Wednesday, November 7, 2012

muay thai boxing in bangkok

Captain, the interestingly named agent who had sold us our muay thai boxing tickets, waved us down frantically as soon as he saw us entering the hotel lobby.

“The stadium just informed me that the price of the tickets have gone up,” he told us. “There is going to be a very special fight tonight.”

I wondered if we were being hosed, but figured why not pay the extra price. Watching a muay thai boxing match in what is essentially the world mecca of muay thai boxing was one of the top things I wanted to do while in Bangkok, and it would be all the more exciting if famous boxers were going to go at it tonight.

We took a cab to the Lumpanee Stadium, a ride that managed to be hectic and slow at the same time, as we were caught in the heavy stop-and-go traffic that is Bangkok’s permanent rush hour. A few times, our cab driver lay his head down in the middle of the seat to close his eyes and rest, knowing we weren’t going to get anywhere soon.

As soon as we got out of the cab, the stadium staff recognized our VIP tickets and pushed us through the crowd to escort us to our ringside seats. Captain had insisted on selling us the most expensive tickets, assuring us that it was best for foreigners not to be caught in the crowd. Again, I think it was a sell, but why not take the best view of the fight that had already started?

I ‘ve taken up muay thai boxing back in Ottawa this year, after a mixed martial arts expert told me that muay thai boxing is pretty much the most useful one to know in a street brawl. I don’t actually have any intention of being in a street brawl, but I was fascinated with the idea of learning a skill that involves every aspect of your body. It also seems to involve killing all the nerves in your body so you don’t feel pain. One of the boxing gyms that I work out at (I go to two) is led by an instructor who looks a lot like Micheal Cera in short shorts, who had me practicing my kicks on the punching bag. I’ve heard that professional Muay Thai get up early in the morning to kick banana trees in order to kill all the nerves in their shins. Kicking hurts my legs, because the nerves in my shins are not dead. Eventually I got to the point where I would wind myself up for a kick, start to go for it, and then recoil back like a wimp in fear of the pain that would follow.

Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a French Canadian girl sparring with a guy much taller than her. She was still kicking his butt. I was fascinated by this display. Afterwards, Micheal Cera in short shorts had me practicing with her. She showed no mercy. I was just supposed to be practicing my jabs and crosses, but every time I accidentally dropped my gloves to expose my neck, she’d reach out and slap me on the face with her gloves. It was terrifying, painful, and exhilarating.

It was all the more amazing to watch professionals duke it out in the ring in the country where the sport was invented. Because, after all, nothing says romantic honeymoon like watching two trained men beat the living daylights out of each other. Boxing is Thailand’s favourite sport, and the stands were packed with shouting Thai men who were all trying to secretly place bets (gambling is illegal here). I couldn’t take my eyes off the fight. All but 2 of the rounds involved boxers that weighed less than me, averaging about 113 pounds. That’s a lot of very light, very small guys who are nonetheless very muscular and very fierce. Many of them were also quite young, looking not a day over fifteen years old. They began each fight by entering the ring wearing Buddhist flower garlands, and performing elaborate rituals to pay tribute to their trainers and prepare themselves. Vendors sold ramen noodle and Chang beer to the crowds.

Each fight was accompanied by musicians providing live traditional Thai music that really added to the feeling that I had been transported inside a Mortal Kombat video game. Unlike Mortal Kombat, however, the fighters were careful and calculating in their brutality. Usually I just mash all the buttons at once.

My favourite fight involved two men who both weighed 115 pounds. Rob was betting on red. I was betting on blue. We were betting kisses, because this was, after all, our honeymoon. Red had smoked Blue in the face quite hard and Blue was bleeding all over himself and Red. I thought it was going to be over. But Blue was clearly angry, and despite the blood that was flowing down his brow, by his eyes, and all over his chest, he attacked Red with the fury of an animal. Push kick. Push kick. Knee. Red put up a good fight, but he’d gotten too cocky too early at the sight of drawing blood. Blue never gave up, and never grew tired, while Red steadily lost his energy. He was also, I admit, taking a lot of hits. There was a pivotal moment where Blue was just giving out kick after kick to Red’s rib. With every hit, the Thai crowd shouted. Side note: Ever notice how the sound of a punch or a kick sounds nothing like the POW that you hear in the movies? Nope. The thunderous sound that you might expect to hear, however, was echoed in the crowd. Kick. Kick. Kick. Red wavered, and then suddenly collapsed. He couldn’t take anymore. Blue stood and waved at the crowd, blood all over his face. Blue had won. What a fight.