December 15, 2014 – Thepprasit Stadium, Pattaya (ching champ 47 kg) – full fight video above
This fight is dedicated to Dana Hoey, who is an awesome woman and supporter of my GoFundMe campaign to get me to fights. My 100th fight was to be in Buriram, but for various reasons that fight fell through – it’s part of it all to have this happen – so I got to rededicate to Dana this fight. Thanks very much!
Phetjee Jaa is wearing the red and white striped shirt that Kevin and I got it for her on our last trip back from Isaan. We saw it on a mannequin at a temple market when we made a stop to pay tribute to Pra Rahu and thought it would look good on her, as it fits her style, and a gesture to my growing closeness to her and her family. She looks awesome in it and she’s strutting around in her skinny jeans, colorful sneakers (she loves shoes; I think that’s where all her personal money goes), and her hair in two rows that I dubbed “casual fight style.” It’s amazing to have Jee Jaa at my fights, let alone in my corner and helping to wrap my hands. A year ago I thought I’d never be able to watch her on TV again and now she’s laying my mat down behind the bleachers and giving me orders about when to change into my shorts.
later Jai Dee cashes out on Phetjee Jaa’s shoes
The mat is down and we’re arranging our bags and ice-bucket on the edges. This older Thai man stops dead in his tracks when he sees me and looks at the fight program he’s holding in his hands. His eyes scan the paper, looking for me on the list and he can see my photograph next to my opponent and then he looks puzzled. He scans me with his eyes and asks what weight the fight is at, which is listed on the paper, but I tell him anyway. It’s 47 kg. His response is exactly the same as when the equipment manager approached me before; it’s something like disbelief. And I’m not sure where this response stems from, because it’s either that they don’t believe I’m 47 kg because they’ve seen me fight bigger opponents and win with my strength, or they don’t believe that my opponent tonight can still make 47 kg. To be fair, I didn’t see her weigh in this morning, but my coach told me he had her run off a few ounces to hit the mark. I don’t really care. I wouldn’t cancel the fight even if she were over 50 kg. So this guy starts asking me if I’m strong today and I laugh, telling him I feel great. He looks back at the paper, studying the pictures and the two names. Everyone knows my opponent and a lot of the gamblers here probably saw our last match, which was a really bad loss for me. But that was four months ago and a lot has changed for me. I consider my first fight against Cherry the tipping point that catalyzed my mental training and nothing has been the same since. I can’t explain all this to this guy, even if my Thai were good enough to do so it’s conceptually not something you can rattle off. But he saw my last fight at this stadium and he won money on it; just after my fight he’d placed a bet on another westerner who trains at my gym and this Thai guy was screaming instructions, desperately trying to get the westerner to clinch. I’d gone up to him between rounds and told him that clinch isn’t this fighter’s style, that what he’s doing now in the ring is what he does in training. The gambler at that fight had looked at me with wide eyes and then B-lined over to the stands where all the bookies gather, I assume to change his bet. I might have saved him some money with that move, so now that he’s standing here in front of me asking me about my fight tonight, he’s got a level of trust in me. Up in Chiang Mai I always likened the way gamblers eyed me and would squeeze my arms to being a horse at a race – now that I can speak conversational Thai, I’m like the Mr. Ed of racehorses, able to chat with the gamblers before they place their bets.
A young fighter from my other gym, Petchrungruang, is also fighting tonight and he shows up just after us. He’s been sick the past week and he got this fight on short notice. Just three days ago we were clinching together and he was coughing in fits, plus zombying around the ring to dramatize how tired he was. It was a wasted effort because Kru Nu wasn’t there to either tell him to stop or to force him to continue (he was at Omnoi stadium cornering for their top fighters). But because he had this fight there were a bunch of people from that gym at the venue, bringing together my two families. In fact, the O. Meekhun family used to live at Petchrungruang, in an apartment behind the ring where a young couple live now. So they’re all part of the same social circle, but there’s also a small rivalry between them – the healthy “sibling rivalry” kind of thing. But it felt really good to have all of them there, smiling and saying hello to so many familiar faces while also having Jee Jaa at my side and Sangwean going nuts over how hard he wanted me to fight. At my last fight with Cherry, four months ago, I’d gone with the Petchrungruang gym and a few of their fighters but Sangwean and his neighbor had ended up cornering for me. It was the first time the two gyms acknowledged – or were forced to acknowledge – that I train at both and Kru Nu had invited Sangwean to do my corner. It’s slightly complicated to go into here, but there’s a degree of “pulling rank” to have others actually go into the ring as your corner while the chief gets to stay outside and just give instructions or stand back and just be. So Kru Nu was kind of pulling rank by having Sangwean go into my corner that first fight; and Sangwean got to pull rank this time by being in charge of my fight and having his neighbors go into the ring between rounds. Anyway, in that first fight I’d managed to disappoint two gyms with one brick of a fight, which was difficult emotionally to say the least. This time I got to make up for it, like a mirror-image reversal of the first fight.
I wrote a blog post about the difficulties of losing that fight and what jump started my mental training. You can read the “Truth About Losing – and Recovery” and then the subsequent dedication to Mental Training with an interview with my brother and Sport Psychologist, Ph.D. Dr. John Gassaway
Coming into this fight there was a lot that could have gone to my head. It’s a rematch against an opponent I lost to; I’d fought terribly and my trainers ragged on me for months afterward; there was a lot of “build up” about the importance of this fight from Sangwean; this fight was with a weigh-in and for a stadium belt, neither of which mean a lot to me but definitely adds to the “hey, this is significant!” pressure from the outside; and finally it was my 100th total fight, which was a big milestone for me and that means something. Incidentally, I was talking with another female fighter in the US, Kate Allen, who was about to be the first-ever female main event in New Jersey and added to that was a title on the line. She’d confided in me that she was having a hard time reminding herself that it’s “just another fight.” I gave her advice that I then got to give myself: it’s not “just another fight,” because all those things around it make it meaningful; but that doesn’t mean you have to do anything different from what you have to do in any fight. And I kept reminding myself of this, even while Sangwean was telling me every two minutes to stay close and really push in this fight. He told me, “you don’t have a fight for 10 more days, so don’t save anything.” Well, he told me that in Thai in much different words, but that’s what he meant.
Just before my fight this squirrely guy who I assume works for the stadium, but there’s some overlap in having jobs at the stadium and being employed by gyms (so I don’t trust him entirely as being neutral in his motivations), took me from where I was warming up behind the bleachers and had me sit up on this VIP stage with red vinyl couches to wait for my fight. It’s like being “on deck” for your fight. I was slightly suspicious because Cherry, my opponent, wasn’t there. Was he interrupting my warm up? But she did show up in the later rounds of the fight before ours and sat there on the couch opposite me. Her dad positioned himself right next to me (but below, on the ground level) and gave Cherry emphatic instructions to elbow from the first bell, instructions that I know for sure were 90% intended to intimidate me and only 10% actual instructions to her fight method. My guard is solid nowadays, so she could elbow all she wanted.
The fight we were watching was a mess. I used to get so pissed up in Chiang Mai that my fight was always right after the bullshit “blind boxers” show fight, which is old ex-fighters who are probably paid in beer putting on blindfolds and going after each other (three in the ring at a time and usually one of them is a “little person” at maybe 4’5″) in a ridiculous circus of a 10-minute round. This fight before mine in Pattaya was a real fight and the fighters were going hard, but the show of stamina and skill was pretty ridiculous with the Thai fighter gassing in the second round and the westerner gassing slightly less and just throwing the kitchen sink and falling all over the place. The crowd kind of loved it though. Jee Jaa was down in front of the stage, with my pink towel draped over her shoulders, and she’d periodically turn around and smile at me after a particularly comical moment in the ring. It was actually a pretty sweet connection and I was laughing out loud at some parts of that fight. Cherry didn’t seem to find the fight as funny as I did, but I do appreciate that the levity I experienced was part of my newer mental approach to fights. I felt pretty relaxed.
In the Ring
We both slipped into the ring and the announcer read our names over and over again. I was actually announced as Sew-vee, which is about as close to my name as I’ve ever heard in Thailand. Awesome. The announcer went on and on about our weight and the belt, a little something about our last fight that I didn’t quite catch, and something about 51 kg, which maybe is the weight Cherry’s belt was at before (she wore the belt in the Ram Muay, as the defending champion) or what she normally weighs. Everything that’s said is for gamblers, so they tend to give a lot of information. The crowd was loud during our Ram Muay and Cherry has this really beautiful, elaborate Ram Muay that lasts longer than mine, so I stood facing my corner for a few minutes. Looking out over the audience I saw the bookies shaking their hands, calling for bets. There are complicated hand-signals ( simple breakdown by Muay Farang here) and I only recognize a few of them, mostly the call for “which corner?” and then sometimes I can catch the odds. But there were a lot of bets being placed and I was not the favorite. I crouched down in the corner to listen to Sangwean, who was telling me the push forward and สู้ ๆ (su su, “fight!”). I nodded and he told me to stand up and turn around to break the arrow Cherry was shooting at me in her Ram Muay. At first I shook my head “no,” not wanting to engage with the games at all. But I actually thought she was done at one point and turned around while she was still shooting at me. Our eyes met for a moment and she actually looked a bit embarrassed, maybe not expecting to have to do a face-off when I’d had my back to her a moment before. I caught her final arrow and broke it over my knee (miming, of course), which made the crowd give a holler.
Cherry returned to her corner for one moment and then turned around to meet me in the middle of the ring for the ref’s instructions. I don’t know how, but her mongkol somehow slipped off her head and plopped to the ground directly in front of her feet. I felt horrible for her in that moment. My monkol fell to the ground after my last fight while we were taking my gloves off and I’d just that same day had it re-blessed at the temple. (The monk totally got excited over me being a fighter and gave me a special blessing; he was awesome.) To have it fall to the floor right at this moment is both embarrassing and in the most superstitious sport in the world, a very bad omen. She had to scoop it off the floor with her gloved hands and place it on her shoulder, which was actually a very smooth move in how she handled it.
I really love the ref we had in this fight. He’s very “cool” and has a quick eye and steady hand in his approach to controlling fights. I came out in the first round just wanting to use the same things that have been working for me, but had also mentally fortified myself to stand up to her strikes and not back off. Just walk through everything and get to the clinch. We’d actually clinched in our last fight, too, but she’d won those exchanges by locking me up and I didn’t know yet how to work around that. Within the first round I’d clinched her and crushed her down to the mat twice. One time my grip was low enough that it was close to the “back break” foul, but was not in fact a foul. Cherry protested, verbally, to the referee and he gave me a quick warning before setting us back to the fight. I think that having felt my strength freaked her out a bit and the referee was letting the clinch go long enough for me to work around the fact that she was continually getting the superior position. Thing is, I’m so used to having the inferior position against these fucking incredible clinchers (damn teenaged boys and Phetjee Jaa) at my gyms that I can now score from that position. It’s not really a disadvantage to be there.
In the corner Sangwean was actually screaming at me to get my damn hips back before throwing knees so that they’d have enough power to knock her out. He’s not wrong, but between rounds 1 and 2 his intensity was just too much for me. I don’t respond well to that kind of coaching and because I have a strong relationship with Sangwean, I decided to kind of passive-aggressively indicate to him that this isn’t a reasonable approach. I did this by not looking at him while he was yelling and instead making eye-contact and nodding to the two men actually in the ring with me, who were telling me practically the same thing but in a calmer manner. I started getting more and more knees in the next round, getting my hips back on a few, turning, bending Cherry’s head down and landing at least one knee to her chin. She’s got good, heavy hands and tried to blast me back with some straight punches but they just landed on my guard and I didn’t back up at all.
She came out strong in the 3rd but I felt like that only fed me and I was starting to get her head down in the clinch more easily, plus she was draining in energy. I felt like my strength was on the rise. The ref gave her a standing 8 count in the corner after I’d dropped her a couple times and she was turning away from me during knees. Turning in Thailand is a big deal – it’s seen as indicating a lack of will to fight – and it can result in fights being stopped, especially between kids and probably more so with women also. I think that round was slightly longer because of the count, although it did end right as we got back into the action. Maybe that’s why Sangwean was happier between rounds, telling me dee! (“good!) and pretty much to just keep going like this.. Round 4 felt awesome in terms of my arc. I felt like I was just going to keep climbing, wasn’t tired at all and in this round I felt like I answered her strikes at a distance better than I had in previous rounds. She tried to catch my knees and kicks with an underhanded catch, which left her wide open for a head kick. Noticing it is step 1, being able to punish it with the actualization of the thought is a big, wide step after that… but it’s coming. In the last maybe 40 seconds of the fight I back her into the ropes and out of the corner of my eye I saw her dad dramatically indicating for her to elbow me. She looked at him, looked at me, and her right arm actually cocked backwards for the elbow. I just stopped, waited, low-kicked and then jumped in with a right cross. A cut was probably her only chance at that point but I’ve learned 44 stitches worth of lessons about keeping my guard up already.
I don’t know. Cherry made me look much worse than I am in our last fight, four months ago. She made me look so shitty, in fact, that my trainers for months afterwards kept using this fight to disparage me and doubt me. Kru Nu wouldn’t book me fights at all and said I could only rematch Cherry at 46 kg (a weight she could never make), even when I said size was not the issue. And Sangwean had more faith in me and booked me fights but I did have to hear other men hanging around the gym doubting me openly because of my fight performance on that night. In this fight, I made her look worse than she is – she is very skilled. It was just an about-face that’s the result of not letting her fight the way that makes her look good. What’s very exciting for me, what felt so good, was that I could feel every single difference between our last fight and this one. I could pinpoint on a map all the things I’ve implemented between them, the most significant being my dedication to mental training. I’m not going to catch up to Cherry’s experience. She’s been training Muay Thai for over 10 years and has over 100 fights; I’m catching up to that number, but I can’t catch up to the years. However, I can see the deficiencies she has in her mental approach. I can see that she doesn’t want it as badly as I do and that’s a huge disadvantage for her in the ring. Mostly I’m just happy to have turned around my own weaknesses from the last fight to the strengths of this one. And now I get to keep going, keep improving. What more could I ask for, really?
Addendum: When I came back to the gym the next day I was told I was a 10 to 1 underdog to win with the Thai gamblers.
The Muay Siam Photos of the Fight
Post Fight Video Update