February 15, 2015 – Pakthongchai, Khorat Thailand (full fight video above)
So, I’m standing in the parking lot of a gas station / 7-11 and waiting for a few skewers of meat-0n-a-stick to heat up in hot oil, which will be Jai Dee’s dinner. He’s in the car with Kevin and I’m chatting with the Thai lady who owns the food cart; she’s asking me “why” I can speak Thai. We’re out in Khorat, which is almost a 5 hour drive north of Pattaya and I have a fight tomorrow night. While I’m standing there, Kevin hops out of the car and urgently hands me our phone, which is ringing with an unknown number. Kevin freaks out when the phone rings and can never answer it – fair enough, it’s always for me – because he doesn’t speak any Thai and most people who call don’t speak English.
I answer the phone and it’s a voice that I think I recognize but am not 100% sure. He’s telling me that my opponent can’t make it to weigh in tomorrow morning, so instead of weighing in together at 46.5 kg in the morning, only my opponent will weigh in at night before the fight at “no more than 47 kg.” This is a weird development, not because weigh in is cancelled – that has happened to me before – but because I’m trying to figure out if I have to weigh in at all given the new arrangement. It sounds like I don’t. I mean, I definitely don’t have to go stand on a scale in the morning, but I can’t quite figure out if I have to match my opponent’s weight at night or if her inability to meet the contract of the morning weigh in means the power is entirely in my camp’s court now and I don’t have to even step on the scale at all.
So I call Kru Nu, my trainer at Petchrungruang and the “head honcho” of everything as far as I’m concerned. He’s driving back from Lumpinee with two of the gym’s young fighters, one of whom is his son. I can hear the background noise of the car radio and the kids chatting away. I tell him I just got this call and that I’m fine with it all, I just need to hear from him personally that he knows it’s going on and that it’s okay to not have the weigh in. It’s definitely not beyond the scope of possibility that someone not with me could call me and tell me “no weigh in” in order to mess with me – either to get me to miss the appointment or to get me to not cut the weight and then “surprise! You do have to make the weight and you have 1 hour to do it!” kind of deal. Something similar happened to my friend Tracy. But Kru Nu seemed like he had heard about this already – he’s in charge of the side bet, so if he knows what’s going on then he makes the decisions. I was thirsty, so not having to cut the additional 0.5 kg that night made for a relaxing evening.
The next night we found our way to the venue, which was a temple in Pakthongchai, maybe 30 minutes from where we had a room in Khorat. The festival was pretty big but we found the group easily. There was a little awkwardness because both of my gyms were fighting in this event (O. Meekhun and Petchrungruang), and even though they’re friendly with one another and have known each other way longer than I’ve known either side, they are also a bit competitive with one another. It turned out that the gyms had set up their stations right next to each other, so that worked out well. We kind of sat around for a while with the area near the ring almost completely empty of spectators, even as the clock passed the designated start time of the show. That’s not super unusual, but a nervous feeling was welling up in me because I’d tried to fight this opponent once before, through a fight set up by Giatbundit Gym in Buriram, but my opponent didn’t show up. So, her kind of last-minute cancellation of weigh in and then not being at the event when it was supposed to have started already had my hairs raised a bit.
Finally, a digital bathroom scale appeared out of nowhere and was placed on the ground while a large group of spectators gathered around it. Everyone loves the weigh in event. Japanese phenom Saya Ito, who was training with me and Phetjee Jaa at the O. Meekhun gym for a few days after she had a fight in Bangkok, was the first to step on the scale. She wasn’t scheduled to fight, but a few nights ago Jee Jaa’s father had been grouchy after getting off the phone with the promoter for this event because it seemed like her opponent – who was already to be much bigger than Jee Jaa – wasn’t sure she’d make the agreed-upon weight of 44 kg (6 kg bigger than Jee Jaa’s walk around weight). I didn’t know it at the time, but Jee Jaa’s opponent and my opponent came from the same gym, so the weight issue was already in discussion way before I got the call in the parking lot. If her opponent wasn’t going to make morning weigh in, of course mine wouldn’t either. I’d joked to Jee Jaa’s father – or half-joked, really – that if Jee Jaa’s opponent weighed in at 47 kg then he should put Saya in the ring instead. He loved this idea. Having her weigh in at this moment might have been a threat for that to happen, although Saya never got close to actually being put in the ring this time.
I was called over by one of the big-wigs of Petchrungruang Gym and told to stand on the scale. I did so wearing long pants and several shirts, as well as a jacket, and was over 48 kg. I was a little pissed because if they’d been organized enough to tell me that I was, indeed, to stand on the scale at all I would have been sure to meet a certain number. My opponent, Loma, appeared in the crowd a few minutes later and took off her sweatpants to stand on the scale – she was also over 48 kg. So, I don’t know if she tried to cut weight at all for the fight but in the process of standing on the scale we weighed pretty close to the same. Due to the weight being over the “no more than 47 kg” agreement the 100,000 Baht side bet was reduced. I think we ended up going in with 20,000 Baht on the line; at least I think I heard the announcer say that.
I haven’t fought with big side bets before. My last fight against Muangsingiew probably had a big side bet on it, but I’m not sure of the number. I don’t know if it was 100,000 Baht, which was mentioned to me once and is probably the standard number for a serious bet. I had known going into this fight that it was 100,000 and that meant a lot to me, because it meant a serious step toward me as an earner for the Petchrungruang gym. I always have small bets on me (small being 10,000 or 20,000), which are kind of “low risk”. To increase the risk means increased belief in me. And that’s important to me. So to have the side bet change, albeit through no fault of my own – Loma’s side is really who dropped the ball on meeting the agreement – it still felt a bit deflating to have the excitement of that number change. On top of that, I’ve wanted to fight Loma for a long time now. She’s probably the #1 fighter near my weight and she’s good. Massively experienced and skilled. And she’s a clincher, so it would put my strength to the test. So I was excited for this fight, nervous about this fight, and very happy that I was finally going to get in the ring with her.
I wrote a post recently about the Thai concept of “taking care,” what’s called duu-lae in Thai. In a nutshell, a gym takes care of its fighters in a way that demonstrates investment in and support of that fighter – looking out for them, protecting them, taking care of their body and looking out for their interests. Part of this, albeit a small part, is the pre-fight process of wrapping hands and oil massage. There were two other boys from my gym fighting on this card: 9-year-old Jozef and 16-year-old Tong. Both boys were scheduled to fight after me on the card, but both got their hands wrapped and were diligently massaged before me; in fact, I was pretty much ignored. When I started talking to some of the men from my gym (my trainer wasn’t there; he stayed home) I discovered that both boys had been rescheduled to fight before me, but there was still a grand disparity in how much attention was paid to massaging and preparing the boys and the pretty blatant way in which I was not being prepared at all. Kevin chastised me for not demanding help – I do have to stand up for myself – but I’m very shy and really hate demanding anything, even if I’m completely reasonable in doing so. Finally, I signaled to the man who booked my fight – I call him “Tong’s dad” but have no idea if they’re actually related, he just treats Tong as his son – that I needed my hands wrapped. There was a bit of a frenzy and two of the men ended up taking over the task, Tong’s dad and the father of one of the top fighters for the gym: Lotus’ dad. They wrapped my hands and then disappeared without segueing into the oil massage. Fucking hell. Once my hands are wrapped I can’t very well do it myself.
After a little while Tong’s dad appeared again with a young woman who I recognize from the gym. She’s actually his daughter, maybe 15 or 16 years old, and used to be a fighter at Petchrungruang but no longer trains or fights. She’s the only other female photo on the wall of champions – our frames are right next to each other on that wall, but she’s maybe 10 or 11 years old in her photo. She’s been ordered to give me my massage and suddenly it makes sense. These men who are organizing the fighters are completely unaccustomed to dealing with a female fighter. Tong’s dad went to get his daughter to do my massage because she’s a woman; there aren’t young boys with us to act as cornermen and young boys are at least a little more reasonable to task with massaging an adult woman (me) because they’re technically not men, but these grown men – the fathers of male fighters – can’t get themselves to transgress culture and give me my massage. Perhaps especially because my husband is there. The O. Meekhun gym doesn’t have a problem with this, most likely because of Phetjee Jaa, who isn’t a woman yet but as a female fighter and the main superstar of the gym, opens up the realm of female fighter engagement in a way that very few mostly-male gyms experience. Kru Nu always gets the boys to do my massage and even then tells them to just put the oil on my arms and legs, leaving the subject of my torso and the taboo of almost-men touching a woman on the far side of the table. The littlest kids can do it – 8-year-old Podee, for example – but the teenaged boys are told to leave the task as a minimal engagement.
All that is to put into perspective what’s going through my head before this fight. It’s not a problem, really – it doesn’t have a lot of effect on the fight itself and it’s not an excuse in any way at all – but rather an illustration of how complicated it can be to navigate being who and what I am (as a woman, a westerner, an outsider and insider to two gyms) at every moment.
I had in my mind what I wanted to do in this fight, which was mainly to eat up the space between me and Loma and stay close to her throughout. She can be an evasive fighter, but she’s also a clincher, so she’s incredibly comfortable and skilled on the inside. That’s where I usually have the advantage, so I knew it would be difficult. I’d seen one or two of her other fights, albeit from years ago, and knew she might have the skill and strength to throw me in the clinch. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty big weakness of mine at the moment. Not so much physically – you can learn how to rebalance yourself and make it very hard to be thrown; it’s pretty hard to throw Phetjee Jaa and I’m not sure someone her own size could do it at all – but more, psychologically. I have a psychological weakness for being thrown and it’s something I’m working on.
From the start of the first round Loma was retreating. She’s a backwards fighter but I could see that she was feeling me out. Round one looks good for me as I’m landing strikes and she’s more or less just staying away from me, but she’s learning what I’m doing. She’s accepting the strikes to see what all I have going on. And when we clinch up, she’s just a far superior clincher. She’s just got tons of experience and skill.
Between rounds my corner and some gamblers yelled at me to punch her. I could tell that my hands were working for me but I just couldn’t get myself to depend on them. I also reasoned with the advice, as if that does any good at all. Rather than just trying it, just going out and seeing what happens if I go balls-out with my hands, I argued against the advice in my head that punches don’t score very highly so they’re not a reasonable answer. My mind didn’t account for the notion that my punches were working; I just took the idea off the table entirely because of the immediate counter-point my mind made up for why I ought not to even try it. That’s why mental training is so important – to have access to bravery and being willing to take risks when the comfort to do so is lacking.
I felt really down about my performance after this fight. I knew I’d lost. I knew in the fourth and fifth rounds that it was lost without a KO and I wasn’t doing anything that would get me even close to the chance to knock her out. And maybe what felt so horrid about that was that she didn’t seem to be even working very hard to stymie me. Like, if she’d had a harder time it would have felt better, but she really got to keep the whole fight in second gear and I just went along with it. That’s disappointing for me. When I watched the fight later on I didn’t feel the same way. I was mirroring her in a way, keeping my level low as well, which is on me – I shouldn’t let her fight her fight, especially when I can make her tired and draw her out of her comfort zone. But in watching the video afterward I didn’t feel that what I was doing was so bad, it just wasn’t enough. I thought I looked pretty good in terms of what I was trying, staying balanced and on form; I wasn’t afraid of her, I was always pushing, just not pressuring. She was just too skilled and experienced once we locked for how I fought this time. She’s not unbeatable, but it’s going to require a lot more from me to pull her away from the breadth of comfort she has within a fight.
But it’s good for me, as hard as it was to experience. I’m getting better in the clinch and I’m winning with it, but in order to really improve I have to be shown the weaknesses in my abilities. And one of the great weaknesses this fight revealed was that I don’t push hard enough for dominance when I don’t yet have a foothold. Even being outclassed the way I was in this fight, even losing exactly the same, it would have stung less if I’d come out feeling like I pushed with everything I had. I wasn’t out of breath once; I wasn’t hurt at all. Those are the fights that leave room for regret, that you could have done more. But regret can only stay with you if you let it take root, and I won’t. I accept it as a mistake, not as a flaw. You let the embarrassment or disappointment propel you toward the next one. Always on to the next.
Post Fight Update
Secondary Footage – Kevin’s Ringside Camera
the video at the top of the post comes from Dean Taylor who was filming for his Scars We Choose documentary on female fighters. He graciously gave it to us. Below is from Kevin’s camera ringside.