Watching Fights and Meeting my Opponent

     With 20 days remaining till my fight, my training began to intensify and take focus.  About 3 days a week, Jill and I would wake up at 5am to train before she drove me to work.  The next week, I found a man on facebook I believed to be my opponent.  A comment he made on my trainer’s photo of me, along with the fact that he was a bit chubby and his pictures showed him at Muay Thai events before, combined to have me quite certain it was him.  I regrettably admit that finding him lowered the intensity of my training, as he didn’t look like much of a threat and was posting pictures of his dinner next to a bottle of whiskey.  In reality, Thais do this.  And they can get away with it.  They’ve trained and fought so much and so many times since they were kids, that they manage their nerves and have efficiency in their movement.  Some of them even smoke cigarettes, but they don’t gas in the ring. 

     With 8 days to go before my fight, we showed up at the camp to find everyone dressed up and leaving.  P’Tom (our non-English speaking trainer) communicated that there would be fights that night and we were welcome to come.  So we took the night off, went home to change, and awaited P’Tom coming to pick us up at the apartment.  The honk of a horn signaled our cue to come down.  We jumped on the back of P’Tom’s moped and sped off down our gravel road.  A right turn took us alongside a canal separating us from the historic park and its 800 year old brick wall that played an integral role in the Thai-Burmese war.  Two more turns and we arrived at the center of town, where a pair of pickup trucks and a smattering of familiar faces awaited.  The women and competing fighters piled inside the cabs, the other men in the truck beds.  This being cold season, I only hoped the ride would be short.

     45 minutes of shivering, enjoying a brilliant sunset, and repeatedly declining offered whiskey saw us deep in the countryside, turning right to follow neon lights.  Sandwiched between wooden houses on stilts, we followed the badly potholed road for about 5 minutes before a man directing traffic guided us in to park.  P’Tom took my hand and walked me through the entry which saved me the 40 baht entrance fee (why can’t I see fights in the states for a buck and change?).  Immediately after crossing into the event area, P’Tom laughed and pointed me to a guy who came in at the same time.  Removing ourselves from the path of entering spectators, P’Tom introduced me to Tangmo, explaining that he would be my opponent.  “Nice meet you,” the guy said, and extended his hand for me to shake it.  Thais don’t really shake hands and he clearly didn’t have much practice as it was a bit of a limp fish, but the gesture was sweet.  He asked where I was from.  It surprised me that he spoke any English.  It’s not very common in the part of Thailand I’m in.

     I’d like to explain a portion of my personal pre-fight psychology.  It doesn’t really get real to me until I see my opponent.  Something about the visage of a man who has trained for years and is going to try his hardest to inflict pain upon me and prove himself superior (in front of hordes of spectators at that), puts my mind in a very different place than I can bring it without that.  In my previous fight, an mma contest that was my last competition in the states, I learned my opponent’s name at least a month beforehand.   Extensively googling him pre-fight brought me to a picture (mugshot from armed robbery) of him that provided me an incredible mental edge.  I printed it off and carried it around.  I would look at it several times each day, especially before training.  I would stare straight into his eyes staring back at me, and tell him (tell myself) that I was going to fuck him up.  I might not have believed it at first, but giving myself that repeated affirmation and putting myself into that killer mindset upon looking at him intensified the hell out of my training and made me zone in on a singularity of purpose, beating the shit out of him so that he could not beat the shit out of me.  It’s important to be confident going into a fight.  I am a very firm believer that losing shouldn’t even be a thought in your mind.  Training myself to have a steady heart-rate upon seeing him and associate his face with my pending victory carried over to great effect come fight time.  I didn’t look him in the eyes during the weigh-in staredown.  That was my rest day.  I looked at his solar plexus (where I’d look when I fought him).  Standing directly in front of him in the cage, the ref preparing us for contest, that was my time to look in his eyes.  And I used it.  I stared at him with intensity and stirred up that meditative feeling of concentration and confidence, knowing that I was about to fuck him up.  That was my mindset, and I wouldn’t have had it (at least not to that extent) had I not been able to see his face so far beforehand.

     Fast forward to present: It’s a Thursday and I’m fighting the following Friday.  I’ve just met my opponent, and he is NOT the person I thought.  The chubby kid posting whiskey pics on facebook is absolutely not who I will be fighting.  Instead, my opponent stands at least my height but thicker and is by no means fat.  My trainer had told me he hasn’t fought in a long time (aside from one fight a month before) and was fat now.  Maybe that meant he didn’t have a rippled six-pack like most of these guys, but I could see through his shirt that his stomach was flat.  I immediately kicked myself in the ass for not training as hard as I could because I thought I would have an easy fight.  My worries quickly became compounded by the fact that by the time we left (before the main event), I had already seen Tangmo corner 5 other fighters.  That’s a literal number.  5.  He cornered 5 fighters at this one event.  And I was going to fight him next week. 

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“Do you want to fight in 20 days?  It’s 5 rounds against a Thai who has had a bunch of fights.  He’s about 10 kilos (22 pounds) heavier than you, but he hasn’t fought in a long time.  Oh, except that fight he had a month or two ago.  Also, we’re betting a good amount of money on you.  No pressure.”

I had noticed that at the Muay Thai camp I’ve been attending, the fighters don’t really train much unless they have a fight coming up.  After a fight, until there’s another one in sight, they just kind of run for a bit, do some skip knees, and then play soccer.  It occurred to me that perhaps I’d get more focused and consistent attention from the trainers if I had a fight coming up.  “Can you get me a fight?”  I spoke these words at about 8am on a Saturday.  Before noon, I got a facebook alert.  1 new message, sent from a construction of Thai characters I didn’t understand or recognize, but that were attached to a picture of my trainer.  I plugged his message into google translate (no software really translates WELL).  “I let you punch 27.  You do it”

“Is it 5 rounds, or 3?”

“5 round professional boxing.”

I took this to mean I would be fighting on the 27th, but wasn’t sure whether “punch” and “boxing” together meant it would be a Western boxing style fight – just hands.  Whatever it was, I was down.  I got to training that night and was greeted by both my trainers.  One speaks as much English as I do Thai (barely any) and the other has a pretty good working knowledge of it, because he was a trainer at a gym in Phuket.  He was kind of the translator and my source of information.  He said, “you know you already have program?”

“Yes, the 27th right?”

“Yes.  How much you weigh?”

“70 Kilos”

This is where they began to talk among themselves for a moment in Thai.  The two trainers and one third guy, who’s a bit of a staple at the gym and helps train the smaller kids.  I heard “bpaihtsip ____,” meaning eighty something.

“He about 80 kilos… okay?”

“Okay.”   I just agreed.  No turning back now.

I wanted a more complete picture.  “Has he fought before?”

“Yes he fight he fight, but not long time.  Now, he fat.  You win.”

This “out of shape because he hasn’t been fighting” thing might have been of greater consolation had I not JUST witnessed my trainer P’Tom, who is out of shape because he hasn’t been fighting, knock out a very in-shape opponent the weekend before.  When you’ve had as many fights as these guys have, you’re dangerous no matter what shape you’re in.

The smaller guy who trains the kids told me “I see you winning” and P’Ang (the English speaking trainer) informed me that guy would be betting on me.  P’Tom (my other trainer) told me I would knock the guy out.  Through a joint effort between the three of us, I figured out P’Tom was saying the guy doesn’t respond well to punches, and I’m a relatively good puncher.  They asked if I wanted to bet on myself.

Up to this point, I have failed to mention that there were several other people at the camp.  Most were faces I had never seen.  I believe it was a mixture of promoters, oddsmakers, and avid bettors (betting on fights is HUGE here), but I don’t really know.  The ring was cleared and I was made to hit pads while everyone watched.  P’Ang held and, since I’d only jumped on the tire for a bit while chatting with them, started warming me up with some easy punches and elbows.  One of the spectators grew impatient and wanted to see what really mattered to them.  Angrily, he yelled. “KICK!  KICK!”  So P’Ang held for a kick.  The onlookers emitted a chorus of “Oooohhhh” upon impact.  I don’t believe they thought a farang (foreigner) could kick.

At 8am that morning, when I said I would fight, Jill (my girlfriend who lives in Thailand with me) was asked the same and gave an affirmative yet noncommittal response.  When I finished hitting pads, they told me they had a fight for her as well.