April 9, 2014 – Loi Khor Stadium, Chiang Mai
This fight is four days after the last one, a five round decision loss that really upset me because I knew what I was doing wasn’t working during the fight, but I just kept doing it. As a result I was very determined to do things differently and also to train through Monday and Tuesday, having only fight day as a “rest day.” On top of this Kevin convinced me to conduct an experiment by going for a run just before heading down to my fight to see what it might do to my fight energy. It is something I never had done before, and that nobody I know of does, the general approach is to be as calm and quiet as possible. I was opposed to the idea – strongly – but agreed to give it a shot as I’ve been taking steps to become more active before fights – for instance deciding to drive down to the venue instead of riding passively in the truck, which has improved things. So after dinner I got all my stuff together, grabbed an extra shirt and we drove the bike over to the Chiang Mai University rugby field so I could run laps in the darkness, the air much cooler around the grass and under the trees. I listened to a playlist I made for one of my trainers in Pattaya of this band, The Handsome Family:
This field is one that I run past often, usually in the morning on a long 8 km loop around the university. It’s often empty, although during some parts of the year there is a rugby team that practices while the sun is just risen and close to graduation time the field is rimmed with wild flowers that grow shoulder-high (well, my shoulders; I’m 5’2′). It’s a beautiful space and at night the sidewalk around the edge of the field is invisible under the shadows of the big trees along the perimeter. But you can feel the brick below your feet, the slight unevenness to it all and the areas that collect mud and fallen leaves or blossoms in their sunken sockets.
Each side of the square loop is different. We parked between two huge trees near one corner; the first side is all darkness with only the light from the nearby street to cast everything into silhouette, giving me a sense of direction. The first turn delivers you to a side that is one long shuttle stop, the extra-long golf-karts that bring students through the campus all parked to the side in a sleepy line. All is very dim. To the farthest end of this side is the “bus stop” area, which are benches underneath aluminum covers to offer shade and protection from rain. There sat a row of students, everyone’s faces illuminated by their phones, and two drivers sitting sideways on chairs as they watched a sport I couldn’t discern on a low-volume TV set, flickering under the low roof. They acknowledged me every time I ran around but never more than just a soft head turn. The third side is all a row of enormous trees that go along the length of a commuter street. It’s the brightest area and a few motorbikes with young Thai students with their long hair whipping with the speed of their engines zoomed past me. Everyone on the way somewhere, the whole length of the square a closed loop, like a snake eating its tail.
The air was warm, although definitely a few degrees cooler than on the road, and on my second lap I removed my warmup jacket and could feel the different patches of temperature on my skin and on the beads of sweat as they formed on my shoulders, like extra little feelers on my skin. It was really beautiful and I felt very aware of everything, like every nerve was awake. This was so different from what I usually would be experiencing 45 minutes before arriving at the venue.
It’s an amazing way to prepare for a fight, actually. There’s not a lot of “warmup” in Thailand. The Thai oil massage is in place of the jumprope, shadow and maybe pad-hitting that is common in the west – a kind of passive way to warm up the muscles without expending energy. I’ve got energy to burn, almost always. Running is a particular thing for me. I don’t understand it really because I don’t love running – I don’t think about running in a positive or negative way, I just do it for training or sometimes to relax – but it’s something that always gives me pleasure; and then I immediately forget that it does that for me. But it wakes my body up in a wonderful way. I definitely felt pumped up on the way to the fight, but also calm. I suspect that the “don’t exert yourself too much” approach to lying around for one or two days to “rest up” for a fight just doesn’t work well with my composition. Tricking my brain into a calm, relaxed, alert and confident state is absolutely a good thing. This experiment will continue, especially since the wait for fights can be so long. In the US I waited at the actual venue for 7 hours once; here it’s generally two hours of sitting there, waiting to fight. Both allow enough time to go for a run.
I ran for about 20 minutes and felt really good afterwards, definitely pumped up but also relaxed. That ended up being a boon for me because once we got to the venue things got very unpredictable. The show hadn’t started yet but I was scheduled as the second fight of the night and my hands were already wrapped and I was getting oil rubbed on my arms while I stood a short distance from Den. An older Thai guy came up to me, very concerned and agitated. He slapped Kevin on the arm to get his attention and pointed at me. Kevin didn’t know what was going on and I told the guy, in Thai, “my trainer is over there,” pointing to Den, who was wrapping the next guy’s hands. Immediately Den and this Thai guy were having me and my opponent stand next to each other for visual comparison. She was maybe an inch or two taller but just much, much bigger. Her shoulders were broad and she was wide all the way down – she must have weighed at least 60 kg, although I’d probably guess maybe even 62. The other Thai guy, who I reckon was her trainer, was pissed. This was not a good match up and probably he had counted on being able to gamble on the fight, but with this bad of a mismatch nobody would gamble and there was no money to be made.
So Den disappeared to talk to the promoter and I felt a familiar feeling that my best interests are not being looked after at this production. The women I face just keep getting bigger and bigger. There are women my size, or at least closer to it – women who cut to 48 kg and so I can fight them when they’re at 50 kg or so, not women who cut to 50-53 kg, etc. I make a lot of money for this promoter, fighting as often and against giants the way I do, but it has to have a limit. I was willing to walk away from this fight, something I’ve never done before, just to make a point. Sylvie Charbonneau – the first Sylvie who was my predecessor and inspired me to come fight in Thailand at Lanna – had told me she experienced the same thing and eventually had to tell the promoter “no” in order to reign it in. It worked for her. The promoter was trying to find another fighter to come at very short notice, but it was unclear, so I actually didn’t know if I would fight at all that night.
But I felt great. I was calm and kind of willing to jump in the ring or jump back on my bike, either way. Finally I saw a woman my size arrive with a bag and a mat, so I knew I had an opponent. Neung pointed to the ring, where the “special fight” of blindfolded boxers was underway and said, “you after this.” I got in the ring first. Andy came to my corner – he was actually there for a fighter who is up at Hill Camp but he cornered for me as well. It was wonderful to have him there; it’s been about a year since he was in my corner and I miss him (us together after the fight below):
I stood in the corner as the referee checked my gloves and inspected my hair for pins and clips, then waited. I could see they were still rubbing oil on my opponent in the room to the side of the arena, so I just had to wait for her to come out. When they approached the ring I saw that the woman I’d thought was my opponent was in fact just working the corner. My opponent, as she stepped into the ring, didn’t look much smaller than the first one. But I was in the ring already. Walking out now is a much different statement than refusing the fight due to an inappropriate opponent before actually getting into the ring.
In my corner little Neung and a guy named Jack who is big Neung’s friend gave me a “thumbs up” and I actually rolled my eyes. I’m such a brat, but she was probably 56-57 kg, which is 10 kg more than I am. I shook my head and said, dtua yai maak (“she’s very big”) and then started my Wai Kru/Ram Muay.
This fight was amazing. I’ve been working on my jab-cross combo as a bread and butter rhythm to trigger everything else and to close distance. And I’ve been working, for two days, on a right elbow that allows me to keep my guard up tight and still attack at short range. So the first round I started out just jabbing a lot. Den’s been yelling at me to punch “more than one!” because I tend to land on the second or third strike. I had that in mind, although the jab alone was really bothering my opponent. I could fluster her enough with jabs, even without them landing, to keep her focused up top while I landed low-kicks to her legs. She switched her stance a few times throughout the fight off of my leg kicks to protect whichever leg I’d just tagged, but then I’d hit the other one.
I feel like I dominated every round. A few times we got into the clinch, mostly my fault for plowing in after misses – although most of the time I was able to control myself off of missed strikes and keep distance, something I never was doing so well before. I wasn’t doing well in the clinch against her. She was just too big for me to muscle it and while I did land a knee or two, it was exhausting. Den screamed at me from the corner, “Sylvie! Stop clinching!” He told me between rounds to stay outside and just keep punching “more than one” and kicking. Andy told me to change my punch to kick ratio, but my hands were really affecting her so I kept with them. And I was able to pull myself away from an imminent clinch by just using footwork and punching out. It was amazing. It was like everything just came together.
Then in rounds 3 and 4 I started getting close to head kicks, another new thing for me. I mean, I threw them, but they hit her guard. She didn’t like it. I kicked her leg on a block and didn’t care but it definitely hurt her. My shins win in most exchanges, unless it’s against a trainer – those guys are made of steel. She was just backing up more and more off of my punches. One right landed pretty solidly and she went straight back into the ropes, maybe 4 feet. I should have followed but I didn’t. Next time. I had her in the corner, threw a flurry of punches and had her tired off of some body punches. I backed up a little and it just got into my head, Sylvie, try an elbow! So I jumped and crashed down with a right elbow and didn’t even think about the left knee to the ribs and the right knee that clipped her on the way down. My body just did that – it just flowed out of me, which is what I’ve been waiting to experience forever. It’s about relaxation. When I’m not in my head, when I get out of my own way, I can let my body do what it knows, what it trains all day and every day.
I ran to the neutral corner and waited. Jack jumped into the ring from my corner before the 8 count was finished and in my head I was thinking, “get out of the damn ring, I gotta go smash her on the restart!” But she had a mouse on her left eyebrow from the elbow and when the referee finished the count and held his hands out to see whether she was ready to continue she shook her head “no.”
spoiler: the GIF below shows the end of the fight
After the fight, as my wraps were being taken off, someone from my opponent’s corner came over and asked if he could have some of our ice. We were out, it had all melted in our bucket, but I told him to ask at the bar. For some reason he didn’t go do that. So I went to the bar and got a cup of ice and Jack brought it over to my opponent for her head. I went and said, “sorry” – she was okay, no problem. Then I went to the promoter and asked him to write her name in Thai for me so I could put it on the fight, since it wasn’t her name written on the card. When I got home I read the name and was astonished to find that I’ve fought her before, 16 days ago in a slow motion clinch-war. I barely won that fight in a 5 round decision. This fight was so different. I’ve always said that rematches are a great way to gauge your own progress since you’re up against someone who has tested you before, but this was a really prime example. After only 16 days of introducing two new drills I was able to use both in this fight. Maybe the last minute switch and chaos actually helped me to relax (and the run, of course); just thinking, “f*ck it… let’s go.”
I’m not a fan of highlights and I don’t actively use them almost ever. Part of it is that a single moment in a fight is almost always out of context and generally distilling an entire effort by two persons into a single strike or fancy maneuver or split second of domination is cheap. And I definitely don’t want to disrespect my opponent by glorifying a single moment as if it represents the whole fight. The reason for this GIF (below) is not to distill the fight into a single moment – I’m more proud of the WHOLE FIGHT than I am of any single thing within it – but I’m including this here to illustrate what I was saying before about the body taking over. I made a deliberate move for the elbow and then the knees just followed, without thought. After the fight Den ragged on me. He said, “how many times you elbow like this in training? Every day you do like this and now, why only now – ONE TIME?” Master K has offered similar sentiments to me before. And that’s my point. I do this every day in training and out of 75 fights only once – a single moment among countless others where it worked… well, where I tried. This GIF could have literally hundreds just like it in the practice ring at Lanna, and yet there is only this one time I could do the exact same thing in the context of a fight. This illustrates not a fancy move but rather the difficulty of bringing one’s practice into the fight ring. For me it’s very, very difficult. It’s my constant struggle and my constant effort to do so.
Short Notice and Work
I give a lot of credit to my opponent for stepping in last minute. Actually about an hour’s notice, which is badass. She must have been relieved when she saw me, having a small opponent who she fought to a standstill 2 weeks before. Maybe my first opponent was relieved she didn’t fight me.
As much as I respect her for coming in on short notice, I have to put a note in here about how the western concept of “short notice” and what that entails doesn’t apply entirely to Thailand – conceptually, practically, or ethically. In the US we consider a week, two weeks, even a month as “short notice.” I took a fight at 20 hours notice once in New York and that seemed really short. Here, being called while you’re eating dinner isn’t a regular thing, but it’s not a crazy thing. Fighting is work, it’s a job, and being called in at an hour’s notice (or even being picked out of the crowd if you’re there with your camp as support) is like being called in to a shift at the bar, or whatever. Fighters who I see here fight all the time and so being called in for a fight is like shift work – there’s no, “but I didn’t have two days to rest first” when you have to go work at the bar – you know how to do your job and you just go do it. Sometimes that results in a great shift and sometimes it results in a “I shouldn’t even be here today” (read that in Dante from “Clerks” voice) attitude. The point is that when fighting is the purpose toward which all the hours of training are directed, it means that all your hours count, not just the hours that count down in a “fight camp.” It’s being a fighter, always – whether you’re on the schedule or not.
Post-Fight Video Update
The Whole Fight
Complete Fight Record