I had developed my affinity for boxing from my father. We used to watch it together, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it my favorite sport. I have seen my share of great fights and am knowledgeable about its history. It is a love/hate relationship that can best be summed up in the words of Philip J. Fry: “Man, I thought Ultimate Robot Fighting was real, like pro wrestling, but it turns out it’s fixed, like boxing.” 

Muay Thai sponsored by Chang Beer. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

One of the main attractions of visiting Thailand is muay thai. I had initially wanted to see a night of fights in Bangkok, but the price of admission seemed a bit steep on a budget ($1000 baht for the cheap seats at Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium, Bangkok). Chiang Mai seemed to be the perfect location for some “authentic” muay thai, with the cost of admission at less than half of that in Bangkok. We had also been solicited at least 3 times to come to the fights at Thaphae Muay Thai Stadium and most of what I know about muay thai I learned from Tony Jaa, so this seemed like a good experience either way.

"Is this legal?? Aren't you a bit young to fight?" (Photo by Jack Zalium)

As with regular boxing, the fights rarely start at the designated time and then there are the undercard fights. The process is a bit different than traditional boxing. Once the fighters enter the ring, they don a headband (mongkhon) and armbands (pra jiads) before performing a ritualized dance called the wai khru ram muay. Each fighter takes their turn, first performing the wai kru (showing respect to others as well as a prayer to Buddha for protection) and then ram muay (simple movements demonstrating the fighter’s prowess). Muay thai music also accompanies every aspect of the event and is meant to heighten the excitement as well indicate the passage of time leading up to end of a round.

That night we had 6 other fights before the main event, however, we didn’t expect the first two fights to be between minors. I guess if you’re going to be a muay thai fighter then you better learn to take a punch. The fights seemed to be of shorter duration than the other fights, but that didn’t hold the fighters back from giving it their all. The trainers and parents in their respective corners also seemed very supportive (think little league soccer/baseball/football), so it didn’t seem all that bad to me.

I am going to f*ck you up. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The next fight was between two ladies. The lady in red seemed to be a participant of a local muay thai gym. Her corner was full of her gym mates cheering with her every punch, kick, throw and elbow. In the blue corner was a woman who seemed to have walked in from the street and was fighting for her meal. She had a minimal corner staff and her corner was quiet. But even though she lost the match, she was far from defeated. I would hate to meet her in any alley….

Whatta bunch of jokers!! (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Right before the main fight we were treated to what can be described as amateur night for the tourists. About half a dozen less-than-physically-gifted men jump in a ring, put on blindfolds and then proceed to pummel each other in the dark for a good 6-8 minutes. Afterwards they would go around asking for donations. It was less than stellar but it achieved some laughs especially when the referee got punched several times and then proceeded to retaliate.

The main event didn't last long, but it was decisive. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The last fight was worth waiting for with the combatants looking solemn yet determined. The punches, kicks, elbows and throws were harder and swifter than any previous ones that night. After the first round, we picked out favorite (red corner) based on his prowess in the first round. It did not last more than round two, as the blue corner came out in full force eventually landing a powerful elbow resulting in a knockout in which red did not leave the ring under his own strength. A few days later we spoke to an American-expat living in Chiang Mai who told us that the fights are usually “fixed” and mostly put on for the tourists. I guess there are a lot of similarities to the boxing I knew and grew up on, however I do not regret going because for a night I learned a little something about Thailand and the agony of defeat, thankfully not mine.