Muay Thai Luck in Thailand | Talking With Angie
Angie’s beverage shop is on the side of a road that cuts between the very busy Thepprasit and equally busy Pattaya Tai roads. There are constantly motorbikes and cars wizzing past, occasionally pulling to the side to shout a drink order to Angie and then jet off somewhere for a minute before returning to pick up. Today it’s oddly quiet and tons of shops around Pattaya are closed, so the traffic is minimal and Angie is sitting with her back to the street. I’m facing her, seeing the slowness of the traffic and giving her a nod every now and again to alert her attention to a customer.
She’s wearing shorts, a rare thing even in Thai heat, and she’s got a small bandaid covering the 7 stitches in her eyebrow from her fight just a few days ago. Her first fight at Lumpinee, a monumental achievement for any fighter, but this was even bigger. Angie isn’t very experienced – she only has 12 fights, which for Thai people means you aren’t fighting at Lumpinee – but because she is transgender (male to female) with years of hormones and some operations, she is the first sao prah pet song (“two sexed woman”) ever to enter the Lumpinee ring as a fighter. It’s an historic achievement, a benchmark for a stadium that will not even allow women to even touch the ring, and Angie knocked her cis-male opponent out in round 4. We’re sitting here chatting about her fight together, the two of us complete oddities in the world of Muay Thai, drawn to it and to each other through our irrational love for the sport.
Angie kind of makes this grimacing face when she talks about something she isn’t quite sure about. She’ll crinkle her forehead and nose when she presents the idea, then her whole expression opens when she looks at me and says, “I don’t know,” as a cue for me to, like, explain it for her. Sometimes I have no explanation; why are western people sometimes assholes to her? I don’t know, some just are. There’s been talk about a rematch between her and the opponent she faced at Lumpinee, an equally inexperienced man named Sagon. Angie says that she doesn’t believe our trainer, Kru Nu, wants the rematch. There’s no real good reason for it and other opportunities are already being presented. Angie says that last night after finishing holding pads at her own gym the famed transgender fighter Nong Toom, “the Beautiful Boxer,” called Angie and they talked together for about an hour. Nong Toom is Angie’s hero and was at the fight, cheering animatedly for Angie and spending a lot of time with her afterward. (Pro Tip: Nong Toom says the best way to get Vaseline out of long hair is to put baby powder in it and then brush it out.) It’s an amazing thing for Angie to have shot into the spotlight like this, something her skills as a Muay Thai fighter don’t yet allow (she’s only been training for 2 years and is over 30), but that is absolutely warranted by her star qualities: she’s beautiful, charming, sincere and a hard worker in the gym; and you can see her incredible heart when she fights. It’s wonderful. Angie tells me Nong Toom told her straight, that Sagon wasn’t at his full strength in that fight and if they fought again, if he had power, he could win. Angie makes this face I described, this contemplative grimace. Then she kind of stares at the table, lost in thought.
Here’s the thing: Sagon is Sagon’s problem. A lot of reports of the fight are trying to help him save face by saying he didn’t train hard, but 1) I think that’s bullshit and he did train, and 2) as Pi Nu said, “if you have a fight at Lumpinee with a 400,000 Baht side bet, if you don’t train you not a fighter.” Sagon did lose power after round 3, which was a very good round for him. He was getting dominant positions in clinch tie ups, landing better knees, and managed to cut Angie with an elbow on the eyebrow and she was bleeding quite a lot. I was proud because Angie had never been cut before but she responded by going harder. After the fight, the next day, sitting outside the gym with her I told her how proud I was of this fact, because how you respond the first time you see your own blood in a fight tells you exactly who you are, and she shocked me. She said, “yes, I think about you. I watched you get cut many times and you always go harder, so I think of you and I go, too.” I think Sagon wasn’t ready for that. He’d kicked Angie’s jaw in round 2, just with his foot but I could hear it from super far away and Angie definitely felt it as being a solid kick, but she just came back at him. She’s been kicked in the jaw before, at a fight at the bar when this guy she fought was maybe 12 kilos bigger that she is. He kicked her two or three times in the face and we all screamed for her to keep her hands up, then he just destroyed her legs. That was an early fight, maybe her 6th or 7th, and Kru Nu and I looked at each other and smiled because Angie just kept fighting. She was showing her heart, something that you just learn about a fighter by witnessing trials like this; you can’t know it otherwise. You can’t even guess at its edges until you have some way to test the depths and expanses of it. So, when Sagon kicked Angie and the crowd roared, she just kept coming. And in that moment, Sagon’s heart faded and Angie’s fortified. Sagon told Angie after the fight, in the medical room with an oxygen tube in his nose after he was knocked out and she was getting stitches, that, “you were supposed to go down and quit after I kicked your jaw.” He expected that to be it. But Angie’s been there before, she’s been kicked before, so she kept going. That’s the difference between these two fighters, that one moment: he lost heart by not having the affect he wanted and Angie pounded her way forward to gain the affect she wanted.
above, you can see a broadcast version of the fight here
So all of that is explanation for this discussion Angie was having with Nong Toom, about how if Sagon hadn’t faded so hard and lost his heart by not being able to discourage Angie, he would have eventually won. “Yeah, but him losing power wasn’t luck,” I said to Angie. I’m trying to say to her that she didn’t “get lucky,” with her knockout, because I’m thinking of the western concept of something just being chance or a fluke or accident when we use the word “luck.” The western concept of luck is often something that happens to you apart from your value. But in Thailand, in Buddhist belief, you want to be lucky. It’s maybe closer to how the west conceives of being “fortunate.” The gods smiled on you. You are a good person, so good things happen to you. I was trying to express that Angie had control in that situation, that Sagon didn’t randomly get tired but rather that Angie fought in such a way that pushed him to fatigue and allowed for the lucky moment, for the knockout. It’s an interesting divide between our cultures, and distinction between so many words in English. Because in the west you don’t want to believe it was luck, you want to believe that you worked hard and earned it yourself, very often “with no help from anyone,” like a self-made man. That’s honorable working class thing, a kind of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethic. But in Thailand, if you do everything all on your own that’s bad, there’s something wrong with you and you’re a social outcast. You have bad Karma to be alone like that. Angie credits herself with working hard, but she attributes it to the fact that she started so late in Muay Thai. “If I do not work hard, how can I do?” she says to me. Then she references Alex, an Italian kid of 15 years old who has been living and training at the gym for 3+ years. “Alex doesn’t work hard because he doesn’t care.” What she means is, he has time to develop, his pace is steady. Angie is trying to achieve something, like me, so we have to work really hard all the time to kind of “catch up” with the dreams we have in a short amount of time. But both Angie and I are, in fact, very lucky. Fortune favors us with opportunities, good people and mentors gravitate toward us in a way that feels somewhat divine in the Thai sense. After a fight, if you won the way Angie won in what looks like a miraculous stroke of luck, Thais in the audience will come touch you, literally touch you – if you win a raffle or the lottery they will do this also – like they can have some of the luck also because it rubs off on others. You become this “field of merit,” or a lucky charm. I reckon this happens in Vegas when someone is on a winning streak and it draws a crowd of people who want in on it, copying your bets or just wanting to be near you. That’s the kind of luck Angie had in that fight – not chance, not an accident… like earned luck.
You can read about Angie and her journey to Lumpinee Stadium here: