Fight 162 – Sylvie Petchrungruang vs Nong Benz Sitdobwod
November 8, 2016 – Thapae Stadium, Chiang Mai – full fight video above
This fight required a lot of back and forth with the promoter. On October 13, 2016 His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama 9, passed away and the country fell into a period of mourning. It was a huge shock and has been a very sad time. As part of paying respect to His Majesty there was a moratorium on all celebratory events, no music, television was only Royal News with no entertainment programs, and fights in Bangkok were all cancelled for a 30 day period. There are countless Thais who earn their living through exactly this kind of business, so the 30 day moratorium had caveats in order to allow them to keep working while still being respectful to the passing of the King, meaning bars were still open but there was no music or celebrations and fight cards outside of the capital were permitted to continue in a subdued capacity as well. His Majesty was a great supporter of Muay Thai in his 70 year reign on the thrown of Thailand and he did quite a lot to spread the love of Muay Thai both within the Kingdom and around the world. One of my favorite images is of HM holding the face of the famed boxer Chatchai Chioanoi after a victory, and he’s quoted as having told Chatchai, “you did very well. I am happy.”
For me, fighting in the aftermath of the passing of HM was a difficult thing. Thailand is not all of one mind and heart when it comes to how things should be done. But following my own heart, I wanted to pay my respect to the King with Muay Thai, a true martial art that grew out of the battle fields but became a sport under the patronage of Siam Royalty. I asked Pi Boi at the Thaikla shop in Chiang Mai, who has always made my shorts for me, to design a pair of black shorts for me to fight in that would honor HM. Pi Boi was keen to do it and I left it to him to design an appropriate, simple, and respectful piece; he’s Thai and knows better than I do what is appropriate and pays homage. He made a truly beautiful pair of black shorts that just have the word for “forever,” or “eternal” across the front, meaning the eternal love for the King. He had originally wanted to write “love dad” (a very common phrase for the King, as he is the father of the Thai people and his birthday is father’s day), but Pi Boi didn’t want any kicks of knees to be anywhere near the name or title of the King. When Pi Boi explained what the word his wife had come up with meant, it looked as though he had a tear in his eyes. I just outright cried, ’cause I do that. It means an incredible lot to me to wear these shorts and to fight with respect and honor to the King in my heart. And it means a lot to me that asking for Pi Boi to create something to help me honor HM meant something to him as well.
When we got to the stadium I looked at the program to see what fight number I was and, to my surprise, discovered I was facing Nong Benz. Again, this fight had taken a lot of organization and I’d been told that I was fighting a woman from Liangprasert Gym, then that fight got moved and I was facing Nong Benz, then that fight got moved again and I was told I was back to the original opponent. So, not a huge leap to realize it was Nong Benz afterall, but unexpected. Kevin said he had a very strong intuition that it would be Nong Benz but for whatever reason didn’t share that with me. It doesn’t matter other than that I’ve fought Nong Benz once before, at a different stadium, and she’s one of the hardest kickers I’ve ever shared the ring with. I wasn’t scared, but I was thinking about those kicks and it showed in the fight.
I saw Nong Benz’s coach prior to the fight and wai-ed to him. He likes me a lot, probably because I fight very often and fight up in weight, something that the coach of female fighters certainly appreciates. At this stadium they make you stand on the scale as a way to be kind of “official,” even though for most of the fights you’re not actually making any particular weight. They just want to know what the weights are for gambling purposes or to look official. I stepped on the scale wearing my sweatpants, undershorts, and three shirts; the promoter looked at the scale and with some surprise rounded up to 48 kg, announced it out loud and then wrote it on a program he was using for the introductions. Nong Benz’s coach was sitting to the side and, just out of curiosity, I asked what she’d weighed in at (wearing jean shorts and a T-shirt). The promoter pointed to where he’d written it on the piece of paper, “50.5 kg”, then started telling me that there was no weight cut. I don’t know if he thought that I’d cut weight, but it was clear that these guys, despite having had me fight in their stadium for years, still don’t know what I actually weigh. Likely because I’m always fighting bigger opponents, so they just don’t realize. I gave a thumbs-up and Nong Benz’s coach gave me a huge smile. When we’d gotten our gloves on we passed each other on a narrow path behind the ring and her coach gave me two high-fives, to which Nong Benz loudly protested, “hey! Wait until after the fight!” Hahahaha, poor lady. I remember hating how friendly my trainer Den was to some of my opponents a few years ago. He, of course, had known these young women for years and when you’ve been in the fight scene for a while you kind of know everybody. I’m friendly with opponents, gamblers, trainers and promoters everywhere I go now because there are so many familiar faces, but in my first few years it felt like treason to be chatting with my opponents. Ridiculous.
I came out quite hesitant in the fight and that was a problem. I stayed too far back, which is actually kicking range, which is stupid because that’s exactly what I was hoping to avoid. If you’re afraid of being kicked, stay closer. But I looked hesitant because I was hesitant and should have really been much closer and more aggressive early on. That’s okay, you learn from mistakes like that. Interestingly, Nong Benz didn’t throw her monster kicks that I was so apprehensive of. It’s possible that the first kick from that other fight was so powerful because that’s the most confident and relaxed she ever was against me. Now, in this fight, I was hesitant about the power of that kick and she was hesitant about the fact that I’d knocked her out last time, so I stayed away from a kick that she just didn’t throw.
Finally, I got in and started clinching, landing some good knees and turns. But what really sealed it for me was a right cross to the body, which landed solid and took her breath, then a left hook and grabbing her head for a straight knee. She dropped from that knee and as she fell I threw another knee that hit her face as she was falling. The referee pulled me away from her and Nong Benz stayed crumpled in the corner, her head resting on the bottom rope – stunned mostly, I think. I went and said, “sorry,” did a victory lap with the referee and then went to thank her coach in the corner, who again gave me a high-five through the ropes. I suspect that he sees me as a challenge that helps his fighter grow, rather than that he was happy she got knocked out. I know there’s a level of complacency when young women rise to the top of their pool of competition – I’ve seen it over my years – and for at least a few of them I know that I’ve been the “wake-up call”.
Afterward I got a really nice picture with Nong Benz and asked her about her recent win over Sudsiam, a much bigger fighter who has held the Lanna Regional Title at 118 lbs (bigger than Nong Benz by a lot) for several years. She smiled and said she had indeed won, so I told her, “I’ve fought her twice and never won.” That made Nong Benz smile, and reminded me that Sudsiam is still on my list for vengeance. I’d asked to fight her (to this promoter), so maybe after beating Nong Benz on his show he’ll give me a shot at Sudsiam. Step by step.