There were four fighters from our gym on last night’s card, which lends itself well to disorganization. We had to go down to the fights in two separate trucks and, due to poor planning, the mats and bag full of gauze, tape and Thai wraps got packed in the second truck – so when we got to the venue we had nowhere to sit and even though our first fighter was the second fight, we couldn’t start wrapping his hands. So it goes.
Upon first hopping out of the truck Den told me to go in straight away. So I crossed through the gate without Den, just me and Kevin, and my opponent’s coach met me right at the door, grabbed my wrist and pulled me over to the far end of the venue to meet my opponent. This is Jit Aree Gym – I’ve fought two of their fighters a total of 5 times and I’ve never won – I did get my one and only draw on the third fight with one girl – and their coachloves to play head games. He has almost always sized me up, squeezed my arms and said I’m too big to fight his fighter, etc. On the last occasion of him doing this, I flexed under my long-sleeved shirt when he touched my arm in order to freak him out a bit.
Tonight he had to have me stand there for a minute while his fighter was located from wherever she was. She came out, wouldn’t look at me and stood maybe an inch or two shorter than I am. He asked me if it was okay. I answered in Thai, “mai bpen rai,” meaning no problem. Then I smiled and said “chok dee” and he had us shake hands. She’s Thai, so handshaking is not something she does, but my handshake was good and firm and her’s was floppy and weak. I won right here. His head game backfired.
One guy from our gym – he’s Thai – was fighting for the first time. He’s been training for years, but never fought Muay Thai before – he told someone that he’d fought in Burma before with just the rope wraps. His name is Loi and he’s got some of the coolest energy of anyone I’ve met; very relaxed, always smiling and a kind of quiet, electric glint in his eyes. I would fight right after Loi, then Kim from Australia and finally Off, who hasn’t fought in maybe 7 months after taking time off.
Once Daeng arrived with all the boys, the bag and the mats it became an assembly line of hand-wrapping and oil massage (you can see some of it in the clip above). These guys are efficient and my hands became white clubs in a matter of minutes. Awesome. When it came time for my fight everyone was in Loi’s corner and I didn’t have Vaseline on my face yet. I walked over toward the ring to meet Andy and let him know. He chided the boys for “taking care” , but Big got it done quickly and then Andy took his time with the appropriate rituals of prayer and blessing before getting in the ring. Rush what can be rushed and take your time with everything else.
At the very start of this fight I felt very different standing there in front of my opponent than I ever had before. Things have been slowing down for me for a long time, every fight feels different and my consciousness is clearing up with every fight. But this time was a huge leap, I feel. I started out almost immediately with a combination I’d been working on in ringwork with Kevin, a leg-kick to her front leg followed by a left hook. Both landed.
I haven’t watched the fight video yet, so as usual what I remember may not be accurate, but it goes like this: this woman would not let go of me when the clinch was broken. And the clinch was broken quickly, even when we were working. She took my back a few times, which is a pretty huge deal in Muay Thai. What’s totally lame is that those knees she’s patting at me when she does so are totally meaningless in terms of damage, but getting your opponent in a position where they are so thoroughly unable to defend themselves is a very good act of dominance and I’m certain she got a lot of points for that. Maybe her only points in the fight, really.
At one point in the third round (I think) she wouldn’t let go in the clinch when the ref called for us to stop, so I kept going, too. I landed a knee to her jaw, which kind of clacked and made her look very horrified/surprised, but didn’t knock her out. The ref ripped us apart and waged his finger at both of us for not stopping when he said to. The look on my opponent’s face was either feigned surprise (best to play dumb, I reckon) or she actually didn’t understand why he was upset whereas I knew immediately.
In the fourth round (which I apologize is going to have a “scene missing” aspect, I am told, because my cameraman was watching the fight and not the screen, so we move to a corner without the camera following), the ref pulled us apart and gives a chastising signal to my opponent’s corner. I didn’t see it in the fight, but I saw my opponent’s facial expression and her body stopped, which made me slow down to make sure I shouldn’t also stop. I’m not sure what he was saying to them, but perhaps they were shouting for her to not stop holding me, which he’d already warned us about. I don’t know. In this round I also landed at least a half-dozen knees to my opponent’s head. It was stupid (and a little cruel) on my part to keep nailing her in the forehead because you can’t knock someone out that way. If I’d realized it at the time I could have jerked her head down once and landed a knee in her face to possibly end the fight, but I wasn’t aware enough. Instead she got a huge mouse on her forehead which I got to target later. After the fight my knee started hurting and it took me hours to figure out why – oh right, forehead and knee and both pretty much pure bone.
In ringwork with Kevin I’d been working a lot on offensive teeps and using that to back my opponent out of the center of the ring so that I can attack when they’re against the ropes. This is a fantastic tactic because my opponents love to run from me. So if you run them to the rope, then there’s nowhere else to go. I didn’t get to do a lot of this (and none of it directly) in this fight, but it still came through in a few times that I was able to move forward, back her up and lead with one strike into another. I landed a teep into a jumping knee, a flying left kick (that didn’t land with power, but STILL!!), and hopped her back into the ropes and landed a right kick into her side. Oh, and I teeped her in the face and felt her jaw go clack, which was probably as big a surprise to me as it was to her. Any one of these in a fight would have been exciting, but all three in one fight feels like I just had a growth spurt.
In the corner between rounds I was getting a lot of advice to just knee her and to quit turning sideways in the clinch. I am not bringing my arms in well in the clinch, which is how I end up on the side and I kept doing it. I’ll work on that for next time. Then Andy was telling me a different piece of advice at every rest, but I was able to follow most of it. At the last round Den told me to just go in straight and clinch with her straight on, pull her head down and knee. He was yelling at me from the corner and suddenly I realized he was telling me to back off and do the victory dance. This is a weird thing in Muay Thai and I think it’s a pretty modern development. Basically, when one fighter is ahead on points and the fight is clearly won in the fifth round s/he stops attacking and just kind of dances around to burn time. The other fighter either concedes to the loss and also dances around or they look desperate by trying to score and basically can only win by a freak KO. I’ve never done this dancing around thing, either as the victor or the conceding party. I almost didn’t know what to do – you can probably see me itching to keep fighting and trying to just tap a few times to keep it going. With my back to Den near my corner I heard him yell, “Sylvie, if she kick just block” and not a moment later she kicked and I checked it, perfectly. Not even a bump on the shin – getting Master K steel legs.
This is my second win on points and it felt amazing to break the Jit Aree curse of not having a victory on the cards against their fighters. I was comfortable in this fight, but based on the reaction from my team and spectators and my husband, this might have been my toughest opponent yet. She got pissed after I kneed her in the head (reasonably, I think) and came after me, which none of these girls really do. She landed some nice kicks to punches in those moments. But to have accomplished these techniques in the context of a fight and to have won on points as well, meaning my performance was recognized by Thai judges, is a very validating experience. I still love knockouts, but fights like this put marks on the map in a way that knockouts rarely can.
After the fight Andy had only criticisms, which, again, is a sign I did very well. I got to watch our other two fighters with the joy of victory as my intoxicant. After our last fighter was a fight between two Thai women at my size and Kevin and I sat down to watch them. They were awesome – probably the best female fight I’ve seen in Thailand. In the middle of the third round I saw Den walking through the audience, looking for someone. I got his attention in case he was looking for us, maybe so we could all leave. He came over and said he was looking for me, but he sat down behind me and it became clear he was looking for me in order to make sure I was watching this, not to take me away. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I want blue to win.” Blue was from Chiang Mai, red from Chiang Rai. Blue really got good in the scoring rounds, but it wasn’t enough for red’s clinching and countering and red won. I will be facing those women later, which is very exciting. It’s definitely a cool experience to watch women fight with admiration and know that I will be facing them, matching that skill and intensity, and then surpassing it.
The Whole Fight
Where It Was
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