the third time in a couple months. I’ve beaten her twice and she’s got one win against me from a few years ago, so her team really wants to avenge these last two losses. She’s the 6th ranked fighter at my weight in the world by the WPMF, and one of the toughest I’ve ever faced in terms of style match up. We’re one of the main events of the night and there’s a stand about 10 ft high with the fight program printed on it – I’m listed as the 16th fight, so that’s hours into the night and little Jozef is about to go in the ring, so we squirm our way through the crowd to watch him. We get to this gate that keeps the crowd a few feet away from the ring and a straight up security guard won’t let us in. Only 4 persons per fighter, apparently. We have to be the “outside the gate” posse for Jozef’s fight, which is amazing as always.
When we get back to the mats after Jozef obliterates his fight, a strange fellow comes up to me with a young Thai woman who is not Muangsingjiew. He’s trying to line us up and talking to me about whether or not I accept the replacement. This is out of sorts, I’ll just say straight off. It happens to me more often than it should, where promoters or coaches from other gyms address me when they’re doing something shady. This comes off as a bit weird, me saying this, because I totally set up my own fights through different promoters and will speak for myself in many situations; but it’s inappropriate in this context. I’m the fighter and any arrangements at the fight that is already scheduled need to go through the hierarchy of the gym I’m with. I’ll be part of the conversation, for sure, but you don’t ask me apart from my Thai caretakers. So my hair went up and I pretended to not speak Thai, calling the head-honcho of the night over from where he was unwrapping Jozef’s hands. Clever, this other guy, coming over while my caretaker was occupied. There was a big back and forth of “who the hell is this and where is Muangsingjiew?” involved, and because there was a substantial side-bet already on the fight the Small Man (what Pi Nu calls the guy who is taking care of me for this fight) actually just shakes his head and walks away from the guy trying to do the switch out. I’m nervous now because I want to fight. I ask where my original opponent is and the guy says she’s “not well,” so it’s fight this opponent or not at all. So I call the Small Man back over and he looks at us, shoulder to shoulder. This fighter is much bigger, maybe 5 kg or more, but I tell him I will fight. Up to him with the gambling side of it. He nods his head and there’s a ripple of the other men around nodding their heads, then this young woman ditches out of there as fast as she can.
I was disappointed. I’d totally prepared myself to fight Muangsingjiew again and was ready for a really hard fight. She’s the closest to my own size as I’ve fought in a long time and just SO strong. After our fights I always feel like I’ve been run over by a car, so I was mentally preparing for that. I had no idea what to expect from this replacement. None of the men who had made the arrangements even knew her name, so I had to go ask her to type it into my phone, which I’m sure freaked her out a little bit.
But she got me back by surprising the hell out of me in the ring. She was very confident in the ring and kicked harder than almost anyone I could remember fighting. Maybe it was partially the size disparity, but I fight bigger often and this chick kicks hard. She just couldn’t hang though, once I started pressuring her and clinching. The announcer was very excited on the microphone and had made some choice comments when I first entered the ring (something about me really being a man, which pissed me off), but he was the same announcer who had “interviewed” me briefly after I exited the ring with a bloody face two fights ago. He’d actually bet on me, quietly, for this fight. I forgive him for the rude comments because 1) I like him and he clearly likes me, and 2) I don’t fully understand the breadth of cultural context regarding these comments. They’re not polite in either Thai or English, but the joke may be less cutting than what I’m interpreting for myself. And, walking through the crowd to get to my corner, I could feel the look of “what’s this?” as I walked toward people and then the “oh my GOD!” response that followed as I passed them. If my chest sak yant is transgressive for a woman, my tigers on my back are even more so. This is why I get called a dude, in part.
The fight was stopped quite suddenly when my opponent wasn’t indicating that she was going to keep pace. It felt abrupt and it took me a moment to really grasp that the fight had been called. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced a “retirement” like that. The ref was an excellent ref, in fact I saw him reffing at Rajadamnern a few days later – he was probably just protecting the fighter. I’m not sure what a stoppage like that does to gambling, either. But I was a little disappointed. When you’re winding up and really starting to dominate, your body and mind goes into the climbing stage – when it suddenly stops due to TKO or whatever, you’re still climbing. So it’s kind of like having the rug pulled out from under you; it’s anti-climactic. But it’s been a long time since I’ve had a fight like this, or a win like this. And it was an awesome event.