About a month ago Daeng asked me if I wanted to fight in Chiang Rai. I enthusiastically replied to the affirmative and he nodded thoughtfully as he told me that a promoter had called him and wanted me for a fight on the 29th. That worked out really well, since my best friend Nell would be visiting me in Chiang Mai and I wanted to make sure she could come to see me fight.
Chiang Rai is a big district and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a 3-4 hour drive up there, but Tor – Daeng’s son – was also fighting on this card and he assured me it was only about an hour and a half. Even though it was closer than I’d imagined, the drive is up and over some mountains and it’s pretty cold in the back of an open truck. Still better than sitting hours in the “green room” of a venue in the States though.
When we got to the venue I was very excited to see it was fairgrounds. I love festival fights. The first Muay Thai that Kevin and I witnessed in Thailand was at a festival and it was like nothing else we’d experienced – the crowd, the energy, the simplicity, the fighters… you can feel how this is a way of life. We had to find parking in a pretty creative spot in between some houses, but it was happily pretty close to the main entrance of the festival and we walked over in a just a few minutes. There were food stalls all along the mouth of the entrance and then a large field with trucks that had been fashioned into floats waiting to parade somewhere – little girls in full makeup and traditional dancing attire perched between swells of flowers and lights. Across the first field was a very large stage where a live band blasted out Thai country music and some current pop music covers while a team of young women danced.
To the left was a second field and it was lighted from the back where the ring was set up, a string of large bulbs slung diagonally across the top. From the backlight of the ring you could see huge plumes of smoke dissipating from left to right in a soft wind, the cracks and pops of firecrackers punctuating the background music and foreground crowd. It wasn’t close to the start of the fights yet, but there was already a growing crowd.
The Festival – Loi Krathong
The festival was for a big holiday in the north called Loi Krathong, during which lotus-shaped floats covered in flowers, incense and candles are floated down canals, rivers and waterways while large paper lanterns, or “fire balloons” are floated into the sky. The firecrackers are constant and without western parental concern kids will full on just throw them at each other or light and covertly drop them at each other’s feet to laugh as they explode and cause the unsuspecting friend to jump. The young novice monks don’t throw them at anyone, but they have a pretty high supply and enjoyment in lighting bottle rockets.
So we set up our mats at the edge of this field with lanterns floating up, firecrackers exploding everywhere and smoke blowing through like Gettysburg or something. When the fighters finally took the stage a well-timed explosion would add sound effect to a punch or kick and every now and again the fighters clashing in the corner would be back-dropped by fireworks in the sky overhead, all the while with lanterns forming drifting red constellations in an otherwise starless sky.
I was set to be the 6th fight, Tor the 7th. I lost track of the order of fights by there not being any English spoken over the PA at all and apparently there were two fights that didn’t count before they started over at what I had counted to be the third fight – so I was changing into my shorts in the cold night air when I thought it was fight number five but it was really fight number three. Pants back on!
In the Ring
Just before going to the ring Daeng told me to go in and clinch, “don’t wait,” he said, “she has a good kick.” I nodded and followed him through the crowd to the ring. The crowd is right up to the ring at these fights and some of the betters made approving noises as I came up to the ladder. One asked me, in Thai, whether I had studied any Muay Thai? I guess it’s not a given and, indeed, my husband, Nell and I were the only westerners in the whole area. I just smiled and nodded to him and then climbed in the ring.
I looked across at my opponent and saw that she’s the woman I was matched up against at Kalare a couple months ago by the promoter just sizing us up by eye. She’s a little big bigger than I am, but her legs are really strong. As I was looking at her I felt someone touching my bare toes under the ropes of the ring and looked down, expecting to see my husband wanting to tell me something encouraging. Instead, there was a Thai man who told me, in Thai, that he was going to bet 2,000 Baht on me so to please win. Alright then!
The announcer said I was from England, but just as I’m walking to the center of the ring to touch gloves you can hear a gambler yelling, “Obama!”, so I guess one of my corners made a correction.
Within the first 40 seconds of the fight I felt both the quick, hard low kick and the hands of my opponent. She is, indeed, a kicker. And her hands are fast and snappy, too. Unlike most of my other opponents, she also seemed really game to not only stand in striking distance but to close distance and go on the offensive as well. Fun! Her kicks were so fast that I didn’t reckon I wanted to try dodging them and since I’m fighting in one week I didn’t want to block unless that was the best option, but that resulted in me eating a few. They’re strong, but not enough to make me care. When I caught them – more out of habit than tactic – she immediately started hopping to avoid being tripped. If I’d been paying more attention I would have thrown the leg and countered her, which would have been a big problem for her. Next time.
Between rounds Daeng told me to stop turning sideways in the clinch (which they’ve been telling me for at least three fights now) and to knee straight, then told me again not to wait, just go in to clinch and knee. I looked across the ring and saw that my opponent was already breathing hard. Time to drag this into the deep water.
This guy right in front of the camera in round 2 was yelling at me to just punch her – he really wanted me to use my hands and I’ve been wanting to land punches as well, spending time on my right cross and left hook in ringwork. I definitely landed a right cross in this round. At about 45 seconds I elbowed her in the clinch and that changed the fight. Suddenly she had a different sense of acceptable distance and I think that’s when my victory was secured. You can see in the video how different her energy is when the ref pulls us apart to reset in the middle of the ring. She’s done. Then she started turning away from me in the clinch and I took her back, causing the crowd to go crazy. When we clinched up on the far side of the ring she didn’t square her hips up with mine and I got her head down, threw my right knee and she went down. I’m not sure where exactly I connected but it was strong and as she was lying on the canvas her left eye socket began to color and swell, so I’m pretty sure it was somewhere around there. The ref counted her out but she wasn’t getting up and in fact it was difficult for her to stand to get out of the ring.
I don’t reckon she was seriously injured, but definitely hurt and maybe not too clear of mind. I went to her corner, thanked her when she started to move around a little, bowed to the sides of the ring where I thought the judges were (I couldn’t find them) and then went to my corner to get out. They guy over there told me to stay in the ring and kept pointing to the side where my opponent was still on the mat, saying, “money, money!” I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I waited for Daeng who was helping my opponent and he then took me over to the far side where two men handed me 200 Baht each through the ropes. I think this is better’s money – my first! (Gamblers will often give part of their winnings to the fighter when they make a lot on a bet. As a westerner in a stadium that sees a lot of westerners I don’t experience this, but on the fairgrounds with an all Thai crowd that doesn’t see many westerners at all, I was approached as a regular fighter. ) I got lots of thumbs up, smiles, handshakes and words of congratulations as I moved through the crowd back to the mats. My fight was quick, so Tor was still getting ready and I got a lot of smiles while my handwraps were taken off. The guy from the corner of the ring followed me all the way back to the mats and was just beaming, totally excited by the fight. He said he is a promoter and wants me to fight for him again, to which I very happily agreed.
Nell and Trophy
My friend Nell had seen me fight in the US a few times but was totally excited at this fight. I was so happy she got to experience this with me – infused with the love for festival fighting like I am.
Tor’s fight was great. It was the first time I got to see him and he slowly but surely secured a total dominance through the rounds. Despite our long drive home and it being after midnight already, we stayed to watch the rest of the fights. When the final match was finished Tor and I were called over to the ring and were each presented with a trophy. Tor’s was “fight of the night” and I’m unsure what mine is, but I love it. I’m pretty sure the writing on the front is to the effect of the name of the stadium and the celebration of Loi Krathong in year 2555 – something like that. It’s a green cup with gold handles and a gold fighter on the top (all plastic) with a pink ribbon around the base of the cup. Pink isn’t a “girl’s color” in Thailand, so I don’t think it’s a gendered trophy – just recognition of something which I might understand better when I translate what it says.
The ride home was beautiful. Loi Krathong festivals are scheduled for the full moon, so the jungle and mountains were illuminated by a pale glow and the boys all fell asleep in the back of the truck while Nell, Kevin and I recounted favorite parts of the night. A few gamblers, the announcer on the microphone and the promoter had all told me they hoped I would fight for them again. I certainly hope so too.
The Whole Fight
My Sponsor Mr. VC
This fight was also the first time I wore the shorts of one of my sponsors. Stephen Noton was the first big supporter of my Muay Thai Kickstarter campaign which enabled the creation of this website 8limbs.us. His significant angel donation earned him the top reward of having his name on shorts I fought in. The shorts were made by my friend Boomii here in Thailand. So thank you Stephen, I was really happy to win in those shorts in this special fight. I have two more sponsor shorts to wear: those of James Palmer and Jairo David Avila