Jay Tonkin’s chest rose and it fell, it rose and it fell. Voices shouted at him, from the crowd, from his stablemates, from his trainers, and from his father.
“I always look to my dad during the break,” Jay said later after the fight. While the audience has been different, and while his camp has changed, there has been a real continuity between father and son. David Tonkin has always been in his son’s corner.
The younger Tonkin came to Thailand when he was an early teen. The only child was athletic growing up playing soccer, tennis and rugby. When he was 14 he decided he wanted to do MMA and so after a short period at a Muay Thai gym in Australia he went to Sinbi Muay Thai in Phuket. He stayed for two weeks and then returned shortly afterwards for 4 months. Jay was only 15 when he had his first fight.
“Dad, I’m fighting a man, a man with chest hair! He’s 26,” Jay told his father before the match.
“It’s just a pair of gloves, don’t worry what’s behind it,” David told his son. The fatherly advice helped Jay to win his first bout at Bangla Stadium in the beach town of Patong.
After that first fight the two decided to permanently relocate to Thailand. Jay had been a nightmare at school and David’s retirement business restoring antique motorcycles had turned into a retirement prison. Thinking that southern Thailand and Phuket was the mecca of muay Thai David sold everything and bought a home in Rawaii.
Over the next few years Jay would move gyms but continue to fight. He landed for a while with the Pinto brothers in Bangsapan where he trained for the Toyata Marathon, he lived in a small shitty bungalow for a small time in Bangkok, he trained out of AKA in Phuket and most recently due to his athleticism and hard work was given a sponsorship by the famous Fairtex Muay Thai gym in Pattaya.
The company is going through a rebranding and revitalization period. With the recent win streak of Fanta Sitsaprem at Max, Yodsila Fairtex ‘sclimb at the major stadiums in Bangkok and Yodsanklai Fairtex’s continued reign on the international stage Fairtex is attempting to rebuild its stable of fighters and Jay has been one of the most recent additions.
“There have been a lot of fighters trying out here recently, but it’s too hard. The training here at Fairtex is harder than anywhere else. A lot of the fighters will stay for a week or two and then they go home. They can’t take it. It’s taken me two months to get used to the training here.”
The daily regiment begins with a long run from the camp in to the landmark Pattaya sign at the end of Bali Hai Pier. The fighters run along the gulf of Thailand of the former fishing village which exploded in size into a popular beach resort town during the Vietnam War when American GIs came and stayed for R &R. Because of its original designation as a Despite the city attempting to clean up it’s reputation into something more family friendly.
“When we go running, it’s early and sometimes there are still drunks on Walking Street, coming out of the discos and the go go bars as the sun rises. It’s a bit much,” Jay said.
When the morning run comes to an end Jay begins the training at the camp. With 6-8 rounds of pad work, several 4-7 rounds of sparring and 4 minute long sessions of knees on the bag the training is not for the faint of heart.
“There are always 3 trainers’ eyes on you the entire time,” Tonkin said. “It’s not like down in Phuket. Sometimes the trainers don’t care. The training down there… it was like a vacation.”
In addition to the constant attention of the trainers is the twice daily clinching. The standing grappling is one of the linchpins of Thai fighter’s success in the sport and a skill that necessitates daily practice. It’s not size that matters in the clinch either. “The smaller guys are actually harder to clinch with,” Tonkin stated. “Power isn’t everything, it’s also about technique.”
The Fairtex camp is also ramping up the physical prowess of it’s fighters having them engage in strength and conditioning twice a week run by the Managing Director and heir of the Fairtex company Prem Burasabavonwongs himself.
Along with a regular conditioning program Tonkin also supplements his training with yoga and a healthy diet. “I eat a lot of nuts and fruit during the day and a big meal at night,” he said. “If you have to cut too much weight for a fight you can’t hydrate your brain. It makes you not want to fight.”
The weight cut was easy but the locker room at Max Muay Thai stadium in Pattaya was busy. The smell of menthol permeated the air, it was thick along with the smell of sweat. All the boxers were relaxed. They were old hands at the game. Jay had a fresh hair cut. It was cropped close to his head with a line parting the fade from the rest of his hair on his left side.
His father walked in. “He’ll do good tonight. Been investing in him for the last 4 years… well the fighting. Been behind him for the last 19 though,” David said with a laugh. His Australian accent cut through the other international voices in the backroom.
Jay watched as his trainer wrapped his hands. His father stood next to him. Jay put on his cup, his shorts, his gloves. He went out to the ring. The bell sounded. The fight began. The round ended. Jay looked to his corner. His father was there giving him advice.