November 30th, 2013 – Lampang, Thailand –
Since October my fight frequency has been pretty clustered and I’ve generally fought a week apart or less. So even just having two weeks between my last fight and this one felt kind of long. And I got sick so my training schedule was disrupted and I went into this fight at a low level of confidence. You don’t want to do that; even if you have to fake it, you want to feel confident when you step into a limited space to battle wills with another sentient being.
I was coming off of two losses in a row and though neither of them should have been remarkably difficult – the first was against a much bigger opponent and the next was a rematch with Cherry, with whom I’d fought before and won buts she is a Northern Thailand Champion and has lots of experience, skill and smarts in the ring. That doesn’t mean I should lose to her, but it means that if I do it’s against a very good opponent from whom I can learn a lot. But I took it hard.
Anyway, this fight was out in Lampang, which was exciting in itself because I’d never been there before. It’s about a two hour drive and it was a festival fight, which I love. The odd bit of it was that the fights started at 10 AM, whereas most fight cards start at the exact opposite end of the clock at 9:30 or 10:00 at night. But I train in the morning, so it was no worry. There were three of us on the card: a young guy from China, a young guy from Syria and me. We were told that we’d be departing camp at 6:40 AM, but I can tell Thai time so Kevin and I arrived at 7:00. We actually didn’t end up leaving until nearly 8:00 because the guy from Syria didn’t show up and nobody had his contact info. They knew what building he lived in but not what room and there was nobody at the front desk. I was laughing when Den and Daeng asked me if I had his number. I laughed because Den asks me all the time about this or that dude at the gym who speaks any English at all and whether I know where they live or have their phone number – it’s funny because I am the most asocial person at the gym. Even the Thai boys have a better shot at acquiring this information. Don’t misunderstand, these are generally very nice individuals, but I just train and sleep.
When we got to the venue I was amazed at how big it was. Everything was just getting started but there were food stalls going forever along the path into the park – which I guess was actually a golf course or something – and immediately big Neung (the trainer) veered off from the group to get some food. The man is a bottomless pit. We set up our mat and got the Chinese guy started on hand-wrapping and massage. He was the third fight, I was sixth and the guy from Syria, who was being driven after us by a friend of the gym, was scheduled for eighth or ninth.
As we were sitting there a bunch of horse-drawn carriages parked behind us and the horses were rested and fed. I couldn’t stop staring at them, like a 6-year-old obsessing over a pony. They were so tiny. It was part of the festival and this grassy area was shaded, had grass and was off the road for the ponies to rest. Then a truck with all the fighters pictured on it pulled up and we got a snap of the corner where my opponent and I were featured, the only female fight on the card.
The billboard on the side of the truck.
An older Thai man, missing a tooth or two which was evident because he not once stopped smiling, came over to me and started making the universal pantomime for “are you fighting?” I nodded and started speaking to him in Thai, which didn’t startle him one single bit. Usually Thais who don’t know me are startled or delighted that I speak Thai – this guy just carried on like he was talking to anyone at all; maybe he’s not used to westerners. But he kept telling me I’m very small, smiling all the while. I was wearing my warmup pants and a big hoodie, so I’m sure I looked tiny. I smiled and told him it’s no problem, I fight bigger fighters all the time and I’m “prik-ki-nuu,” which Thais use to mean small and strong. Although they generally use it to refer to young fighters, so far as I’ve witnessed. He disappeared for a short time and then came back with a second man, maybe a decade younger. He looked me over and told me I was very small, then showed me using his index fingers at different heights that I was much smaller than my opponent. I assured him too that it was no problem and they smiled at each other.
What the venue looked like.
The ring was under this incredible green tarp. I don’t know who invented or produces this green construction material, but it is so prolific they must be raking in the profits. But it cast an awesome green hue throughout everything under it. Before getting in the ring I kneeled down and a man in the crowd behind me shouted “prik-ki-nuu!” I turned and smiled; it was awesome. When I got in the ring I overheard the announcer say Cherry’s name a bunch of times, which I assumed was them announcing that I’d just fought her – she’s their local champion up in Lampang and she’s much-loved by the national Muay Thai magazine Muay Siam. But then I saw her in my opponent’s corner, so I then assumed they were training partners – the same coach was in the corner as well. My opponent wasn’t huge. I’d seen her just a moment prior to being called into the ring when we both made a dash to the restroom. I had to tie a cup on and there was a long line on the women’s side, so I just put myself in the corner and started putting it on, much to the amusement of all the women in line. My opponent, however, who is what Thais universally call a Tom (short for “tom boy” but significantly more complicated in meaning than how we use it in the West) just strolled right into the men’s room, also to the amusement of all the men in the short proximity. I wish I had thought of that, though I cannot even begin to tease out all the messages I might be sending by doing so.
I did hear the announcer say she was a WBC champion and I’m not entirely certain whether I understood through other words he used that she’s a boxing champion or whether I just associate WBC with boxing and therefore kind of unconsciously understood it that way. She did have good hands. In the first round she threw some clean punches and her kicks were much faster and more comfortable than mine and right at the end she corners me and throws a million (maybe actually nine) punch combination that pins me. I got out of it by throwing a knee and she never attempted such a feat in later rounds. Keep your damn hands up, Sylvie!
She definitely crushed me in rounds 1 and 2, though I started making headway and took rounds 3 and 4. The Thai crowd behind my corner, the men I’d spoken with earlier and all the folks they’d then gone on to recruit to bet on me were going crazy. It was awesome to have such support on a local champion’s home turf! My corner was excited and telling me to just go for round 5, to keep kneeing because my opponent was tired already. I did just go, but we got tied up in the corner early in the round and she threw five or six knees very rapidly – none landed hard and none did any damage, but that doesn’t always matter – and the round became an uphill climb. I’d been teeped in the face several times throughout the fight and she was waiting for me to come in, so I had to come in hard and fast. I just didn’t mount the hill, even though it wasn’t that steep.
It felt horrible to lose that fight, even though she’s one of the most skilled and most clever opponents I’ve faced. She knew how to pull it out from a close fight and I was just trying to smash. It’s a good lesson – it’s a sucky feeling, but it’s an important thing to learn how to train against. I’ve stepped up into the next tier of fighters now, most of whom are champions and rank in the top 10 or so of female fighters in the North – and they’re all bigger than I am. It’s a mark of improvement and it’s a good thing, I just have to push a little harder with my growth in order to come out the victor in these very close fights. I was on a winning streak fighting opponents who had advantage in size but who aren’t the best fighters, which is a skill. It’s going to take different strengths and tactics to get another streak going against the top fighters, but despite losing I don’t think I need to question whether or not I belong in the ring with them. And that’s maybe the best compliment I can ask for.
Post-fight video update