I started with a low interest in seeing a Muay Thai match as hours of watching MMA fights, with James, taught me I intensely dislike seeing people hurt. But, as the whole point of being in Thailand was to expand my horizons -and- our friend could get us in for free, I went for the experience. And so, my Muay Thai boxing day was filled with two stadiums and about eight fights, in the sponsor seats!
We started at Omnoi Stadium, which is attended more by the locals. I counted about 10 other foreigners (including us), and about 20 other women, to the 200+ men. The enclosed stadium was pretty awesome because sound really carries and all the noise seemed to fill the air with excitement. The sound was composed of traditional Thai music, shouts of men betting, and the “hey!!!”/”ohs!!!” exclaimed in reaction to the fighters. The traditional music was rather shrill, made up of an oboe-like instrument and drums. I can recall the sound perfectly and especially how the pitch and rhythm picks up, as the match progresses, in time with the fighters. The noise of the crowd shouting and the enthusiasm of the group closest to the ring also frequently had my attention. James said they were trying to persuade the judges by exaggerating their reaction to every good kick or swing their fighter gave. I came to enjoy this stadium and its high energy. I spent more time engaged watching than reflecting here.
Lumpinee Stadium is the one that everyone knows and is very popular with the farangs (“Westerners”/tourists). At least half the audience was farangs, which seemed amazing, for our friend said tickets are 2000B (about $67) for farangs and 300B (about $10) for locals. This made me very glad to be there for free but sadly, the stadium didn’t have the same energy. The noise couldn’t pull me in. The stadium is much larger, open and we were further from the ring and the music. Likewise, the stadium had signs posted “Do Not Gambling”, so part of the excitable noise was missing. Another key factor was that we were there for the early fights (not of all of them were broadcast), so it is probably different later. (This writer had a different experience.)
While the stadiums were different, each fight began with a ceremonial dance, called ram muay. They enter the ring adorned with a sacred head band and armbands for good luck and protection. I found the older the fighter, the less time they seemed to spend doing the dance and it appeared more just a bow to each corner. The younger fighters actually performed the dance, taking the time to honor their gurus and the guardian spirit of Thai boxing (as my book explains is the point.) It was interesting to see it performed, as it added another dimension to the fighting. After the ram muay, the fighter would return to his corner and his coach would remove the head band but leave the armbands. I saw some coaches also say a small prayer over their fighter. I enjoyed the ceremony of this. That the muay thai matches are sacred was also displayed by the TWO signs at Lumpinee Stadium that requested women to NOT to touch the stage, as it is a sacred Thai tradition. (I got it with one sign!)
The matches we saw were of males from about 14 to 20. Although, I’d say only two set of fighters could pass for that upper range. Most of the fighters looked young and, for a few, their boxing trunks looked too big, as if owned by their older brother. Each fighter appeared to have no body fat though, just a sinewy frame, with developed muscles in their legs for kicks and arms for jabs. Amazingly, the tenacity of the fighters was not dependent on age and each fighter threw himself into the match.
They didn’t come out immediately destroying each other though, but spent a few rounds of discovery, then the gloves stayed on (for their hands are gloved) but their strikes were a bit more brutal. I would watch as a fighter’s leg would blossom red from repeated blows landing. There are five rounds to the match, unless a fighter is knocked out, which I hated to see. The fighter would look so sad and confused as he would come to. I felt bad for their siblings watching their brother be knocked down and helped back to his feet. While 5 rounds was typical, sometimes during the final round, if one fighter was clearly the victory, they didn’t go in for a kill. The round became more a sparing match as they let the time run out. I was appreciative to see this, for less blood!
And there was blood. There was a particular match against a Thai and a Laos. Having met a few Lao boys on our trip there, I had a soft spot for the Lao fighter, as I counted him an underdog surrounded by Thai. They fought and fought and the Lao fighter’s eye was cut and face bloody. Seeing this, I held my hand to my mouth, in the universal sign for worry. I watched him be knocked down and continually get back up. He did a good job knocking down his opponent too and the fight seemed higher intensity than others, or perhaps it just fully held my attention. I thought the Lao fighter would finally be the victor but the Thai won. It was sad to see, for you could tell the Lao fighter gave it his all. I am still not familiar with how points are awarded though.
In between rounds, there were breaks for about five minutes where a metal pan was put into the ring with a chair in it. The fighter spit their mouth guard into the pan, and sat. The shallow pan, maybe 3 feet wide, was crucial to catch the water as the fighter was sprayed down with ice water. James said tiger balm was also in the mixture, necessary for the continuous hits they received. During these breaks, the fighter would be massaged and words of wisdom given by his coach. In the last few moments before the bell, the fighter would stand up, his limbs stretched by his attendant, and the pan whisked away. This pan was fascinating to me. The last step before the fight continued was for the referee to take a towel and dry the face or chest of the fighter, presumably to remove water so fewer puddles occurred in the ring. Then it was on again.
I enjoyed going and having the experience of seeing the matches. The final “match” we saw was a demonstration of muay thai by two seasoned fighter. They went through the entire ceremonial dance then gave a highly stylized demonstration of high kicks and jumps to land devastating blows (safely). The performance was a beautiful showcase of muay thai (and no blood!). I would definitely recommend going, especially if you get to sit in the sponsor seats! (Oh, and if you were watching the Thai match with the two awkward looking farangs, in the sponsor area, that may have been us!)
“HEY! OH!” My short video of what the stadium sounded like:
Other images from the event:
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