Eighty-Fourth Fight – Nongnaa Lookponaak
August 26th – Buriram (Isaan), Thailand –
Fight 84 overall (75th in Thailand) –
My Go Fund Me campaign was created with the aim to get me to fights outside of Pattaya, due to the low season and political climate causing my fight rate to drop significantly. A donation of $100 (or more) resulted in a fight being dedicated to the donor. In this case it was Tampa Muay Thai “Khanomtom Muay Thai” that got me to this fight out in Buriram. Thank you!
I’d received an invitation from Frances Watthanaya of Giatbundit Gym to come fight in Buriram, a province of Isaan. It hadn’t been a possibility for a long time but with the success of the GoFundMe campaign I was finally able to take her up on the invitation. Things are done a little differently in Buriram. Most of my fights haven’t had a weigh in and I’ve only ever been the same size as my opponents maybe 10% of the time (and 2/3s of my opponents 50 kg or more). Match ups in Chiang Mai were done based on what gyms tell promoters and promoters relay back to other gyms. Knowing that the weights aren’t the same makes stepping on a scale completely unnecessary. In Buriram, however, the scale is everything. Fighters all show up to a “match up” a day or several days before a fight and step on a scale, the number is documented and when everyone is weighed in the fighters within reasonable weight of each other will be matched up for a fight. It appears then that a match up can be accepted or refused, but everyone is vying for a spot (like a temporary job) on a card with limited spots. Weighing in does not guarantee you a match. Having an opponent your weight does not guarantee you a match. It’s like what actors and models call a “go see.” You just show up and hope for the best. I did not realize it at the time, but Pi Dit of Giatbundit Gym had been working behind the scenes to secure me a match. When I went to the match up I was pretty bummed that there was nobody there I could possibly fight.
Arrived at the Match Up – Day Before
my video update overview of the match up (above)
Giatbundit Gym is in Phuttaisong, maybe a 30 minute drive from the fights at a big concert in Buriram. So the day before the fight we drove out to the concert grounds and in a pagoda all the hopeful fighters and their trainers and/or parents were gathered around a small bathroom scale. There were only three women there: me, a teenager named Joy from Giatbundit Gym, and a young girl in school uniform who had been taken out of class to come try to be matched. The schoolgirl weighed in first and it was announced she was 39 kg. That’s what Joy weighs also, although Joy is slightly taller than I am and very long-limbed. After some other boy fighters stepped on the scale I was called over and as I stepped off the scale (video below) – in long sweatpants, shorts underneath and a T-shirt – my weight was announced as 48 kg and a big “48” was written on my right forearm. All the other fighters were marked with their weight, too. I don’t know if it’s to show you already weighed in, so you can’t lie about your weight later… who knows. I thought it was great. But they made me stand there next to the scale while the guy on the microphone made a call out for an opponent. The parents of the 39 kg girl complained that there was a 9 kilo difference – I can see why she was considered since there were only three female fighters there at all, but that’s a ridiculous match up for sure. The announcer asked if there were any female fighters not present that could be brought in and I could hear a murmur about my muscles. Damn. I hadn’t even thought to wear a long-sleeved shirt to avoid this kind of thing. I later heard that the father of a girl who was a potential opponent was in attendance, but he turned down the fight.
Then Joy weighed in, wearing pretty much as many clothes as she could, and they wrote “43” on her arm, which made her laugh. I don’t know if she actually weighed that or if they’d rounded up a bit to make her a more feasible opponent. They actually tried to match us up but someone complained we were from the same gym. I will admit, I was a little pissed that it seemed that through all this commotion that my opponent would end up being a girl from the same gym who I had already said I would prefer not to fight in order to keep everything between me and the gym allied. I would have fought her if that’s what they wanted, but I was concerned that this all felt like a bit of a manipulation. In Thailand you have no idea what people’s motivations are, or what the angle is, you just have to roll with it. Happily, by that evening I was told that there was another opponent coming in and I was relieved. I was at first told I was to return to the venue and weigh in again the morning of the fight but they then scratched that and just said that my opponent would be a bit bigger, but “not more than 52 kg,” was the guess. That was fine, that’s the size I was generally fighting in Chiang Mai. I just wanted a fight.
The Match Up Weigh-in – Bummed There are No Opponents Around
The fight was in the daytime, so the next day we headed out to the grounds again at about 11:30. It had rained very heavily the night before and into the early morning, so the grounds of the festival were an absolute swamp, just mud and more mud. It was kind of an incredible experience to try to slog through it trying to keep your balance in the silty clay, everyone else doing the same. Every now and again someone would rinse their feet and legs in the puddles that peppered the whole area. My sandals sucked into the mud as I walked, then would be pried up with each step and fling mud like a catapult onto the backs of my legs and, indeed, my back. It felt like we were “hiking in” to my fight. Very cool. Trying to navigate to the drier looking parts made the whole trail a maze and we finally settled on a spot by the woods about 300 meters from the ring. Fights were in progress – very little kids – and we found out I’d be the very last of 19 fights. So I had a few hours to kill. So Boom and Dam started pulling leaves and branches off of the trees to lay over the mud and under our mat, making a nice little resting pad. Jai Dee laid down on the mat immediately and kicked his legs every time an ant or insect touched him. He’s come a long way since his days living in a garbage heap, apparently.
The Ground Was So Muddy Boom Had to Build a Mat of Leaves
Maybe an hour after we arrived and still hours to go before my fight, a young woman appeared with some men, all slogging through the mud. I could tell by the sudden excitement from Dam, who is a trainer of Boom and Frances and was working my corner, that this was my opponent. I knew also from experience that I’m expected to get up and go stand next to her so that the trainers and gamblers can all make an assessment. It wasn’t until I was standing right next to her that I realized this woman hadn’t been 52 kg for quite a while. (video below) At the time I guessed she was 55 kg, but my corner said she was probably 56 or 57 kg (after joking she was 60). Dam looked at me and gave a slightly uncertain, “okay, mai?” I smiled and gave a thumbs up, saying mai bpen rai, (“no problem”). My opponent and her corner all smiled and then headed over to a dry-ish spot by the trees maybe 20 yards away.
I Met My Opponent a Few Hours Before the Fight – She’s Big
Gambling is a huge part of Muay Thai fights, anywhere in the country. But in the more tourist-driven areas with stadia and regular fight-nights, as a fighter you can kind of tune it out. You go and will be gawked at and sized up by gamblers; in my case gamblers loved me in Chiang Mai because I fight frequently so they got to know me and that I could beat bigger fighters, so they could win money; but largely I could ignore all of that because I just show up and fight, get my ka dtua (literally “body price” but meaning a fighter’s pay) and that’s that. In Isaan, or festival fights anywhere, gambling is what drives the fights. So there are side bets that determine how big a fight is, how much prestige a fighter has. It’s not how much you make on a fight with the ka dtua, it’s how much you might make on the side bet, which might be upward of 50,000 Baht. I don’t gamble, so financially none of this affects me, but it does affect situation of my fighting.
Boom and Dam collected money from various peripheral gamblers and added in their own bets, placing about 2,500-3,000 Baht on me for my fight. This has to be matched by my opponent’s camp in order to be a side bet, meaning the winner takes the 5,000-7,000 Baht pot. That’s a small side bet. Unfortunately, my opponent’s camp didn’t have money to bet, or didn’t want to. It’s possible that my opponent was called in kind of last minute and Frances had said that usually fighters can‘t fight without a side bet but that maybe this was an exception because of the short notice. As a result of there being no side bet, my fight was only scheduled to be 3 rounds. I only found this out between rounds 1 and 2! But I knew how to handle that, just get going harder and pushing sooner. I’d seen some 3 round fights prior to my fight and didn’t realize that it was due to the gambling; I’d assumed it was because they were little kids. People still make money on individual bets, gamblers in the crowd, but without a side bet my corner didn’t make any money. My fight pay was only 5oo Baht (about $18; that’s incredibly small, for anywhere) and I gave all of it to my corner. Normally I pay my corner out of my fight money, about 50%, but this was so small it seemed ridiculous to keep any of it with such a big, long day in the mud. Next time, we’ll all do better if there’s a side bet.
A Quick Look at the Atmosphere Surrounding My Fight
I was a little concerned about wearing a tanktop in the ring. In more conservative areas of Thailand it’s uncommon to see women fighting in anything more revealing than a cut-sleeved tank top and because I’m radical-looking anyway I didn’t want to exacerbate it by wearing a top that showed too much of my muscles and tattoos. But in the end I decided to just go with what I had, fight how I normally fight. As we slogged through the mud over to the ring – quite urgently as I’d been called into the ring sooner than I was scheduled and we weren’t quite ready, with my opponent was already in the ring – there was a murmur in the crowd. Mostly I think they were just responding to my body – they certainly haven’t seen a woman like me there – but definitely in part because of my Sangwan Rahu tattoo. You can see in the fight video the responses as I walk though the crowd, one lady actually reaching out and grabbing my arm for a quick squeeze while I pass. It was kind of cool; the response felt largely positive. (Fight video at the top of the page.)
As I climbed the stairs my corner dumped some water over my feet to get at least some of the mud off before getting in the ring. I’d forgotten my Mongkol in Pattaya, but I’d noticed that very few fighters had them in the previous fights. I thought that was strange. My opponent and I sealed the ring, she did a Wai Kru but no Ram Muay and the crowd let out a cheer when I began my own Ram Muay while my opponent stood in her corner. They cheered a few times throughout and everyone loved the last part where I stalk into the corner. I reckon that crowd doesn’t see a lot of western fighters – certainly they see some – and any time a falang makes an effort toward Thai custom and culture it is met with total appreciation. Even if you stutter through a kob khun ka (“thank you”) and mispronounce every part of it, Thais are generally very enthusiastically supportive of the effort.
When the fight actually began I just wanted to keep my guard and rhythm that I’ve been working on and keep pressing forward. I knew I could tire this chick out and I knew I had to start strong to do so. I didn’t know yet that it was only three rounds in the fight, so I was a little less forward than I could have been. Dam shouted from the corner for me to go right away – he doesn’t mess around. I took a few kicks and could feel that I was turning my head when I got punched, but I just came back hard after those mistakes. By the end of the round I could tell she was already tired; I’d landed some knees and my clinch was working.
Between rounds I was told it was only three, although at the time I didn’t know why. So I just nodded my head and knew I had to go hard. Kevin told me several times, as if he didn’t know I’d already been told, that it was only three rounds. He had urgency in his voice, obviously afraid I was going to be too slow to start crushing this girl. I felt calm though, perfectly aware of what I needed to do and ready to go do it. I got up, walked back into the center of the ring and we started again.
I landed some good combos and was very pleased to get some body kicks in, but once I had her down from the first set of knees I knew that was it. I still “power walked” from the neutral corner instead of actually charging her. I hate how I do this – it doesn’t feel as dumb as it looks – and I’ve been working on it in shadow in the mirror since the fight. But when she went down the second time I knew it was just a matter of her not having the will to get back up; I knew it was over. The crowd was happy. I took my victory lap and got out of the ring before being told to get back in and get my ka dtua. Oops. It’s not always done this way, but at festival fights in the north I’ve had my envelop handed right to me in the ring.
As I walked through the crowd on the way back out there were lots of happy offers of congratulations, thumbs up, “good”, and people flexing with big smiles as I passed. That’s always a nice feeling, to have the audience excited. I was a little disappointed, mostly because I felt that I could have done better and that the fight was over so quickly. I didn’t take into account – as I never did in Chiang Mai either – that I was so much smaller than my opponent, so it’s not an easy thing to end a fight like that. I don’t think I knocked her out physically so much as that I took her will away and that’s part of fighting, too. If I was downed by a 41 kg opponent, I wouldn’t poo-poo her. And when I watched the fight video later I saw that I was actually doing most of the things that I had wanted to do, even though in the fight I felt that I’d done none of it. Goes to show, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about when you come right out of the ring.
Overall I”m happy with the fight and very happy with the experience. Pi Dit, the owner of Giatbundit Gym, was very happy with me and wants me to fight more – and with side bets so he can actually make money on me. I want that, too, so I’m excited to return to Buriram and hopefully fight a few times in a single week, getting the most out of the big efforts that go into getting out there. It’s very exciting. This was my first fight under my new fight name Dahaknoi (“the little hulk”) and it got misconstrued into rak noi, which means “little love.” Not quite the same, but at least it made my fighting style more of a surprise!