When I first got to Thailand, I thought it might be interesting to see a Muay Thai fight. It wasn’t high on my list of things to do, but I figured it could be fun. Then I spent a few days in Phuket dodging touts with Muay Thai flyers and being screamed at by promoters cruising the streets in pickup trucks, blasting unintelligible pseudo-English gibberish through cheap loudspeakers at everyone within earshot—which at their volume settings, included several neighboring countries. It became clear that these Muay Thai fights were aimed solely at tourists, killing any desire I might have had to watch one. But what I didn’t realize at the time was just how funny they could be.
On my second visit to Thailand a few years later, some friends ended up dragging me to a Muay Thai fight in Chiang Mai. The ring was located in the middle of a sleazy red light district and was surrounded by sketchy Thais, creepy old men, a group of really drunk British guys and a random assortment of whatever tourists the touts managed to pull in off the streets. As you can probably guess, it was the drunken Brits who provided the most entertainment value—far more than the actual fights themselves.
As we were waiting for the fights to begin, I noticed the fighters all hanging out and chatting to each other. The camaraderie is nice I suppose, but it does not make for especially thrilling fights. Once they got going, every fight pretty much went the same way: two men (and in one case two women) danced around in the ring for a while to warm up then came together against the ropes where they hung out and held each other close.
Occasionally, the ref would separate them and they would throw a couple of light kicks or punches before meeting in the corner for another drawn-out hug (just to avoid anyone going to the trouble of writing me a nasty comment—I fully understand the grueling nature of real, non-touristy Muay Thai).
After all the fights were completed, we were in for a real treat: the organizers had decided to reward the audience with a bonus cock fight. At first we were unsure if we wanted to see two roosters tear each other to shreds, but it quickly became apparent we had no cause for concern. Apparently the roosters suffered from the same problem as all the other fighters—they were fast friends. The circled one another in the ring and occasionally launched an attack, but you got the distinct feeling they had no intention of causing each other any harm.
After the cock fight, it was time for the audience participation portion of the evening. The last guy to fight was maybe 1.40 meters tall and he would now get in the ring with a volunteer from the audience. The old guy standing in front of me, who it turned out was an ex-fighter and one of the promoters of this event, was trying very hard to get me in the ring, mainly because he did not like me at all.
He had been waving his arms around and gesticulating wildly throughout the fights, with a lit cigarette permanently wedged between his fingers and after the glowing tip flew inches from my face for the third or fourth time, I’d had enough. I asked him nicely if he could be careful with his cigarette, but he took that as an insult to himself, his family and his whole ancestry, rather than a simple desire on my part to continue to have eyes.
From that moment on, he wouldn’t stop talking about me to his friend and now he was trying to get me in the ring. Not being an idiot, I stayed right where I was. Being an idiot, one of the drunk British guys stripped down to his underwear and made his way into the ring. Actually, he didn’t really ‘make his way’ anywhere. He grabbed hold of the top roped and launched himself over it and into the ring in one graceful motion. In his head. At least I’m guessing that’s what he had in mind.
What actually happened is that he attempted to swing his legs over the top rope, but caught one of them. His leg stayed put, but his top half did not, causing him to flop face first into the ring. After trying and failing to get to his feet, he eventually pulled himself up and got into his fighting stance. Then he proceeded to chase a guy a third his size around the ring, which usually ended in him falling over his own feet and face-planting in the dirt.
I actually have a bit of video of this British ultimate fighting machine, but unfortunately it doesn’t contain any of the best parts (from my perspective—from his, this video makes him look like Jackie Chan compared to the rest of his ‘fight’). He does basically fall into the Thai fighter at one point, but other than that, I’m a little disappointed in the footage. I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to even post it, since I try to keep other people out of my photos or videos as much as possible, but I figure if you get drunk and launch yourself face-first into a ring in front of an audience that paid to be there, you should expect to end up on youtube.
In the end, our chubby drunken master took a few light kicks to the body and quickly decided he’d had enough. This time he crawled between the ropes and was rewarded for his efforts with a cold beer from his friends. The rest of us were accosted by promoters with donation buckets asking for a little something to show our appreciation for the amazing free fights we had just enjoyed.
Since the fights were neither amazing, nor especially enjoyable, nor free, given that everyone had paid admission, I suppose that could be seen as a little insulting, but I’d spent enough time in Thailand to expect nothing else. Now, if the British guy had gone around asking for donations, I would have happily bought him another beer. It wouldn’t have helped restore his wounded pride, but it might have helped him forget a few more of the embarrassing details.