The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems… Bangkok is alive with over 15 million residents. A mix of Chinese, Indian, Westerners and a vast majority of Thai people reside in the city of cherubs.
After the sacking of Ayuttyah by the Burmese in 1474, King Taksin of Thailand moved the capital south to Thonburi on the west side of the Chao Phyraya river. In 1782 the capital would be moved onto the marshlands on the other side of the river. On that marsh Bangkok began to grow, and the building hasn’t stopped hundreds of years later.
Lumpinee stadium opened its doors in 1956, to be the second national stadium in Thailand, rivaling Rajadamern in prestige. Outside of the stadium vendors and hawkers sell their wares, distributing beers, cheap food, Muay Thai magazines, and other accessories to the crowd. Half a dozen shops are packed in along the entrance to the stadium. The shops sell shorts, boxing liniment, gloves, Buakaw posters, etc.
The constant sound of construction didn’t fill my ears as it usually does walking down the streets. As I entered Lumpinee stadium I heard the crowd and the slapping of shin to body as the second bout of the evening continued its progress.
The two fighters in the ring, Kangwanlek Petchyindee and Petchsiri P. Siripong were sculpted pieces of architecture. They’d been built over years and years of training. Their washboard stomachs were akin to Roman gladiator’s breastplates, able to withstand brutal punishment from foes. While having the same sturdiness of the strongest of Bangkok’s buildings they also flowed about the ring like the rivers (khlongs) that cut through the city.
The fourth round was underway as I took my seat, after purchasing a ticket at ringside for 1600 baht. I tried to quickly assemble the tale of the rounds that had passed by the look of the fighters, by the sound of the crowd, by the corners exuberance or lack thereof. The crowd filled in the tale for me. They responded to the actions of the fighters like a Greek chorus at a tragedy. Each blow was commented on with a unified cry from the crowd informing me of the unsaid feelings of the fighters.
P.Siripong in the blue corner pushed forward with strong kicks damaging his red clad opponent. The crowd roared its approval when he won his match.
The third bout of the evening was between Palangtip K.Sapaotong in the red corner, versus Manasak Narupai in the blue corner. The former weighed in at 121 lbs while the later weighed 119. The two nak muay did their wai khrus with elegance. They were clad not only in their trunks, but also in a mongkon, colorful ankle guards, and a garland of flowers that made them seem like neon street lights. Their shorts had their names on their crotches in bright glitter adding more of a halogen glow to their lean bodies.
The first round started in a typical Thai manner, slow, paced, and a testing of capacities. The two boxers shook their muscles in between shooting teeps and low kicks into each other. They warmed each other with their blows beginning a five round fire.
The second round had Manasak creating more sparks, dousing the fire with gasoline as he delivered sharp lowkicks into his opponent’s leg. The pace began to sharpen. The sparks of the fighters fire made the criwd shout with excitement.
Manasak opened the third round with a sweep that dumped Palangtip on the ground. Manasak then began to deliver strong punches to the body and jaw, focusing on the intestines first then dropping some damage on Palangtip’s grill. He would punctuate his prowess with a kick to the face and ended the round in jubilation. He held his arms out wide and ran around the ring like a bird hovering on a spring wing, thriving on the essence of life.
In order to make up for his loss Palangtip came forward with knees but Manasak stuck to his style and continued to aim for the jaw and stomach. In addition he swept Palangtip to the ground after catching his knee.
In the fifth round Palangtip, behind on points, pushed forward. His forward movement was abruptly halted and reversed when Manasak teeped him in the stomach, knocking him to the ground. A few moments later Manasak fell to the ground and Palangtip attempted to kick his downed opponent. The referee jumped in the midst of the two saving Manasak from an unregulated blow. It was at this point that I noticed that Manasak had a large cut under his right eye. It was a sore red blotch on his face. The two spurted with action and out of vengenance (no doubt) Palangtip cut Manasak with an elbow. Blood began to coat Manasak like rain drops from a tropical storm. The droplets of blood were everywhere and soon began to cover his body.
Manasak’s forehead looked like it had been chopped by a machete. Rob Cox showed me a picture of the boxer’s injury after Manasak won his bout, I was pretty sure that I could see the Thai fighter’s brain, it was a good lesson in human anatomy!
The fourth fight of the evening was a beautiful bout. I was too absorbed in looking at the gruesomeness of Manasak to pay attention to the first round but by the second round my eyes were captivated. Pornsane DungDung… in the blue corner was delivering k-1 style combination’s onto his opponent Roungruanglek Lookprabad. Pornsae’s body punches were shaking Roungruanglek as each series of attacks ended with sharp leg kicks. It was only one minute into the second round that Roungruanglek was knocked out cold. Pornsae had dealt his opponent a terrible hand going from stomach blows to one on the mandible. Roungruanglek lay cold on the stadium canvass in a dreamless state. He was revived after a few minutes and blue clad officials helped him out of the ring. He wobbled down the stairs and into the backrooms disoriented by the concussion of his opponent’s blows.
Just a few feet away from each othor
I stood in the red corner when Saenchai Sor. Kingstar, arguably the best pound for pound fighter in Thailand, which means the world, stepped into the ring. He took off his bright red robe with the 13 Coins Resort logo on the back. Around his waist he wore a plaid worn belt, a Pakama, a versatile accessory worn by men from Isaan. The belt can be used as a bandana (protection from the hot sun), a wallet, a belt etc. No doubt it was a “holla” at his homeland.
Petchbounchoo from F.A. Group, looked pensive as he stood in the metal ring. The ring was a few inches tall and was slid out between rounds to catch water poured onto the fighters. He drank some water and let more water slide down his body. The droplets of water clung to his body, stuck on the Vaseline that coated him. The Vaseline would help blows graze off of him it was a light armor of petrol. Petchboounchoo stepped out of the ring and walked to the center of the ring.
With so many fights in Thailand happening all the time, everywhere, it is hard to tell when a fight is “big.” Is a fight big because it’s got some belt holders? Is a fight big because of the ferocity of the fights? Is a fight big because of its location and time (fights on the King’s birthday for instance)? Maybe a fight is big because the fighters believe its important. This fight didn’t have any bling on the line, both fighters had done their due diligence, instead this fight would be for sportswriter’s fighter of the year.
The first round started with some hard inside leg kicks delivered by the favorite, Saenchai, to his opponent’s inside leg. They both teeped each other in the leg and Saencahi, politely, teeped Petchboounchoo in the face. In response the man clad in blue began to initiate the clinch. His strategy was to out point the favorite fighter with slapping knees to the hips.
In the second round the man in blue moved forward. Saenchai threw some clean punches but was passive in the clinch until Saenchai decided to throw his opponent to the ground. Petchboounchoo got back up and resumed his strategy. Saenchai smiled wide at the cameras filming him from ringside as his opponent kneed his hips. He dumped his opponent a second time and was all smiles at the end of the round.
Petchboonchoo was a man on a mission in the third round continuing his forward movement into the clinch. Saenchai moved out of his range and showed his superior skills. His balance was amazing as the two kicked back and forth at times catching the kick. Every time that Saenchai caught a kick he would dump his foe to the ground while Saenchai was able to stand erect as his opponent tried to knock him over. Besides his excellent balance Saenchai also showed off his skills when he delivered a jumping teep into Petchboonchoo.
Saenchai isn’t a fighter he is an acrobat who found himself in the ring. He juggles his opponents as if they were small balls, dumping them to the canvass when his whimsy strikes. He performs difficult feats of agility and motor coordination with ease. He moves about the ring with the same sureness of footstep as a professional tightrope walker. He lives in the beautiful fluid movement of the body.
In the fourth round Saenchai’s corner screamed loud “Sai! Sai (left,left)!” They swung their arms out hoping that their movement would coincide with their man in the ring. Fate was on their side as Saenchai smashed Petchboonchoo with his left shin repeatedly. With each kick Saenchai’s corner screamed. Petchboonchoo engaged in the clinch and with each knee the gamblers would shriek. The gamblers always love the underdogs, it’s the underdogs that pull through, that beat the odds, or play the judge’s game that make the gamblers their profit.
The fifth round had Saenchai clearly in the lead. Petchboonchoo uncertain of his status looked to the crowd for approval. With his win undetermined he continued to try to score with knees. At the end of the fight he lacked confidence while Saenchai assumed self-assurance. Saenchai’s confidence proved correct as he was awarded a victory. Both the fighters bowed to each other with respect.
The crowd began to empty out of the stadium. It grew quiet in the stadium despite the fights still going on in the ring. I could hear the overhead fans that helped cool the few onlookers with an electric wind.
The young boys in the ring looked just over 15 years old. Their bodies were emaciated by a regime of training. Their mouth guards made their mouths swollen, their faces too small for the gumshields. I wondered what they were hungry for as they smashed each other with their limbs.
The matches for the next night were already chalked up on the schedule and the chairs were being stacked as the last fight went into the fourth round. Outside the crowd mingled, talking about the action that had occurred. Hoping to get one last glimpse of the champion, wanting to go get some more beer. A beggar played some music on the tarmac in front of the stadium hoping for some change to live off as the night wore on in Bangkok.