February 9, 2015 – Kalare Stadium, Chiang Mai (full fight video above)
I’m sitting on the mat against the tin siding of the Kalare Stadium in Chiang Mai. It’s a place I know fairly well, having fought at one end of this parking lot or another as the stadium shifted back and forth over time, but I haven’t fought here in probably a year now. Den, my former trainer from Lanna Muay Thai, is kind of floating around in the social way that he always is and was when I was fighting with the camp. It feels a little different now, mostly because he’s not my corner. I’m waiting for Dang, also my former trainer at Lanna but he’s the one who set up the fight for me with this promoter and he’s who I’ve arranged everything with, including a 5,000 Baht “side bet,” which means that each corner puts down an equal bet and the winner takes all; in this case, that will be 10,000 Baht. Dang hasn’t arrived yet. More nerve-wracking than not having my corner there, which isn’t so big a deal at all anymore because I’ve experienced all kinds of having to prepare myself before fights, wrapping my own hands, etc, is the fact that my opponent isn’t there yet. In my paranoia I start to wonder if Dang isn’t there because my opponent isn’t there – like, maybe he knows she’s not coming and so he’s disappeared himself to avoid losing face to me. I’ve made a big deal about this fight, hassling Dang numerous times about if he’s sure that the fight is on, that the bet is on, etc. I’ve driven a long way in order to be able to fight as good a fighter as this. And now neither he nor the opponent are present and it’s getting late.
A young woman I fought a couple times appears through the gate and walks past me to the doctor’s station, which is also where you get your gloves. I was there a minute ago. The doctor remembered me and asked me a hundred questions about where I’ve been and how many fights I have now. He thought I’d gone home to America and was very surprised when I told him I’d been in another part of Thailand this whole time. Now he was chatting with this woman I’d fought before, named Nong Ying, and she’s kind of looking at me and then points at me. I’m horrified. I consider that she’s shown up to fight me, a replacement called in for the opponent I actually have made this whole trip to fight! I scan the rows of men gathered around the fighters’ mats at the back of the stadium, looking for Den.
Fighting Thanonchanok was pretty much the reason I drove up to Chiang Mai, a 10 hour trek in the car in either direction. In order to be reasonable about it we arranged for me to have at least two fights over the weekend (one on Friday, against Baifern; then this one on the following Monday), but this fight was really the draw (we tried to arrange even a 3rd against Cherry, but couldn’t quite pull it off). I’d fought Thanonchanok once before, for my 63rd fight a little more than a year ago, and was pretty much outmatched back then. I didn’t know who she was at the time I fought her. Since then I’ve followed her a bit as she’s the 108 lbs WPMF World Champion for two years now. I want to fight Thanonchanok; badly, even though she’s technically 2 weight classes above me.
I find Den and tell him that if Thanonchanok can’t make it, I don’t want to fight someone else. I’ll just go, “no problem.” It’s a shitty feeling to say this because it means that I don’t get the fight I wanted, one that I wanted badly enough to drive a great distance and the costs that go with that, but also because it means not fighting. But I would have to refuse a replacement fight in order to make a statement; if I accept the replacement then it’s saying “that’s okay, you can promise me one thing and then just go with whatever.” Den looked a little uncomfortable, then he called another trainer from the gym over and started explaining to him what I’d said, in Thai. Then a ray of light burst through the gloom and pierced me right in the eye. Thanonchanok and a posse of two fellow “Toms” waltzed in past the gate and breezed over to the table where the gloves are all in a row. I was so happy to see her. Perhaps too happy because I noted her red shorts and top, called her over and pointed out that she was in the blue corner and then offered to switch if she didn’t have a different pair of shorts. No need to get all accommodating, Sylvie – I was just over excited that the fight was on, I guess. And Dang appeared shortly after, so it was all go-time from there.
Shortly before we got into the ring we arranged for the derm paan, which is the “side bet” between two camps – you each put in the same amount of money on a bet, like an ante up, and the winner takes all. So we each put in 5,000 Baht on the fight and the English-speaking announcer started telling the audience over and over again before our fight that it was a 10,000 Baht fight (winner gets the 10,000). This was my first successful side bet, so I was excited about that. (By “successful” I mean that the other gym agreed to go in on a derm paan at all.)
With money on the line I knew Thanonchanok would fight hard. She’s bigger than I am, though not as big as I remembered her from the first time, and she’s got a massive right side artillery: right kick, right elbow. I was blocking like a fucking champ though and not a single elbow got in on me; most of the kicks were blocked too, although an early one did land flush on my left shoulder and I got that wicked kick-hickey from skin-to-skin slaps.
Most of the fight is her kicking and elbowing and running, me blocking and charging her down until I can get a good lock on her and knee. She was getting tired, I was getting going, and by round 4 I was in a really good position. Den and Dang were all excited in the corner, taking more bets from the audience while throwing ice water all over me. Round 5 was really close and I believe could have gone either way. In fact, at one moment I got her bent out of the ring with myself in a dominant position and you can see Den and Dang in the background with their hands up like this is it, the fight is won (below). It wasn’t enough after all and I can see that. I wasn’t “robbed” or anything like that – she fought a great round, especially considering how exhausted she was. I was landing knees but I needed to just put a little more onto each one – drag her back, push her around, land another knee in the same spot, or look like I had freedom of movement while she didn’t. Small things. Tiny things. But important things. And, the referee was letting the clinch go on which is absolutely in my favor.
I was bummed to lose. I felt like I’d done enough but I accept and can see where it wasn’t – inches away. And even though I lost money on the fight, I got the best version of Thanonchanok I could get by putting it on the table and her trainer (possibly father?) came over and offered me a championship fight with her in May for her WPMF title. It’s a weight that’s bigger than I am, but it’s smaller than she was in this fight – and she’ll fight hard for it, which is awesome. I gave him my number and my full enthusiasm for the fight.
Afterwards I was filming my update and feeling a little disappointed at having lost – it was my first loss in a long while and I was a bit out of practice with those feelings – but the guy who takes tickets outside the stadium took down the big vinyl poster with my picture on it, he did this while I was filming, and then gave it to me all folded up when I turned the recording off. Pretty nice, man. Pretty much a perfect experience, only slightly marred by the loss… but only slightly.
My Post Fight Video Update