Saya Ito vs Faa Chiangrai – Lessons in Thai Style Scoring
This article can work as a companion piece to my breakdown on the Joanna Jedrzejczk loss in Thailand to Dunnapa, Joanna’s last loss on record (2013).
Below is video commentary on Japan’s Saya Ito and Thailand’s Faa Chiangrai, in Japan, fighting for the WMC 105 lbs world title. Saya was the WPMF 100 lb champion before vacating the title due to injury and some politics, and Faa Chiangrai is the current 105 lbs Northern Champion of Thailand. I’ve fought both of them, Saya only once on the Queen’s Birthday in Bangkok 3 years ago and Faa Chiangrai maybe 7 times. Saya came and trained at one of my gyms and we worked together in clinching, so I know her personally as well. I like both fighters, both as women and as opponents. The reason we wanted to look closely at this fight isn’t about taking sides, it’s about breaking down what perspective Faa Chiangrai might have been coming from in her performance and her belief that she won that fight outright – we’re trying to give an idea to how the fight might be viewed in Thailand. The fight was in Japan, Saya’s a Japanese fighter. So there are two things we are looking at. One: we want to bring forward some of the small things that can mean a lot in Thai scoring, but which westerners and others may not be aware of. This fight is a good example of these because there were not a lot of distinctly powerful scoring moments, so looking at the details proves interesting. Again and again Faa was indicating dominance, in small ways which probably did not register heavily with Saya. And Two: in international fights if both fighters don’t fight under the same aesthetic it can make for a great deal of confusion. Both fighters may feel they are ahead and not fight in the same way if they felt they were behind. It’s as if they are talking past each other, in two different languages. Probably something like this was happening.
above, the full fight with commentary
Faa Chiangrai is a defensive fighter, it’s her entire style. In order to win, in Thailand, she just has to look composed and in control of the fight, and land a few decisive strikes to win each the round. In order to beat her, in Thailand, you have to force her to come forward because she’s suffered point loss, or put her under stress so she breaks her poise. Most importantly, in Thailand, the retreating fighter is often indicating that they are defending their lead. And, a retreating fighter who also is able to land effective counters, is increasing their lead. Abroad, on the other hand, the pressing fighter is often getting “credit” for coming forward, as a fighter backing up can to be read as responding to pressure rather than in control of their opponent. When this fight was posted online in the Thai language female fighter boards, a number of comments were to the effect that in Thailand Faa would have won outright (where they suggested they should rematch), but each commenter also reasoned that she “backed up too much,” that it didn’t “look strong,” and that being the backwards fighter for all 5 rounds was the reason for this decision. Kevin and I both noticed, also, that the referee broke the clinch almost immediately, almost K1 style, and the judges’ eyes toward the impact of catching a kick might have been other than how it is seen within the Kingdom. In Thailand when a kick is caught the kicker scores; the catcher only gets to neutrality or scores a make-up point by what they do with the caught kick – an off-balance, a trip, a powerful return strike, etc. In this fight, Saya doesn’t really succeed in any of those things off of many, many catches. In Thailand, if you keep catching the kick and remain ineffective, the “credit” points go to the kicker for maintaining balance and being more or less unaffected, as it makes the catcher look weak and on repeat to boot. By our eyes these repeated, frustrated caught kicks were a significant overall scoring impression of the fight.
So, Kevin and I are just trying to offer our commentary as we watch this fight, just our own perspective from a place of familiarity of Thai scoring, not necessarily expertise. I’ve fought 180 times in Thailand, so I feel very close to how female Muay Thai fights are scored here, especially in this weight class – I’m almost never surprised by decisions in my own fights. And I’m very familiar with how Faa’s fights are regularly scored in Thailand, having fought her multiple times. We’re not familiar with Japanese style scoring, though it is well-known characteristic that Japanese fighters favor aggression and hands, likely something that their scoring style also favors. This fight very well may have come down to the fundamental confusion between how retreat and advance was viewed by both fighters. Most importantly perhaps is that if Thai female fighters are going to make the most of their increasing opportunities to fight abroad they have to become more educated towards other fighting aesthetics. You’ve seen this how some female fighters had to learn to be more forward pressing in the IFMAs. Something as basic as Faa standing her ground in space might have really have changed how the fight was perceived, though this is not something that is simple for a fighter like Faa who has made a mastery of luring her opponent in and fighting along the ropes. The biggest loss of opportunity is to travel thousands of miles to fight on a big promotion, and to lose because of a misunderstanding.