January 4, 2015 – Max Muay Thai Stadium, Pattaya – full fight video above
I kind of don’t know how to write about this fight. I’m having a hard time every time I start to write, getting stuck just listing events and not really attaching my actual experience to them. Maybe it’s because this was a really big fight for me and was a rematch against an opponent who quite frankly kicked my ass about 1.5 years ago. So that fight and this fight are two ends of a wormhole that kind of collapse together the entire universe of experiences and spectrum of emotions that I have around both fights. So, maybe I should talk about the first fight.
It was up in Chiang Mai for the Muay Thai Warriors event, which was exciting for a ton of reasons. It’s a big promotion, a big production, and there would be big names there. I fought on the same card as Saenchai, Superball, Seeoui, and Nong Toom, who actually helped in my corner as she is a former Kiatbusaba (Lanna Muay Thai) fighter. I geeked out so hard having her help corner for me. The event of that fight was very exciting and felt like a huge deal. Then I bombed in the fight and just got destroyed by this fighter, Muangsingjiew. It was embarrassing. Thakoon, who is someone I like very much – I trained at his gym for a few weeks and fought one fight (my fourth fight ever) out it in Bangkok a few years go – was who made the match for me and he looked at me with a little disbelief and asked why I hadn’t… and then made a very simple gesture of pushing someone’s face off of you in the clinch. Yeah; like, why didn’t you block punches?, kind of deal.
Thing is, I didn’t know how to clinch at that time. I mean, I clinched anyway as that’s been my style for a long time, but I didn’t have any technique. Muangsingjiew did – she was great. And in retrospect, after changing gyms and doing all kinds of crazy things like moving to Pattaya and training at two gyms in order to learn clinch, I see how rare it is that she is so good at the clinch. Where did she learn it? At the time, after the fight, her trainer had given my husband Kevin a kind of sympathetic look, like, “yeah, we destroy all the girls this way… sorry.” He didn’t get to give Kevin that look this time. The tables had completely turned.
I’ve made a big deal about learning clinch because: a) it’s clearly my M.O. and learning how to do it well makes sense; b) it’s hard to learn; and c) it’s incredibly difficult for women to learn it well in Thailand due to gender taboos . But having this fight again now, after I’ve made a point of learning clinch in a very sincere and almost single-minded way (and have been rewarded in exponential returns by my trainers and training partners here in Pattaya), was a perfect test to see how far my clinch has come. I’ve won a string of fights with the clinch in a very short period of time over the last few months, when my clinch seems to have taken a kind of leap forward. But knowing that I’m better already and being able to hold up against an opponent who beat me in the clinch are different things.
Muangsingjiew has gotten better too. Of course she has. She’s the #6 ranked WPMF contender for the 46 kg title, but after spending some time in the ring with her again I’d personally put her higher on the list. I’ve fought a few on that list already now and I actually scratch my head trying to figure out how she lost to one ranked higher. But, you know, “styles make fights,” and fighters make fights so you can’t make abstract judgements like that. Anyway, I’m used to fighting opponents who are bigger than I am. Three out of four of my opponents in Thailand have been 50 kg or larger, giving them 3 or more kilos over me but because I’m strong I can usually be stronger than them in the clinch. Muangsingjiew is my size – legitimately my size – and hasn’t grown in the 1.5 years since our last fight, which means she’s probably fighting bigger opponents also. There just aren’t a lot of fighters at 45-47 kg, which is why I’m always facing opponents 50 kg and up. I assume she has the same issue. So when she saw me it was probably the same feeling that I get when I’m going against someone actually my same size: “wow, this will be easy; she’s so small.” But here’s the thing: Muangsingjiew is fucking strong. She might be the physically strongest opponent I’ve faced since Phetnamgnam, who is 60 kg.
The Max Muay Thai Stadium was different. I had to sign Kevin into the stadium on a sheet of paper fastened to a clipboard. Like, are you on the list?, kind of thing. I said he was my trainer so that he could get in for free. They were very official about it all. Early in the morning we’d been here to have weigh in and take photos for tonight’s very showy walk-out routine for entering the ring, but the venue had been empty and dark at that time. For my photo they’d given me a pair of blue “Max” shorts and some blue gloves with no laces, just for the picture. But they’d given me two left gloves and a pair of truly enormous shorts. I made thing about the gloves and ignored the size of the shorts. Now, ticket-holders were filing into the venue, which was still pretty empty but now lit up and you could really see how well designed the place is. It looks smaller inside than it did in photos but that’s a good thing. Nothing feels as empty as an empty stadium, so Max can feel “packed” at half-capacity.
Two of my teammates shuffled past me and Kevin on the way in, smiling and wai-ing at us as they hurried along. Trying to catch up to them, we got to the area right next to the lifted stage and jumbo screen that was projecting a static “Max Muay Thai” image on it and just found a wall. To the left were bathroom stalls; to the right was the stage. Where the hell had those kids gone? It’s like they just vanished. Kevin spotted a handle on the wall and we pulled a sliding door open. A waft of warm, somewhat dank air wafted over us and I blinked against the bright internal lights against the dim of what was essentially behind the stage. You had to step down a full foot (12 inches) to get into the room and it wasn’t until doing so that I saw a row of kids and men seated on the left. I actually let my mouth drop open in surprise when I saw Kru Nu there. He never comes out to fights, preferring to stay home with his 4-month-old baby and delegating cornering duties to minions. But his 14-year-old son Bank was fighting too, which I deduced from his wrapped hands. I’ve never seen Bank fight in person but we train together all the time. I was doubly excited. We had the A-Team!
From our post weigh-in photos for the jumbo screen, Muangsingjiew and Me. Red is like “home team” color in Thailand.
I was the second fight on the card, Bank was #4, and then little Jozef was the main event, or ku ek as it’s called in Thai. So Kru Nu wrapped my hands and had some of the boys help with my massage, then the young lady who was running the equipment table wanted me to wear prajaet (the protective, traditional bands around the biceps) but I don’t have any; so the boys just made some out of tape and tied them around my arms – they seemed to really enjoy doing that. I found that really funny, actually. Then the equipment team put a robe around me and told me to sit in the seats by the stage entrance, which are stairs inside the back room, leading on to the stage. Where I was sitting I could watch Muangsingjiew’s team rubbing oil and Vaseline all over her, going back over the same spots over and over again, pretty much right up until we were called out to the ring.
I was a little nervous about the walk out because these semi-choreographed things just wig me out. At Warriors they wanted us to do a few seconds of shadowboxing while the smoke machine went all nuts, which we did here too, but it was pretty straight forward. The announcer spoke in English and introduced my opponent as being “a very beautiful fighter,” (he means physically; she is beautiful, but she’s also one of the best fighters in Thailand at this weight and has been for a few years now… come on, man) and then when he introduced me “coming all the way from America,” as if I’d just got here, he appeared to respond to my number of fights while holding the microphone because he paused and then introduced me as, “uh… a very experienced fighter.” Nice.
I haven’t watched this fight yet, so my impressions from being in it went like this: the first round was kind of a better version of how I felt last time around. I was certainly more confident this time, but I felt a bit “off” and I remember thinking well, shit a few times when we locked up and she turned me. When we went back to our corners I knew that I had to do better. Well, I knew I had to both turn it up and look stronger in the next round. It’s only a three round fight, you have to show a strong upward climb in that time. Round 2 I definitely felt I had turned it up a notch and she was starting to struggle to keep up. I was landing my right knee in her ribs every single time we grabbed each other for the clinch. It wasn’t hurting her, but it was gradually draining her. Like an accumulative effect rather than one hard strike. I did get some good knees in there that hurt her; she stopped responding to every single strike, which is how I know I have someone. They just take a few knees without answer and I know they’re running low. In the corner after round 2 I felt I’d won the round, for sure, but I knew that in round 3 I had to step it up even more in order to win. I couldn’t level off. I was feeling pretty taxed, not tired, but my arms felt very heavy and a little sore. That’s only ever happened in one other fight – my first against Cherry Gor. Twins Gym. I have to go back into clinch or sparring in training all the time, whether I’m doing well or getting my ass kicked, so I knew I could increase at this point. And I did. Round 3 was where I really pulled ahead and I saw that she had backed off; she’d given up. I looked over at my corner and saw Modt Ek telling me to dance it off. I looked to someone more authoritative and saw Kru Nu telling me the same, so we just finished the round with a little distance between us.
Even after “dancing off” the last round, which I’ve only ever done maybe 3 times, I wasn’t 100% certain I’d won the fight. Not because I didn’t feel that I had done enough, or even that it was close, but I honestly thought that on a show like Max where “Thai vs. Foreigner” is the gimmick and sometimes matches aren’t so equal, that anything could happen. I wasn’t expecting to be robbed or anything, I just was prepared for the decision to be completely bizarre. It wasn’t. In fact, the whole experience was much more normal than I’d expected. I thought the rules would be more K-1 style, that the audience would be annoying, that the 3×3 rounds might irk me. None of that was true. It was actually a great experience, well run, well organized, fun, etc. And it’s all the same gamblers as the other stadia in Pattaya, so it’s really not that different at all. It’s so close to where I live, I can hear the shows from my balcony. Hopefully I made a good impression and will fight for them regularly.