December 28, 2013 – Loi Kroh Stadium
I’ve been sick for about a month, but to varying degrees. Between my last fight and this one an upper-respiratory infection that I’d been tackling with antibiotics about a week or two prior finally turned into a bronchitis-type cough and head cold. When I went for my last run two days prior to the fight I felt like my lungs were on fire. It wasn’t great, but I did truly believe I would feel better by fight-time.
And I did, to some degree. I thought this fight would kind of be a squeeze-in, just one last go before the end of the year, and maybe because I was seeing it that way I was anticipating that it would be “low-key.” When we arrived at the gym to go down to the venue, however, there were half-dozen guys there. We actually didn’t all fit in the car, so there were some arrangements made (and remade) so that a few of them drove their own motorbikes down, following Little Neung who took a passenger as well. On top of this, a photographer contacted me and said he’d like to come shoot the fight and I got a message from Andy that a guy who has been training at Hill Camp might be coming with his family, including two teenaged daughters who he hoped I could advise on training. It was turning into quite an entourage!
I was very cold and wearing pretty much every article of clothing in my closet. Once I had to change into my fight clothes I was constantly aware of a chilly breeze that slithered through the venue – something that would be outstanding in summer when it’s sweltering in there, but that was quite nasty at this point. There was one other female bout on the card (I was listed as the 5th fight and again at 115 lbs) as the second fight and I tried to watch it while my hands were being wrapped. It was a real sleeper of a fight against two opposing attitudes. The red corner was wearing black shorts and was very tall and thin; she stood with a narrow stance and just kept rhythm without ever throwing the first strike. She checked kicks well and had her own counter kick which was bent, landing right across the belly – fantastic point, but no power. The blue corner was wearing pink shorts and was stocky; she had a shoulder-width stance and would pantomime running in for a kick that she simply wouldn’t throw. It was obviously meant to be a “psych!” tactic for intimidation, but her opponent actually never fell for it, so she was just kind of always not kicking. I had to turn my back during the last two rounds for my handwraps, but it stayed mostly like this with some clinching that I didn’t see. Then they read the red corner as the winner and I was confused because the fighters had opposite-colored shorts from their corners. The tall one who never moved won. She looked very familiar, with an incredibly unusual face. I remarked to Kevin that she looked like Nong Mai, who I fought in Isaan on TV about a year ago. Just after our fight she’d gone to take her last exams at her high school and never came home – she ran away. Her parents went on TV to beg her to come home and everything. Daeng read about it in the paper and told me. As I was walking to the ring, sure enough we crossed paths and it was, indeed, Nong Mai. Now she fights under the name Sawmuangpai (basically “Miss Pai”) in a rural area just outside of Chiang Mai. I guess a rematch is suddenly very possible!
As I was warming up for my fight (and trying to stay warm), a fellow who has been hanging out at the gym and watching me train because he has some kind of technique-for-boxers program on TV came over to my husband Kevin and reported what he’d discovered about my opponent. He’d probably gone over and asked what she’s good at, something a gambler would ask, and now Kevin was telling me that she “has very fast hands, very fast kicks, and very skilled.” Okay, I thought. Should be a good fight.
Just before getting in the ring Little Neung told me that tomorrow (Sunday) was his last day in Chiang Mai because he was going home again, to join the army. Damn; this is the second time that one of my favorite Thai boys has told me he’s leaving pretty much at the point that he’s leaving. And it’s the second time Neung has left the camp, although last time he came back after about 10 months. I’ll miss him though. He adds a lot to the gym and when he goes, that will go with him.
I must admit that I prejudged my opponent on her chosen hairstyle as she entered the ring. The style connotes a very young girl, or even the Hill Tribe women I’ve very rarely fought who just put a poneytail at the front and call it a day. It suggests inexperience, in a way. But it’s just hair. Once she started her Ram Muay I knew she was no slouch. From the man who owns Santai Muay Thai in San Kamphaeng (just a short drive out of Chiang Mai City) I have learned that Nong Em is from Isaan and when her team has breaks from school they head over to Santai to train because they lack proper facilities back home. They also fight as much as possible during that time, which is pretty cool. But he said that Nong Em mainly trains in Wushu, but has Muay Thai experience and has won championships in Isaan. That is, to me, the heartland of Muay Thai.
I started out with some left hand punches that irritated Nong Em a bit. Her kicks are fast, although not very strong. She didn’t feel remarkably large in the ring with me – except when she threw me – but when I watch the video and see pictures she looks giant. Her balance is great though. She had this amazing skill in turning in the clinch and then kneeing or kicking out of the off-balance moment of those turns. I wanted to throw my hands more in this fight and I believe I succeeded in that, although my distancing made the fruits of that labor pretty difficult. It’s a step in the right direction though. For the most part I just kept crashing in and looping my left arm around her neck, where I would get trapped because she would control my other arm and I would end up kind of sideways. This is frustrating to me because it’s something I had a big problem with a long time ago – it’s an old problem that I somehow worked away from but obviously haven’t yet solved. Because of her size I couldn’t right myself from that position for knees and I ended up just being kind of tied up.
In the fifth round I push her into the ropes and she climbs up on my legs, her back against the ropes, and throws an elbow to the side of my head. “Monkey cracks coconut” would be the name of that move. It didn’t hurt. It was theater. But it’s still impressive that she’s comfortable and confident enough to try it.
I’m really frustrated by this fight. After a string of losses, this opponent is the closest to my size I’ve had in a while and the closest to my skill level. I’ve been pretty outclassed as of late by women who have been world champions for years already. I should have pulled this one out, this should have been my break. But I don’t want to disrespect Nong Em at all. She’s still good enough and experienced enough that I would have to work to beat her, I’m just saying I think I should have done so. But there’s only one thing I can do about it after the fact and that’s use my mistakes to build new pathways. When I got back to training I used a lot of focus to correct the things I felt were my biggest handicaps this time. Ironing out the wrinkles of habit and replacing them with the smoothness of deliberate movement, so to speak.