I was really excited for this fight for a number of reasons, two of which were: 1) that it was in honor of His Majesty the King’s birthday celebration and 2) therefore likely a festival fight. I was also excited to have a fast turn around from my last fight (six days) and was determined to make this a quick fight in order to not have any injuries to recover from for my next fight which is only nine days after. It went five rounds anyway.
As a happy surprise Andy was back from work and Hill Camp for this fight and since Big and Boy were both scheduled to fight on this card as well the group going to the fights was big enough that we required two trucks. Andy’s truck is just an open bed in the back whereas Daeng’s has a cover (though still open on the sides) and benches along the two sides. In short, Daeng’s truck is far more comfortable for an hour or more ride to a venue. Each of the Thai boys – Off, Big and Boy – had a girlfriend with them for this trip, so the six of them squeezed onto one bench while Kevin, me and a young Thai man who trains privates with Tor sat on the opposite side. Once we got moving the sides evened out a little bit, but not much.
The venue was great. Upon hopping out of the truck and finding the road we heard the Royal Anthem in the distance and nearly everyone stopped in their tracks, which is what one does when the Royal or National Anthem plays. A couple of the Thais kept walking and Wung yelled, in Thai, “Hey, are you Thai or what?” When the song finished we continued on our way and found the front gates and as we entered through them the sky lit up with fireworks so low and so loud that they set off car alarms.
Once the mats were set up I went to find the bathroom and noticed very quickly that I was – as is the pattern so far at festival fights – the only westerner in sight. I was of great interest to the people I was passing, most of whom assumed I was a fighter due to my hairstyle and how I was dressed (in a hoodie and track pants). When I came back from the bathroom the sky had a trail of fire balloons lifting into the sky in a slow progression. I looked over toward the stage and saw that the entire audience was lighting and releasing them together, a whole sea of orange eggs warming before ascending two or three at a time into the parade of lights leading up to the star-scarce sky. So beautiful.
Back at the mats I saw that Boy was already getting his hands wrapped and I asked Daeng what number fight I was. He said he didn’t know because the fight order was getting moved around – apparently Boy wasn’t listed as first and their best guess was that I would be fourth. Off called me over to wrap my hands and as we argued over whether or not the pre-made tape cast was appropriately fitted on my fist Big came over to help. Apparently he wasn’t fighting after all, something to do with his opponent being far below his skill level from a previous loss to Off.
Once my hands were wrapped and I had been sitting over by Kevin for a minute Wung looked over and made an astonished sound, then asked why my hands were wrapped. I pointed to Off and Big and said they’d told me to come have them wrapped and Wung then yelled at them in Thai before telling me that I’m the eighth fight so to have them unwrapped and rewrapped later. The eighth fight did mean about three hours before my fight, but the wraps weren’t uncomfortable and I promised Den and Wung I’d take them off if they started to feel constricting.
Boy’s fight wasn’t exciting until the fourth round. In the first round Wung went to the corner and before it was finished came back to the mats and muttered something about Boy needing to pull his opponent’s lead arm down and elbow over it because, “when his opponent good with knees Boy not lucky with elbow.” Boy was getting tagged with knees in the clinch by his significantly taller opponent. But in the second part of the third round he started throwing elbows and by the fourth his opponent was cut. Midway through the round Boy landed a beautiful elbow exactly as Wung had said, pulling down the guard of his opponent and elbowing over it, dropping his opponent to the mat where he was counted out.
One of the best parts of Boy’s fight was hearing the three Thai girls who’d accompanied the boys from the camp screaming whenever a strike landed. I turned to Kevin and told him that what I need is a group of fan girls to really intensify a fight in the way that a crowd’s “oi! oi!” and “dtee! dtee!” can infuse a space with intense energy. Luckily for me, the girls all came over to my corner for my fight and screamed like crazy all throughout. It was awesome.
My opponent was one I’ve fought before, Yodying sor. Sumalee, but they announced her gym with a different name. So, I don’t know if one of her trainers started his own gym and she followed or if she changed gyms or if she simply started getting focused training from one trainer and now fights under his name. No matter the case, she was more energetic than she’s been in previous fights, although her weapons of choice remained fixed: left kick followed by left cross.
I’ve been wanting to land my hands better in fights. It’s a little ridiculous that I don’t land my hands, given that my right cross is probably my strongest strike and my left hook is developing into a really nasty finisher. The issue is distance, mainly – when I’m close enough to be punching I tend to rush forward into the clinch, completely blasting through that optimal range. It’s getting better, just not there yet.
The first round I was chasing her too much, not cutting off the ring. My corner told me to pull my hips back to land straight knees in the clinch and cut off the ring, but otherwise seemed happy with what I was doing. I was conscious of trying to land my hands more, but my jab was dropping really low with no real chance of connecting. In the second round I started checking kicks more and landed a nice right cross as a simultaneous counter to her southpaw left kick. Den has told me that once you break the ice with that move you’re able to keep doing it. So that’s good. I also landed a downward elbow in the clinch that was pretty lame – I didn’t tighten my arm to bring the elbow to a point and so landed the hammer on my muscle instead of the bone, not hurting my opponent more than a punch and definitely causing swelling on myself. Between rounds Wung simply said, “NO!” when I came to the corner and Den told me to start using knees and elbow together, while Andy told me to “slow down.” By round 4 my corner just wanted me to go in and clinch and knee because Yodying was showing fatigue already. We’d had some simultaneous kicks in the 3rd but I wasn’t dominating those exchanges. I did land a superman in the 4th that seemed to piss Yodying off a little bit as well as one or two punch to kick combinations, but clinching was definitely the way to go. I landed another superman in the 5th that knocked her back a bit and snapped her head and I think that if I’d cut off the ring effectively the fight would have looked very different and I would have felt better about it. But that’s good to know for next time.
Ultimately I wasn’t super pleased with my performance in this fight, but I think that has mostly to do with unrealistic expectations I had for myself of being really clean in my techniques and being able to showcase things I’d been working on and thinking about. Being able to deliver under the pressure of an actual fight is the point of fighting a lot, so I just have to be patient and appreciate the fact that I’m still developing some pretty fundamental skills. There were still a lot of things present in this fight that have not been evident previously and that’s a big accomplishment any time and every time it happens. It just means that what I wanted for this fight will be coming in stages over the next few fights, along with other surprises. Back to training – there’s another fight next week.