November 9, 2013 – Loi Kroh Ring
I had a week between my last fight and this, which is starting to feel like a long time. When I first started fighting upon my move to Thailand 18 months ago I was fighting twice per month and that seemed like a lot. Then we would sprinkle a third fight in there sometimes and that started to feel normal. October had a lot of fights all in a short period of weeks and so now a fight ever week feels right, so that anything longer actually feels long.
Sometimes I’m told who I’ll be fighting prior to a fight, but 9 out of 10 times I have no idea until I look at the program. When we got to the venue I saw that it said Bai Fern, who is a fighter that I have somehow not yet had the chance to fight over the past year. I saw her fight about a year ago, successfully defending her title at Loi Kroh Stadium (the title being of the stadium) and I thought to myself then that we fight similarly. It would be an interesting fight – she’s taller than I am and perhaps heavier, but I’m stronger and we both knee a lot. So, when I saw her name on the card I was excited to finally be facing her.
Last Saturday’s fight was totally bizarre and also a little bit awesome for the fact that every single bar was closed at Loi Kroh, which made it a ghost-town event. Tonight was the exact opposite. The fights started earlier than usual because the stadium had filled up already, mostly with westerners seated all around the ring. The whole stadium was abuzz with energy and Nook and big Neung, who haven’t been to one of my fights in ages, both showed up for the gambling.
I did my usual of sitting around before everything started, but once the actual even commenced I knew I would have to stay on my toes. The first fight was stopped in the second round for seemingly no reason – one or both fighters weren’t fighting, I guess. The second fight ended in KO right away and none of the four fighters in the first two bouts had performed a Ram Muay. So I hopped up and told Den that we’d better get my hands wrapped, despite my name being the 6th fight on the card. It might go by quickly at this rate.
Den nodded and continued with his game of pool against little Neung, telling me they’d wrap my hands after their game. The next fight ended in KO immediately – they had performed a Ram Muay, but it was longer than the fight. It happened that Off and Not showed up at this moment and Off sat right down to wrap my hands, going more quickly on my left (the second hand that as wrapped) than the right as the fights just kept going by quickly.
the inspiring backdrop for hand-wrapping
When I was oiled and shadowing I could feel my heart racing. I would move around to warm up and get my forms going in my limbs, but then slow down to keep my heart from beating out of my chest. I do well when I’m nervous like this, it’s a good thing, but I kept reminding myself that I might be in the ring at any moment, given that every single fight had ended in KO. The fight just before mine was the main-event and went the distance. It was a very exciting match between two young men listed at my weight, although their body types were opposites: one long and lanky and the other short and muscled.
Finally it was my turn and we headed over to the ring. I climbed up first and took my bows in the ring, then stood in my corner, facing in to the ring. The woman who climbed up into the ring was definitely not Bai Fern. That’s not the strangest thing – opponents can change all the time – what was remarkable was how huge she was. Not only tall, but thick-legged and solid in the center. I turned around and looked at Den, who was staring in disbelief at the opponent’s corner. He told me to wait, then hopped down off the ring. The referee came over to me to check my gloves but instead of doing so put his hand out, stopping just shy of actually touching me, and nodded in a “wait a second” gesture. I could see Den over behind the neutral corner to my right, talking to the promoter. He was animated. The announcer had stood up and was leaning his tall body forward, over the judges, looking into the ring. His paper still said Bai Fern and he had announced this fighter as such. I looked over at my husband in the neutral corner on my left and mouthed, “not Bai Fern.” He smiled and shook his head, not reading my lips at all but assuming the hubbub was a matter of someone having forgotten the Mongkol.
warming up blocks in the bar
As I stood in that corner I knew I was at a crossroads. Either Den would return and tell me to get out of the ring, calling off the fight, or he would return and the fight would commence. The only one worth preparing for is for the fight to go on, so I looked over at this giant across from me and convinced myself we were about to have a fight. When Den came back he was furious. The promoter hadn’t told him at all that the opponent had changed, so his first knowledge of it was when she climbed into the ring, being all not Bai Fern and huge.
“Sylvie, you want to fight or no?” Den asked me. I almost laughed. I’ve been asked to pick between two opponents before (incidentally, this woman was one of them back then, which I didn’t realize until after this fight – I had let Den choose back then and he chose a different fighter, also bigger but less so) and I kind of like the idea of being put in a position of making choices for myself as a fighter, but I also had very little to go on. “I’ll fight anyone,” I said to Den, “it’s up to you because I don’t know anything about this girl.” Den stared at her for a minute, then looked around the venue. With the night going the way it had with all these knockouts and I being the only westerner on the card, it would have looked pretty terrible to the audience to have this fight cancelled, the two of us crawling back out of the ring with no real way of explaining the situation. Den was in a tough spot. He knows the promoter personally – he’d been Den’s trainer when Den was very young – but the promoter had also just pulled the wool over Den’s eyes and then begged him to go on with the fight anyway, offering an extra 500 Baht to my purse, a 16% raise.
Den pulled me toward him by the shoulders and said, “okay,” almost under his breath. “Keep your hands up, she like to elbow Falang,” he said, “but she no energy, okay? You make her tired, okay?” Then he held the Mongkol up between his palms and started the pre-fight prayer/blessing.
I like that Den believes in me and I actually do think I could beat this girl, if I were to approach the fight in a very different tactical manner. I wasn’t filled with confidence by the procession prior to the fight, the surprise of this opponent and coupled with Den’s reaction that this fight might just be called off entirely. If he’d said, “you go smash her to punish them for putting her in here,” that would have felt different. To be fair, if I’d thought that to myself it would have felt different also – I’ve got a responsibility to myself here, too.
I was frustrated in the fight because I didn’t charge in and make her tired, although I’m not entirely sure that coming in is the right solution to beating her anyway, since my strength in the clinch was just totally nullified by our size disparity. I’m 47 kg and this chick is 60 kg, a full 13 kg difference (28.6 lbs difference) – that kind of size advantage, given that she was much taller also, made pretty much everything about the fight very difficult. She was throwing elbows from the get-go, one of which landed across my nose and mouth but none of which cut or damaged me much. I tried to pin her right arm with my left arm in the clinch to hold her elbows back but I was left open to any attack she wished to throw regardless. I had trouble locking my hands, maybe due to her height or maybe just being overwhelmed, which would have made a difference to my advantage in the clinch if I’d been able to do so. It was rough.
I went after her in the third round when her back was against the ropes and she waited for me with a long knee straight up into my sternum. Her height made it land right into my solar-plexus and it knocked the wind out of me. I struggled to breathe, my body just pressing the air out in rhythmic “hnnn, hnnnn, hnnnn” as I tried like all hell to just get oxygen into my lungs. But I hadn’t been knocked down and I was standing, still moving forward with my hands up trying to look menacing enough that I could buy time until I was breathing again, just hoping that my poker-face was good enough that she didn’t take note of my inability to breathe and jump on me. If she’d hit me during those impossibly long 5-10 seconds I would have been in serious trouble. This is when you feel grateful for all the hellish moments in training when your trainer busts your gut open with a punch or kick and comes after you if you show it. If I hadn’t learned the importance of not showing pain by repeatedly being punished for letting on that I was hurt, I’d have been done for – add another KO to the night.
Between the fourth and fifth round it was clear from my corner’s tones in voice and relaxed resignation that the fight was over. I’d have to knock her out for any chance at all of winning. I was willing to go for it, but when I actually stood there in the ring against her my body just wasn’t doing what I wanted it to. The referee gave me a “good job, slugger,” pat on the chest and shoulders as I went into the fifth round. And I did go after her, although I just stopped at a terrible range where I couldn’t really strike and couldn’t plow forward – I was getting creamed in the clinch anyway. Finally, somewhere near mid-way through the round Den called to me from the corner and I glanced over. He was telling me to stop fighting, to just dance it out and “not get cut,” his biggest fear about the fight because a cut would keep me out of my fight the following Saturday. It was a minimize the damage moment, but I also suspect to some degree that calling me off the chase was a very slight jab at the mis-match.
I followed Den’s wishes and regretted it. It feels against my character and morals to submit, but I guess that’s a lesson also, something I can keep in mind for the future when I have a choice and know I’d rather feel proud of my resolve after the fight rather than feel resigned within it. We didn’t need to wait for the decision after the fight, I just took my bows and climbed out of the ring. I felt annoyed that this was probably a very boring fight to watch, but on the same token I did what I could within those circumstances, which were difficult to say the least.
The women who work the bar where we warm up were like Den Mothers to me when I had my wraps taken off. One brought me a roll of toilet paper to wipe my face off with and another brought me a glass of ice-water, all of them giving me looks of perfectly-blended sympathy and maybe a little bit of protectiveness. My husband didn’t notice the size difference very strongly when he was watching/filming the fight, something that is the expression of his belief that I can beat anybody and that I looked not a wink out of place against this girl in the ring. (When he watched the footage afterward he saw the disparity more plainly.) That’s beautiful in one way, entirely frustrating in another in that I do believe I can beat her also. Part of me wants to ask for a rematch, maybe in a couple of months when I’ve worked with my trainers to know how to solve such a difficult opponent.
this is her
Last year there was a pit bull puppy at the gym named Sylvia (that Big swore was just coincidentally named my name and not “after” me in the slightest). She was sweet and dumb and I loved her. Wandee the only female in Andy’s pack of dogs and the dictator/queen could not tolerate Sylvia’s presence, like the evil step-mother in every Grimm tale. Wandee attacked and bit Sylvia, leaving a scar between her dopy little eyes on an otherwise perfectly milk-and-caramel smooth face. When it happened, Den was telling me what had occured in a “what a bad dog” tone about Wandee, attacking a puppy like that, but then he paused for a moment and said with absolute resolve, “it’s okay, in two or three months, ” implying when the tiny pit bull grew in size, “then Sylvia get her back.” That’s how I feel now. Two months, three months… then I get her back.