I walked away from my opponent and towards the opposite corner. I noticed my trainers jumping in the ring and one had water, so I changed directions. Was the fight over? Did I just win?
One of the last nights of training before my fight, the promoter told us he would be taking us to my fight. We rode with our trainer for Dan’s fight, but this time that wasn’t an option. The morning of my fight Dan messaged the promoter to see what time we should be ready.
My fight wouldn’t be until well after 8:30pm (when the fights started), but we were going to be headed there 5 hours early. I didn’t want to entertain the idea of sitting around outside with Thai music blaring in my ears, staring at the ring for 5 hours, so I just didn’t think about it. It was going to happen whether I liked it or not. I had to go with the flow. My trainer was fighting that night, too. He was going to the fight much later then us. I was worried he wasn’t going to corner me or tape my hands because he had a fight of his own. Again, I didn’t want to think about it.
Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, regardless of me stressing out about it.
I popped in Fast and the Furious 6 and chilled out eating my morning ritual of baked chocolate protein oatmeal. I spent the day floundering between emotions, a state of relaxation where I was ready to go with the flow to the holy shit I am about fight in Thailand with a Thai girl to I miss driving my car like I was actually in the Fast and the Furious, mopeds just don’t have the same feeling, and then back to holy shit, I fight tonight.
I took an intermission from the movie and we went to get lunch/dinner, pad pak sai gai kai dao mai sai kaaw (BAM. There’s some Thai for ya, I most likely spelled that incorrectly and let’s be honest, that’s probably not the correct name of the dish, but it is stir fried veggies with chicken and a fried egg without rice). I was really nervous at lunch. I couldn’t stop thinking of combinations.
It was like a never ending flip book of what to do in what situation running through my head.
My trainer had told me she was comfortable in the clinch, so I planned for what to do to avoid it or what to do once we were there, over and over. She was about my height and very thin, so she was most likely quicker than me in movement and with her kicks. I pictured checking and tried to mentally prepare myself, hoping adrenaline would, like everyone says, help with the pain. I wasn’t convinced, but I was committed to this fight and I was going to see it through, no matter how much it hurt.
I was awkward and embarrassed about the weight difference.
She was 47 kilos, somewhere around 107 lbs. I wasn’t sure what 107 lbs. even looked like before I saw her fight. I really didn’t want to look like the heavy handed foreigner just coming in and brawling with a small child (not saying she is a child, just saying the large weight difference felt like it). I downed my lunch and we went back to the apartment to finish my movie. I tried my best to zone out into the movie and forget about fighting for a little. Once the movie was over, Dan went to return it while I showered and braided my hair. (And then took it all out and re-braided and then again once more. Girls will get it. That shit’s complicated. Watching Caley Reece VS Tiffany Van Soest, I am not ashamed one of the first questions that popped in my head when I saw them was, I wonder who braided their hair for them. Lucky.)
I already knew what I wanted to wear. I had laid it out the week prior: Terminator Thai shorts, one of the best presents I have ever received, and a red tank. I wanted to wear the shorts to remind me of all the people I wanted to make proud and to remember the people who believe in me, the people who give me strength when I feel like I have none. I really didn’t want to wear the tank top, but that was an unspoken rule about women fighting around here and I was not going to be the X rated foreigner strutting around in a sports bra. The gym owner was clear, “No one wants to see that.” As I got dressed, I changed my mind about the red and went for a lime green tank. Bright, colorful, and in your face. I was already going to stand out, why not make it a little more?
I got dressed quietly going over combos in my head. I made myself a black bean protein bar to snack on later. Dan grabbed all my gear, making sure nothing was left, and threw it into the new bag I bought just for my fights. It’s bright orange and blue with the word TOUGH stenciled on the side. Cheesy, judge me, but I like it. The weather was getting a little warmer, but we were still in this awkward extended cold season. Sweatpants, a beanie, and boots were no doubt going to be on my body. I brought my blue Tampa Muay Thai shirt (On a side note: I heard the gym recently got new tanks…. If anyone wants to ship a girl one…. I would love to send some Thai shorts home…) and two sweatshirts for when it got really cold later. When I went to Dan’s fight I wore two sweatshirts, a flannel shirt, a t shirt, a scarf, hat, fuzzy socks, and boots. I was not messing around with the cold.
The promoter arrived on time. Dan got in the front seat and I sat in the back, headphones already plugged in and fight playlist on. (Feeling Good on repeat) We made two stops before the hour ish drive to where my fight was to be held. The first was to get a certificate. The promoter gave us two certificates that certified we had completed beginners Muay Thai. Very sweet. The second was to pick up our trainer /promoter/friend guy. This wasn’t the trainer who would be fighting tonight, this is our other trainer. (He has since become our primary trainer.) We picked him up and headed over to the house of the gym owner, where all the Thai kids live. We were offered food, but politely declined. One of the kids, a total badass, was downing a bowl of rice and would later have another. He also was fighting that night. After some awkward standing around, we all jump in the car (Dan, me, promoter, and friend) to drive to Klong Klung.
I kept my headphones on and tried to keep my mind relaxed, but every minute or so my brain would remember I was going to fight in Thailand in a few hours for the first time ever against a girl who had, most likely, been fighting in the womb. We arrived at the grounds ridiculously early; I had over four hours before I would fight. We all got out of the car. I was not in the best mood. I really didn’t want to be there so early and have to deal with talking to people and moseying around and talking to people, did I mention I really didn’t want to have to talk to people? I was already going to be starred at and draw big crowd because I was foreign and female, I was not keen on going through the process much earlier than I really had to. But what was I to do? This was Thailand, everything was on a whim and I just had to go with the flow. I was there and the gawking was going to happen sooner rather than later. I just kept my headphones on and smiled.
I should have shaken those negative feelings off and remembered it was/is a privilege to be able to train and fight in Thailand, not everyone is able to so. The gym didn’t have to train me. They didn’t have to get me a fight. The girl I was fighting didn’t have to fight the foreigner. It was/is a privilege to be given the opportunity to test out everything I had been learning. But sometimes it’s hard to remember those things when you have sensory and emotional overload.
I left my TOUGH bag in the car because it was much too early to lay anything out. We were ushered over towards a group of men sitting around drinking. I was offered water immediately and introduced to everyone. One guy kind of took over and for the rest of the evening acted like he really knew us… it was strange. You know when you have friends and they introduce you to their friends and other people. This was nothing like that. We didn’t know this guy at all and he just hung around awkwardly close for not knowing each other. He would talk with people and introduce us… like old friends. I just smiled. I was probably over sensitive because my emotions were in overdrive, but it was irritating. Sensing the stress building, Dan asked if I wanted to walk around to look for food as some of the stands set up. We made a move to go, but were shot down. Our meal was already planned. We headed up into a restaurant-house-place of food establishment/ back room of a monastery. (We aren’t really sure what exactly the place was.) We sat on the floor and they brought out dishes to us. I didn’t eat. Everything looked amazing, but I didn’t want to run the risk of upsetting my stomach. After the guys (the fighter with the rice I mentioned earlier had joined us) and a little old man who wandered over after the rice had been brought out, finished their 5 course meal complete with fried eggs and rice, we went back to the festival outside. A comment on this little old man- he sat down, no introduction, he was just accepted. I’m unsure as to whether anyone knew him. He just sat down and ate with us in silence. Every now and then someone would add more food to his plate. And then we all left… still no introductions exchanged. It was like he said (silently, of course) “Hey, I’m going to sit here with you guys and eat. Go on with your conversation, don’t mind me.”
Still early, Dan and I sat down in some of the chairs that surrounded the ring. No one was really there yet. Families were setting up their food, beverage, and game stands. Dan gave me some space. I sat with my headphones on. I think “Fly” by Nicki Manaj and Rhianna was playing. I’m not positive what was playing, but I do remember what I was feeling. This was it. I was committed. I couldn’t back out or run away. I mean I could. I could easily turn to them and say, “you know what I … hurt my foot or my stomach hurts…”, but that’s not who I am, when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. In my mind, I was committed. I remember thinking; if I am committed and this is going to happen, why worry about it. Why stress. What is going to happen is going to happen. I am as prepared as I am going to be and if I win, great, but shit man… I already won for myself; I’m actually jumping in the ring. I consider that a win.
Slowly more and more people started trickling in. Fighters laid out their mats and spread out their gear. The kids from our gym and their families showed up. There was space all around the ring and they chose to sit right in front of the speaker blasting ear shattering Thai music. Of course. I distinctly remember almost crying because of their choice of seating, but I just tried to unsuccessfully drown out the noise with my own music. I even started singing in my head as a distraction. Luckily, someone had a great idea of moving away from the loud noise instead of just letting our eardrums melt away. We moved away and spread out once again. Then something strange happened. The friend/promoter/trainer of ours brought over, yes- he brought over, a girl to me, “she okay?” Excuse me? Is she okay? I mean yeah, she seems like she has all her limbs and she’s functioning. What does that mean, she okay? I just looked at him, “Huh?”
“Fight, she okay? Okay. Shake hands.”
“Okay, yeah.” And I shook her hand…. Yeah…. We shook hands. I am so positive fighters do not shake hands before they fight. I’m not even sure people shake hands in Thailand. It was just such an awkward moment, probably of my doing, that my trainer/friend/promoter guy needed to fill the awkward time lapse with a handshake.
New fight. New opponent. And apparently a much later fight time, as my time that I had been originally told came and went. Alright, I can work with this, right?
I watched a few fights and peed a lot. I mean a lot. Thank god the bathroom was close. I still hadn’t seen my trainer and I was getting nervous he wasn’t going to make it. I tried to push those thoughts out of my mind. When he finally arrived, he told me to get dressed and start shadow boxing.
HOLY SHIT. I am fighting in Thailand.
I got that thought out. (Again.) Then went and got dressed.
I focused on shadow boxing and let everything else fall out of my mind. One two, one two, kick. Hook cross, kick. Block, kick. Hands up. Chin down.
At some point, my trainer wrapped my hands and then at another, I was given a nice little massage with Thai oil.
That was fiasco.
No one wanted to do it. My trainer told one of the kids to do my legs and Dan to do my stomach. The kid did my legs for maybe a minute and Dan wasn’t exactly sure what to do. My BFF (one of the kid’s Moms who doesn’t speak a word of English, but is convinced I speak Thai and speak Thai well, even though I have told her I don’t) watched silently and then had enough. She shooed Dan away, ordered the kid back to do my legs, and gave me a proper massage. She took care of me. We’re BFFs after all. =)
All properly massaged, I shadowed, again. Both my trainer and friend/promoter/trainer came over and told me this new girl I would be fighting was a very good boxer. (A different scenario then I had imagined over the last few weeks.) They told me to avoid punching. Cover and kick, cover and kick. Basically, I think they were telling me to take it and kick her when I can. Although this was a completely different fight than I had imagined, I was happier she was bigger. This girl was definitely not 47 kilos and I felt better about being a giant American.
Maybe one fight before my own, my trainer told me to lie down and try to relax or sleep. Okay, yeah right, sleep. There’s Thai music blasting with octaves interwoven into the “melody” that I WISH only dogs could hear and then there was the HUGE CROWD that had gathered yelling and shouting. Sleep. Right.
Somehow, I really zoned out. I put a shirt over my eyes and my music on loud. Completely engrossed in the music, I didn’t think at all about my fight. That happened and then bam, time to fight.
I followed my trainers over to the ring through the crowd of people staring and pointing at me. (Did I mention they pointed and gave me thumbs up as I shadowed, also.) I really hadn’t focused much on the crowd until now. I knew there were a lot of people, but I really didn’t grasp it. There were a lot of people. I hate crowds. Public speaking? I drank wine before giving a presentation in Australia. I almost gave myself a heart attack raising my hand and answering a question in a criminal justice class. This was a big crowd. And they would all be watching me, the foreigner.
But I kept walking, straight to the ring. My trainer bent my head down motioning to kneel before the ring and this is where I started really realizing what I was about to do. I was awkward and completely new at fighting. SO what. I was going to be awkward. I am always awkward. I am THE QUEEN of awkward, but this was my night and my fight. There could be thousands of people watching, it didn’t matter. It was still my night and my fight.
I got up, walked up the stairs, and under the ropes into the ring. I did my Wai Kru, repeating my mantra, “This is my night. This is my fight.” I remember also thinking, they can mock me or treat me like a novelty, I can’t change their view point, but I can show them. I can make them see. “This is my night. This is my fight.”
My opponent didn’t do the full Wai Kru and was patiently waiting in her corner while I finished mine, what I knew of it. She seemed like a nice girl, very quiet and shy when she was introduced to me, probably because she was basically presented to me, “Is this girl acceptable?” Like what? Whatever, Thailand. Anyway, what I mean is she didn’t look intimidating and I am SURE I didn’t, blonde pigtails and the more obvious reason for less intimidation, my white skin.
Ref says something in Thai. I nod. Okay, well thank god that was said…. …
We touch gloves and we’re fighting. I can’t tell you exactly what was going through my mind, except for my first thought was something like, okay, okay, I’ve got to do something first. I’ve got to hit first. I don’t know why or where that thought came from. In sparring, I usually wait for the other person and then I react or counter, but right then, I felt like I needed to be proactive, engage first. I think I threw an inside left leg kick followed by a right body kick. Both weak, but I threw it. Then she punched me in the face. I distinctly remember thinking, so that’s what that really feels like. I thought I had been prepared when I was punched in the face back home in the smoker fight I did before I left, but this was no holding back Iamgoingtobreakthisgirlsface punched in the face. And it didn’t feel good. I remember thinking I have to beat her, be first or she’s going to punch me in the face again and I don’t want to be punched in the face again. She had a different look in her eye now. She wasn’t shy or quiet. She was confident.
Bell and to our corners.
I looked across at her and she was staring at me with a cocky smile. Woah, okay, chick. I didn’t think I was doing that badly. My trainers were telling me to knee and kick and all I could focus on was getting my mouth guard back in. I like my teeth and she was keen on knocking them out. My trainers dowsed me in water and shook my limbs. I looked across at her again and she was staring intently, still smiling.
Round 2- The ref kindly told me in English that it was, in fact, round 2. Thank you.
Touch gloves and – I honestly don’t remember my thoughts here, but I know I was thinking to keep pressure on. Pressure her. Pressure her. Don’t get punched in the face, pressure her. Knee, knee, knee. And for some reason, cross, cross, cross, cross. It’s strange because I usually lead with my jab and keep that a constant, but my body felt like the cross was what needed to happen. Over and over, again.
I don’t know what my corners said. Knee, knee, knee. I need my mouth guard! I didn’t really want to drink water. They had me put it in my mouth and spit it out as they drenched water over my entire body and rubbed my legs, again. I caught her eye in the other corner, still smirking. OH OKAY.
Round 3- Again, hey –it’s round 3. Thanks ref.
Pressure, pressure. Get there first. Knee. Knee her face. Oh hey, there’s a Thai guy in the crowd motioning to me to do spike elbows. SPIKE ELBOWS. I forgot I have elbows. Cross, cross, cross. Throw a kick in there. I have punched you so many times and kneed you twice in the face, go down. GO DOWN.
I really should have been a bit more relaxed. But… I was a little anxious and having a great time.
Ref stops for a standing 8. I wasn’t sure what was going on. People were yelling, shouting at me to do things, the ref yelled at me and pointed to the other corner. Right, right, right, I have to get away from my opponent while he’s making sure she’s okay to continue not stand there and gawk.
She wanted to keep going.
Pressure, cross, cross, jab. Knee.
I’m in LALA land. No clue what anyone is saying. Mouth guard in.
She’s not eyeing me down anymore.
I really don’t know. There were a few punches, one more knee to the face, and the ref’s hands in the air. Okay, I know this part now. I get away from my opponent while he’s doing this. Oh, shit. One of my trainers is in the ring and one is motioning me to have some water. I just won.
I walked over to my opponent and bowed and tried to do the same to her trainers, but couldn’t get anyone’s attention and they were telling me to get out of the ring.
I just won.
Someone please get these gloves off. Head rush. My head is pounding. Okay, what? Pictures with strangers? Can we please just get my gloves off? No. Okay.
People I didn’t even know were working on getting the gloves and tape off, while others were trying to snap a photo with me. My BFF was hovering around making sure the gloves were coming off and all of my stuff was together. My boyfriend went and got me a beer. I couldn’t believe I just won. I was so happy, but it was so hard to smile. She hit me in the head a lot, dropped my hands too much. I hadn’t trained with a mouth guard in in a long, I hadn’t breathed properly. Head rush. Man, it was pounding. With the gloves finally off, I took off my Thai shorts and threw on sweatpants then had a nice beer and roti (delicious fried flour egg with chocolate dessert thing.)
We ran into my opponent and Dan took a picture of us. She was really nice, told me I was good. I felt a bit weird asking for a picture with her, but she didn’t mind and even sought me out later so she could have one of her own.
Dan and I had another beer, watched my trainer fight, and then headed home with the same group. We got back to the apartment around 1am. I still couldn’t believe I won. (… and made $50!) I hopped on Skype, Facebook, anything to let my family know how it all went and that I still had all my limbs. We passed out around 2 and got up the next day around 6am to try to get that bus to Chiang Mai for NYE!
The rest of that crazy week is in my last blog.