Fight 164 – Sylvie Petchrungruang vs. Tanonchanok Kaewsamrit
November 16, 2016 – Loi Kroh Stadium, Chiang Mai – above: full fight video with commentary
Kevin and I park the rental car down this very narrow alleyway that shuttles mostly motorbikes and tuk-tuks between the bar-laden Soi Loi Kroh and the perpetually empty bit of road just before the lower corner of the moat that surrounds the old city in Chiang Mai. The mouth of the alley is choked with motorbikes and pedestrians, as well as noises and disco lights from the various bars. As you progress through the narrow road it grows dark and quiet, the car has to really creep to keep from scraping against something. You go until the road widens a little and there is only a chainlink fence on one side and a small, closed shop on the other. One time Jaidee was chased down the road by a dog that I’d never seen at that shop before, but you can be sure he considers it his territory. You have to backtrack through this strip of darkness back to the Loi Kroh stadium, which is set back from the main road just a little bit. It’s a crescendo of lights and music as you trek back to the various open-side bars with pool tables and red lights in order to get into the main venue. On the other side of the street I spot my opponent and her girlfriend buying some fruit from a vendor, their faces illuminated by the lights which line his glass ice-box. We smile at each other and I go inside.
There’s a partition that runs around the circumference of the boxing ring and stadium area. It’s poster-sized, color prints of local fighters – many of them female fighters I know and have matched – and somewhere in there is a picture of me. The partition is so that the revelers at the outer bars cannot watch the fights for free, admission is collected at the front at a folding table, where I always smile and say hello to the doorman and the ladies selling tickets before slipping behind the posters into the ring seating area. There’s one bar where Lanna has been setting up for ages – long before I ever first made it to the gym 7 years ago. It’s even changed ownership a handful of times since I’ve been in Thailand but still, it’s always there that we lay our mat to wrap hands and do the oil massage. Kevin and I are there before my corner, so we work our way through the benches and seats so that we can spread our mat down behind a sofa just on the outside of the bar’s open front.
I’m excited for this fight. I haven’t fought Tanonchanok in maybe two years and the last time was a razor close fight. I’m a fan of her style – it’s not my style at all but I love watching her – and she’s been WPMF World Champion at 108 lbs for nearly 4 years straight. That’s an incredible accomplishment. The first time we fought, years before, I had no business being in the ring with her, but there were still good moments for me – I grew from fighting her, even though I wasn’t ready. The second time was a couple of years later and the match was closer, but she still out-performed me because she has style; I have perseverance, which doesn’t always look aesthetically good even though it feels good to watch. But I felt confident about trying my hand at Tanonchanok again. It doesn’t even matter if I win, in any case it forces me to grow.
Just before my fight my corner, Daeng, was shaking his head and looking at my opponent across the way. “She big,” he said, shaking his head again. The program put her at 51 kg, but a week later she was on her facebook page suffering a 3 kg weight cut to get to 51 kg… so she’s probably 54 kg in this fight. That’s a solid 6 kg (13 lbs) above my top weight, and she’s world champion. Challenge is good. Kevin put his hand on Daeng’s shoulder and reminded him that the last time we’d fought I’d come very close to winning because Tanonchanok got tired in the later rounds, and could not fight off my clinch. I just didn’t quite pull it out. She danced away from me in that final round, and I yet have the experience to handle the round quite right. Daeng nodded with understanding, then walked directly to an area maybe 50 feet away to talk to a group of Thai men. Maybe he was laying down a bet. He seemed more confident given that information.
I remember when standing in the ring with Tanonchanok I was fan-girling out about how she slicks her hair with her gloves before each round and sometimes between moves. Guys do this – really cocky guys – but she’s the only female fighter I’ve ever seen do it. She’s got a rad ‘do, so that makes sense, but she’s also a Tom, which is the Thai word for “butch” in a same-sex female couple. What sets Tanonchanok apart from a lot of the other Toms I know is that she appears to have stated to want to actually transition to male. It’s hard to determine how much of a dream this is versus reality, I say this based on some of her Facebook posts, along with which gendered pronouns and particles she uses in her own language (all of which are selected as male, which is less common). So in a lot of ways her particular style in how she fights is unique for a woman, but not at all unique for a man. It looks damn good on her though and I love it. It’s slick and every move is crisp. She doesn’t swallow any of her strikes, which you’ll see as fighters get tired or are unsure of their moves. Tanonchanok is sure, 100% of the time, all the time.
The first two rounds I let myself be really free and just feel stuff out. I ended up teeping her legs a lot to interrupt her rhythm. She’s so stylistic in her fighting that she likes to remain really still and then explode, so forcing her to reposition – even just micro-repositions – keeps her from being able to do what she likes. And I stayed close in order to help her along in the tiring out department. It means I got tagged by a lot, but my blocks were alright, too. The main big moments for her in those first two rounds were when I caught her kick and she’d just hope and pound me with her punches until I let go. I did get one or two good hooks in as I dropped her leg, but it wasn’t an even exchange. My clinch was causing her serious problems once we made it into the scoring rounds. She needs distance to fire off her picturesque techniques and I need to eat that distance in order to lock and land knees. I was just better at my strengths in this fight and round 3 was a slow takeover. Then round 4 was total domination. I put her down three times in that round I believe, which is incredible given our size disparity and how crazy balanced Tanonchanok is in general. I’m right proud of myself for how I executed this fight and it allowed me to put all the burden on her for round 5. She’d have to do something outstanding to take the fight after how I’d taken rounds 3 and 4, which I totally believe Tanonchanok is capable of accomplishing. All I had to do was stay away, block as much as I could and act like whatever got through was nothing. I’m capable of that part, too. So this fight was a very dominant win for me… over a world champion for 4 nearly years running and several weight classes bigger than I am. Very big moment for me. Mostly because I fought free and was able to access my own strengths and style, which is the biggest challenge for me on a regular basis: just being able to access those things under pressure. Seeing glimpses of it is encouraging, but seeing an entire fight of it is very promising indeed!
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