The crowd was beginning to roar and shout in anticipation of the battle royale that was going to happen in front of their very eyes and the sweat that had formed on my head was now running down my neck, onto my back.
A hundred thoughts swirled furiously around my brain, ‘what was I doing here?’ ‘Why had I agreed to do this?’ If I made a mistake now it would be very uncomfortable to say the least. A Thai boxing stadium full of people eager to see a man being beaten and sent tumbling to the canvas. Their eyes all seemed to be staining to see me, ‘What will he do?’ they all thought in unison. But I had no more time to think, I had to just let instincts take over “….yes, I’ll have the burger…no the hotdog please?”
There, decision made, no going back now. If the quality of this hot dog isn’t great and I get a bad stomach from it, so be it…sometimes a man has to stand up for what he believes in and eating hotdogs while watching two men in perfect physical condition try to beat the crap out of each other at a Thai boxing stadium is one of those things.
The place – Rajadamnen Stadium, The Date – 17th February 2019, the time 18.30 hundred hours, my neck and face – reasonably dry of sweat, manboobs – slightly moist. Ordered food – one hotdog. I was ready to watch my first ever Muay Thai Boxing match.
Despite the 143 people I’ve had to assassinate during my time working for Her Majesties Secret Service I am not a violent person, I accidentally trod on a frog once and cried for three solid hours. Ok, some of that last sentence was economical with the truth. I have never worked as a spy (well, I would say that wouldn’t I? A good spy never reveals his identity…or does he…yes, he does…or does he…? No…he…yes…No). Also, I have never trodden on a frog although I have trodden on snails, loads of them have had their shells accidentally cracked by my size nines – I felt bad at the time but I’ve never cried about it…does this mean I am cold inside?
Despite not being a violent person I have always enjoyed sitting on my backside while watching two grown men knock seven bells of shit out of each other. So it was with some excitement that I made my way to Rajadamnern Stadium to watch the spectacle of violence for the sake of sport for the first time live.
After seemingly being asked if I wanted a ticket by every ticket tout in Bangkok I made my way to the ticket counter where I produced my already purchased ticket.
I had bought my ticket from a cinema the previous day after reading I could so on a website somewhere, (wow, so precise with my information!). The lady peered at me through the small counter window and without a word gave me another entry ticket to replace the ticket I had received from the cinema. Changing one ticket for another one seemed like a strange system to have but all seemed to be going well until a rather serious and extremely hard man standing at the turnstiles checked my ticket. His face slowly began to change from serious and hard to really serious and hard.
I was escorted away from the turnstiles and back to the ticket window I had just left. It slowly became apparent that it seems nobody in the history of Thai boxing in this stadium (since 1945!) had ever bought a ticket to enter at a cinema and so they had never seen this type of ticket before…
After what seemed like a rather lot of confusion and a brief sinking feeling that I may have to buy another ticket I was suddenly ushered through the turnstiles and into the inner walls of the stadium.
If you are a fan of Thai Boxing then here is a list of the fighters who were trying to elbow each other in the head for my entertainment.
It will help if you can speak Thai…
I had arrived early after reading that it was first come first served with the regards to the seating arrangements but I entered an empty stadium and escorted to a seat in ‘Club Class’. Club Class is one class down from ‘Ring Side’ but because it’s on an elevated level you get a slightly better view of the fight.
Oh…here it is…
Yes, it’s not the best looking hot dog in the world but it filled a hole…a tiny, miniscule, almost none existent hole but a hole none the less.
Thai Boxing as a martial art can be traced back 2000 years (that’s what Google says anyway) and as a sport you can find records of Thai Boxing from around the 15th Century. Thai Boxing is almost a national obsession and is known as ‘The Sport of Kings’ due to the Thai royal family promoting and taking a keen interest in the sport over many hundreds of years.
It began to gain popularity outside of Thailand during world war 2 when soldiers stationed here from Europe and America had their first look at Thai Boxing. Slowly, over time, Thai Boxing began to change and stronger rules were introduced. Precise timed ’rounds’ were introduced replacing the old method of waiting until coconut shells with holes in them had sunk to the bottom of a barrel of water!
Gloves were also introduced, to replace the hemp rope or leather bindings. During its earlier years fighters were known to soak their hemp gloves in a sticky resin before dipping their hands into CRUSHED GLASS!!! I kid you not!
Thankfully there was no crushed glass in tonight’s matches, just crushed hot dog sausages.
The stadium was full by the time I had eaten my mammoth hot dog and the theme tune for The Rocky film was blasting out of the crackling speakers that were dotted around the stadium. A small smattering of applause began to emanate from my left side and as I looked I saw the first two boxers making their way to the ring.
Once inside the ring the two boxers began to do their ritualistic routine called Wai Kroo which is done by every fighter before a bout. It’s a ritual that dates back hundred’s of years and basically looks like an ancient dance.
I found this moment mesmerizing as I seem to do with any tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years. Fashions and habits will always fall by the wayside but when practices take hold in a culture, they will never go (for better OR for worse!) The Wai Kroo is meant to show honour to the fighters teacher, the sport itself and the country. Each fighter then made his way around the ring to touch each corner post which signifies his respect to his opponent and to the spirits.
Once the rituals were over both men went back into their corner to get some last-minute inspiration from their teachers and to say a few words to the spirits.
Then, ”Ding-Ding’, the match began and a shot of electric excitement zipped around the room. As soon as the bell had chimed, I heard music strike up and assumed that it was being fed into the stadium via the speakers but after a few seconds of listening I realised that it wasn’t, in fact, the latest edition of ‘The Greatest Thai Boxing Hits In The World…Ever’ but a group of four men in one corner playing traditional Thai music…
They sounded absolutely superb. I could have watched them all night but I had come to watch men fight! As the first round wore on I noticed that the movements of the two fighters mirrored the music and I began to wonder if the fighters were following the tempo of the band or the other way around – to this day I can’t tell you!
And then it happened…
A sound. A sound that will stay with me for a long time, a sound that I can still hear now as I write this, a sound that made my ears and brain jump because of neither of them having heard this sound before. It was the sound of one of the fighters bare foot striking the ribs of the other. It seemed to ring out around the stadium. Then another strike and another. I began to feel something I didn’t expect to feel…uncomfortable that these two men were trying to batter each other into submission…
This was the first fight out of nine and in the third round when one of the fighters took an elbow to the head and fell in a heap, I felt…well, it’s hard ro describe really. I sort of felt numb, but not in a cold, hard way but in a dumb way. I’d never seen a man get hit in the head with an elbow before. Come to think of it I’d never seen a man slump to the floor like that in real life.
But before I knew it, the poor sod was being carried out of the ring and another two completely hard as nails looking men stepped in for bout two.
Over the next few bouts my numbness receded and I began to enjoy myself more as each match ended with one of the men slumped on the floor without a clue as to what sex he was never mind what day it was. The more I watched the more I began to pick up on what all the fighters seem to be aiming for – Thai Boxing isn’t about trying to knock your opponent out in the first round, it’s about wearing him down with kicks to the ribs and stomach (the red marks on the fighters ribs is a sight that sticks on my brain). The first round of every fight I saw was almost tame compared to what came towards the end of round 2 and into 3. Out of the nine fights I saw, seven of them came to a very abrupt end in the third round.
Despite the uneasy feeling at the start of the night, by the end of it I was baying for blood…well, that’s not entirely true but, and I don’t know what this says about me, by the end of the night I seemed to be totally anesthetized to the brutality I was witnessing. Maybe it was because I had grown a huge admiration for the men that participate in this sport. Or maybe it’s just something we all have inside of us, enjoying the spectacle of watching men do battle with nothing but their bodies as weapons, a fleeting glance of a bygone era, of a time before we became dumbed down via the TV screen about the actual realities of violence.
As we all made our way out the exit I heard a voice call my name. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t catch the young man’s name but he told me how much he loved reading my blog, of how much of a big fan he was of mine and that when he hung up his gloves he planned to be a writer like me. After a brief chat he almost begged me for a photograph and not wanting to upset a fan, I duly obliged…
I truly recommend going to a Thai Boxing fight one evening if you visit Thailand. I know violence isn’t to everyone’s taste but it is a huge part of this country’s beautiful and varied culture. Just make sure you’ve eaten before you go…unless you feel tempted to buy 4 or 5 hot dogs.
The link for the stadiums website is below…just saying…