Plyfa tries to touch my glove, this is an unspoken signal that means “I’ll stop, if you admit you give up” I have never touched gloves and wont start now. I’ve seen the stadium fighters do it but I’m too proud – I’ll fight to the final bell even if I’ve lost without a doubt – Whitney Tobin, Muay Thai Champion
I hear my phone vibrating and slowly open my eyes to the blinking 5 am on the screen. It’s Wednesday, weigh in day. I roll myself out of bed step on my scales, 56.3 kg. This fight I’m scheduled to be 56 kg. I’m not too worried as the press conference won’t start until 1pm, and last night I got to eat and drink water so this will come off easy.
Everything’s been packed the night before, so I change and walk down the steps to the gym. Kru Nan makes me step on the gym scales as they want to see my weight with their own eyes. I get the thumbs up, and chok dee from my trainer Kru Ten.
Ood, the owner of Santai, drops Nan and I off at the airport for our 7.30 am flight. Unfortunately, my trainer Ten can’t come with me because of family obligations. It makes me feel slightly uncomfortable because I put a lot of trust into Ten as my cornerman. I can tell Kru Nan hasn’t flown in years as he lets me take the lead in the airport. He looks nervous, sweating and unsure of typical protocols of simple security checks.
We land in Bangkok and Nan hails a taxi driver to take us to our accomodation. Thanks to technology, I can show the taxi driver on Google maps where we are going. We arrive at a dirty alleyway that looks less than ideal. Even with the rough-looking location, these kind of places always tend to be the best-kept secrets. It’s in perfect walking distance from the venue, a 7-11 and Tesco are just outside, and there’s food stalls for us to grab food. Inside the building are quiet, stark white hallways that remind me of a hospital. We each get our own room and it’s absolutely luxurious compared to my room back in Chiang Mai. I’m over the moon seeing the air conditioning system above the bathroom, I haven’t had AC in my room since I lived in America over 6 years ago.
It’s 11.15 am and Kru Nan wants to leave to go to the event. I’m exhausted from getting up so early, I look at him like he’s crazy. I’ve had well over 40 fights, and these type of things never run on time. In Thailand you can bank on adding an extra hour to whatever time they initially tell you. I say “Mai Ben Rai, Sabai Sabai” (no problem – relax relax). I say we can leave at 12.30, after I have a quick nap. There’s no point hanging out dehydrated and being crabby. Plus I’m taking advantage of every minute I have with this beautiful AC unit.
When we arrive at the Hotel Bazaar, we take the elevator to the 8th floor where there are 3 adjoining large rooms. They normally run Muay Thai classes up here so there are bags and rings in the other rooms, but the middle room is cleared out for the press conference. There is a long table garnished with flowers and 3 title belts that will be fought over tomorrow night. Behind the table hangs a giant yellow banner with the king printed on it. Yellow is everywhere in Bangkok representing royalty for the occasion of the Kings Birthday. I spot my opponent Plyfa laying on her side, with a casual look of nowhere to be with an endless amount of time. I’ve watched her previous fights, in the ring she looks like an absolute monster. Here though she reminds me of the cats that curl up and sleep at the gym.
For an extra bonus they have set up a buffet for once fighters make weight. On the downside they’ve allowed everyone who isn’t a fighter to eat first and all the fighters look on with dark, moody eyes. Having not eaten in a day and dehydrated, politeness and niceness start to go first. Before things start to make sure there are no surprises I step on the scales, 56.1 kgs. I can take off my top and weigh in with my sports bra and shorts and make weight fine. Any nervousness is gone. One Thai fighter is still cutting weight in his sweat suit. A few of the Thai girls see me get on the scale and they do the same. I know from my Thai friend Lommanee that my opponent had to cut a lot of weight the night before. She looks a bit nervous getting on the scale so I’m not sure if she’s made the weight.
One of the assistants of the promotion asks for the fighters to come over and collect the shorts and tops we’ll be wearing for the photographs today and fighting in tomorrow night. For some reason, Plyfa and I get men’s tops while the rest of the girls get fitted tank tops. I ask the ladies at the table if I can weigh in my own clothes as they are lighter. She smiles but I don’t think she understands. So I just decide if I get on the scale and I’m heavier, I’ll take them off.
One of the managers/trainers from another gym isn’t happy with the number on the scale for his fighter. He starts pushing all the buttons and motioning to the floor, saying it isn’t level because the ground is laid with fake grass turf. It becomes a crowded mess of 8 Thais plugging and unplugging the scale, pushing its buttons and getting a wooden board to put under it. It takes them 45 minutes to sort out.
The main events are first to weigh in. The Thais crowd around each fighter, making sure they made the agreed weight. I notice the scale has changed from kgs to lbs. When I look at the piece of paper with the line up for tomorrow the weight is in lbs, also my fight weight is put down as 126lbs (57.2kg). Somewhere along the line there was a miscommunication between the promotion and my camp, so I lost an unnecessary extra kg. I’m under weight by nearly 3 lbs, Plyfa is over weight by 900 grams. If this took place in a western country and she couldn’t cut the weight, 20% of her purse would be handed over. This is Thailand – I have no authority here as I’m a girl and a fighter. We take a face off picture and as a friend of mine described it we look like battling red and blue power rangers in our ridiculous men’s tops. Plyfa is very smiley, and we take personal pictures on our phones of each other. We wish each other good luck for tomorrow and give each other a quick hug. Only in Muay Thai are people this cordial to one another knowing they are going to have hurt the other person.
I go straight back to my bag and guzzle down my first electrolyte drink. Afterwards, I take my time rehydrating. If you go too fast, your stomach will go into shock and make you sick. I know from a few terrible experiences, one involving when my partner and I. We were fighting on the same event and were given food by the promoter after weigh ins and continued to go out to eat after with friends at a Thai restraint, and then ended up taking turns using their public toilet to spew up everything we had just eaten.
I message Ood about the problems with the weight, but she just assures me that these things happen and they’ve been on the other side where the promotion has given slack to fighters from our gym that didn’t make weight. I’m in a better mood because I’m hydrated, this is Thailand so you just have to roll with it and make the best of the situation.
In the rush of things I only brought my electrolyte drinks, so I dive into the small buffet of dim sims they provide. There’s supposed to be a bigger buffet but the rice needs to cook for another half an hour. I didn’t bring extra food so I have to stick with dim sims for now.
The press conference starts and the older Thai promoters, WPMF representatives and sponsors sit down at the decorated table. The fighters are separated by our coordinated red and blue outfits and are instructed to stand behind the seated officials. Each of the representatives at the table give a small speech in Thai to the camera and photos are taken after of the whole group. There’s two other foreigner girls, one from Belarus and the other is American as well.
The buffet is ready and all the fighters perk up at the sight. I load my plate with rice, stirfried cabbage and penang curry. Lastly I add a bit of fruit on the side. When your body isn’t used to that much food it requires a lot of energy to digest, so afterwards we head back to the hotel and I crash out for 3 hours.
When I wake up, it’s raining outside and I go out looking for a market that’s supposed to be outside the Hotel Bazaar. On the way I pass a few stalls selling pork skewers but I’m holding out for the market. To the dismay of my stomach I find only a few stands selling tourist souvenirs. Hungry and disappointed, I walk back to the hotel and find a small shack restaurant that’s still open. I order Thai basil chicken to have back in my room. I walk back through the creepy quiet white hallway and open my door to a lovely rush of cold AC air. I eat while watching some Netflix and it’s pretty easy to fall asleep again. I decide to power off my phone and let myself wake up naturally for tomorrow.
For breakfast, we go to a shack restaurant across the road for braised pork over rice. Afterwards we grab takeaway food from a different shack to eat for lunch. I fall into a routine of eating, watching Netflix and sleeping. When I wake up after from my final nap it’s around 5 pm. I start getting ready for the fight. I’ve been practicing French braiding my hair over the last week. I copped an elbow in my previous fight that openend up 2 gashes on my head, so the doctors had to shave part of my hair to allow stitching. It takes me 3 goes to get it right to cover the fresh scars and spiked patch of hair. It’s not the embarrassment of a little hair missing, it’s more strategic for the fight – if Plyfa and her team see the patch from the recent elbow, they’ll look to attack it again because it’s not as strong as my other skin.
We start walking to the hotel, and I give a few huffs of breath to shake off some nerves. Nan turns to me smiles and says “Sabai Sabai, Muay Thai no serious”. He explains in his broken English that if I stress about it too much, I won’t fight well. We meet Ood and Nik (Ood’s Husband & Co-owner of Santai) in the warm up area, they’ve just flown in from Chiang Mai today. The ring is set up and ready for its fighters. The shared warm up area is off to the side and has a few long white tables used for pre-fight oil massages. I get my shorts and top from one of the assistants working the front table, and head to the public toilet on the main floor of the hotel to change.
Every fighter has some kind of tradition or weird ritual they have to help with nerves. If they say they don’t, they are blatantly lying to you. I’ve heard of fighters going to strip clubs the night before fights, some will have a single beer, listening to certain music or podcasts, lucky underwear, whatever gives them some peace knowing they are about to put their body through hell. Mainly, it’s to believe fortune will favour them and that all the hours of preparation were’t for nothing. From my first fight in 2011 I’ve prayed to god in the public toilets at the venues I’m fighting at. It’s a quiet place before the crowds arrive, and far from the back stage chaos without onlooking eyes. I have done this for all 45 of my fights. This time I ask to win because this fight would put me in a higher ranking for the WMC. I ask for a clear mind to see openings for shots, to be able to commit and just wanting to perform my best. After my chat with the big man, I feel better and head back out to the ring area.
Within the last 24 hours the fight order has changed 3 times, with my fight settling on number 5. The first few fighters chat while getting their hands wrapped and lay on the tables provided to be rubbed down with a mixture of Vaseline and linament oil. The oil saves the time of having to warm up the body and makes the muscles more flexible for the fight. You get in a few stretches and then its up into the ring you go to fight. This is why performing a Wai Kru Ram Muay (traditional dance before the fight) works as a long stretch before the fight.
We don’t know if there will be many knockouts or not, so when the third fight begins Nan starts to wrap my hands. Nan is an expert and the wraps aren’t too tight or loose, almost an extension of my skin. The bell goes and Round 4 starts. I look to Kru Nan and say “te nai Plyfa?” (Where’s Plfya?). He shrugs and says “Mai lou” (I don’t know) Ood assures me she’s on the way, but stuck in downtown Bangkok traffic. She tells me to get oiled up just in case, so I lay on the table as Nan and a previous Santai gym member start on my legs and back. When I flip over I’m relieved to see Plyfa. The 4th fight is starting with the fighters performing their Wai Krus. Nan puts vaseline on my face, and extra in the areas that are easier to cut with elbows, like the forehead and the eyebrows. With his palm, he rubs my jaw roughly to make sure I’m mentally
ready for a fight.
Ood tells me that Plyfa had to wrap her hands in the taxi. She got so many calls from the promoters that she had to jump out the taxi cab she was in and wave down a scooter taxi mid-traffic. This way she could weave through traffic and get to the venue faster. Her team are stuck in the taxi cab in traffic, so in the beautiful Muay Thai spirit, another gym helps her by giving her a linament oil rubdown and helping with gloves.
One at a time, I slip my hands in the gloves. I put them on Nan’s chest, and he pulls the air out of gloves by tying the strings at the top where the fingers are and pulling down against the leather. He tapes down the laces, and we hand Plyfa my tape so she can do it as well. Kru Nan puts my arm on his shoulder and he ties the pradjit (pronounced papa -jit / arm band) onto my biceps, and ties my pakama (Northern Thailand scarf/towel) around my waist. They aren’t essential for the fight but more for decoration. These are special items, they have been blessed by a monk before I left for Bangkok. The arm bands and my mongkol were made with the help of Kru Thailand and his wife Mae, and my pakama was given to me by my Australian trainer. It’s from the village his Thai wife is from, and it helps remind me of how much they have done for me.
I give a quick squat stretch and we are being rushed up to the ring. I ask Ood if I should do a long or short Wai Kru Ram Muay. Plyfa’s team still hasn’t arrived so we decide to give themsome more time by performing my long one. My Wai Kru is a mixture of elements from different gyms and trainers I have worked with.
I start the dance kneeling with three bows, and it turns into lunges of feminine movements of me pretending to put on make up and and turning to the opposite side mimicking a blooming fighter. It transforms more battlesque when I stand up and move to the ropes pretending to sharpen a spear. For the finale, I head to Plyfa’s corner and take an imaginary sword from my back making giant slashing movements from left to right. I stomp my foot right, left and center, while coordinating my arm to follow the same motion as my feet. I trace a half circle with my foot from right to left and finish by picking it up. I make my way back to my corner, looking back occasionally with a cheeky smile and a head nod to her corner. Plyfa is still finishing hers, at the end she tries to shoot an arrow at me and I step out of the way shaking my head. We smile at each other, respecting the craft we’ve put into our dances.
The ref calls us to the center of the ring, she says something quickly in Thai to the extent of fighting fair. Both Plyfa and I smile at each other. With a quick hug, we separate and I walk back to my corner Kru Nan prays for me in Thai, takes off my mongkol and Pakama, and flicks some water in my face to make sure I’m alert and ready.
Round 1 goes really well, I don’t rush, I’m blocking her kicks and I land some really nice right handed punches to her stomach. When I walk back to the corner with my hands raised up I see Nik gives me the thumbs up. Kru Nan tells me this was a good round and to keep attacking the body. Round 2 goes similar and there’s a few clinch exchanges, but I can feel I’m stronger so I pull her from the ropes when she’s trying to rest. Round 3 is close and is more clinching. Kru Nan puts a wet towel on my head and he’s now calling for left hooks followed by right kicks. I get really excited because I can tell she’s tired. I get off the seat and jump a bit to kick off some of my excitedness. I make the mistake of rushing too many times at her. Plyfa is a master of timing and teeps me off my feet. “Shit shit shit”, I say in my head, this is a massive score for her. I try to get up quick, I’m scared I let myself get too far behind points and stupidly rush in again. She starts timing step up knees on me as I come in with right punches. My body is conditioned hard from thousands of hours clocked with conditioning. The knees aren’t affecting me, but they are scoring very big for her nonetheless.
By 5th round Nik tells me you need to knock her out or you’re going to lose. I try to close distance, but she throws her left kicks at me. I’m so concerned about being behind on points that I don’t care about wearing the damage on my arm and try to do Hail Mary knock out punches. Plyfa tries to touch my glove, this is an unspoken signal that means “I’ll stop, if you admit you give up” I have never touched gloves and wont start now. I’ve seen the stadium fighters do it but I’m too proud – I’ll fight to the final bell even if I’ve lost without a doubt.
The bells rings, we both fall to the ground and bow to each other in mutual respect. I walk over to her corner and her trainer gives me some of their water as respect. I wait for the ref to get the score cards, I know Plyfa has won but I always think it’s important to stay in the ring until the final verdict is called. Her hand is raised and I walk to my corner to crawl under the ropes but before I can get through Plyfa runs over and hugs me. There’s a real respect here at this level. When you’ve fought for so long you understand what the other person has gone through to get here.
Nik gives me a high five on my glove, and while Ood is still Facebook streaming with her phone I say “I tried.”
The gloves come off and I’m soaked from all the water being poured on me in between rounds, so I go and change. We grab some food quickly while there’s a break in the action, and then watch the remaining fights. The other foreigners have the same results, coming up short to the more skilled Thais. Some are convinced they won, but the opposite is clear from an outside perspective. Throughout the rest of the fights Nik and Ood compare me to other foreigners, showing examples of my shortcomings of my own fight. I just nod along, I’m my own toughest critic so nothing they say can be as bad as what’s going on in my head. I’m so disappointed to have been so close and not fight smart enough to take the win.
I leave before the last fights ends. I start walking back to my hotel room and grab some emotional refueling foods of chocolate, ice cream and beer. I message my fiancé just with the word “lose”. He’s waiting for me to get back to the hotel room to call him. I take a quick shower to get the Vaseline and oil off. I ring him on Facebook messenger and start with a “Hi” and he asks “Are you ok?”
I say “I’m more emotionally beat down from having two losses in a row.” It’s disheartening to have been in this sport for 7 years and not be at the level I feel like I should be at. I’ve moved gyms so many times due to moving countries. I feel like it’s held me back from devolping in one place. I listen to my trainers and try my hardest of everything that’s asked of me and it’s still not enough. I always take my losses hard, it’s a mental battle everytime not to quit.
He listens, letting me vent. He says, “You don’t keep fighting the same people you would 10 fights ago, when you improve so does your competition.” I know he’s right. I always ask for his input on my fights, as he’s had 26 of his own and he knows my style. It’s 2 am and I’m shattered from the physical and emotional roller coaster of the day, so we exchange “I love yous” and end the conversation.
I finally let myself cry, there are no tears allowed tomorrow. If you dwell too long it can eat you alive. I put on Netflix to distract my thoughts and drink my beer. I slowly drift off, I’m too tired to change so I fall asleep in my bath towel.