Muay Thai is a style of fighting that has roots in Burma and has been adapted over many years by the Thai people. The idea behind it is “8 points of contact” for hitting: Elbows, Fists, Knees, Feet. All are fair game for use in a match and things can be brutal. People are fanatic about it and even on a Monday night, the stadium was mostly full. If you’re a resident, entrance to the stadium is 100 Bhat, but if you’re a tourist, it will cost closer to 2000 Bhat per ticket. Granted, they’re ringside, so it’s not as if you’ll have bad seats.
Each night there are nine matches and the fighters vary in weight class as the night goes on. The fighter is brought in and given time to do two ritual dances in the ring before the match, one that is respect for their trainer “Wai Khru,” usually the longest, and the other, “Ram Muay,” as a means of showcasing their abilities and moves that will most likely be seen in the fight. After each has completed their dance, they head to their corners, take off their Mongkon and receive a few last minute instructions from their coaches.
The bell rings and the fight begins.
The fighters circle each other trading punches and kicks testing each others mettle and getting a feel for what the other has. Live music, drumming and a wind instrument of some time that sounds like a bad clarinet, but really works in this setting, is being played by a group of old men. Not unlike Capoeira, the tempo of the fight is being set and as the rounds go on, the tempo increases which in turn fuels the fighters and also fuels the crowd into a fever pitch of yelling in unison.
It’s no longer just the fighters in the ring, it’s the entire stadium participating in the match and it goes past the point of which side you want to win and settles into simply cheering for the action at hand as chants of “KNEE!!” can be heard whenever the fighter lands a knee in the body of their opponent.
The match lasts five rounds and each round is three minutes with two minute breaks in between. Kicks, elbows, and fists fly harder and faster with each round and the brutality increases. Skin opens up and blood flows as bodies are pushed into the ropes.
In the corners, trainers are yelling furiously at their fighter as the crowd feeds the fire until the bell rings and the referee breaks the fighters apart and they retreat to their corners to be massaged, watered down, and coached further. The bell rings and the fighters are back at it again even harder and faster than the round before. Each fighter focusing on their opponent watching for any sort of tell that let’s them know an action is about to happen. Some fighters watched their opponents eyes intently looking for a small flinch or dilation while others kept an eye on their opponents body so that any sort of movement would provide a tell that gives them just a fraction of a second to get an advantage.
An entire fight could be watched just watching the eyes of these fighters.
Fights are won by knockout or points and there are three judges who decide which fighter carries the round and the one who wins the most rounds, wins the match.
These matches are brutal and exciting, however, at the end of each match, regardless of winning or losing, the fighters walk over to the other fighters trainer and showed respect. The fighters also showed respect for each other. No matter how much grandstanding that took place within the ring and no matter how much of a beating a fighter received, they still hugged it out in the end and afterwards, hung around to watch the other fights to learn from and support other people from their respective teams.