The strip can be seen from miles away. The pyramid shaped Luxor shot its light up into the night behind us. The beam was a tell tale sign of glamour from the city of Sin. Chaz Mulkey’s car sped south west, away from the city and towards Primm, a border town between California and Nevada. The landscape was flat, its features fading away as the sun went down and we neared Buffalo Bill’s the casino that hosted the recent WCK Muay Thai bouts. Chaz fiddled with the radio settling on alternative rock as the car sped through the badlands. The rock music filled the car as Chaz calmly drove on. As we drove closer we saw Buffalo Bill’s main competitor, the dreaded Whiskey Pete’s.
“Whiskey Pete’s? Shouldn’t it be shaped like a log cabin or something,” Kevin Ross said from the front seat. The third tier casino was shaped like a castle.
Ross is Chaz’s corner and training partner. The older of the two, Ross is on the up and up with recent wins in Brazil, Thailand, and a solid performance in a recent 8 man tournament.
“Or it should be named Excalibur 2. They just put whatever fits on the front of the building,” Chaz replied. Chaz pulled into Buffalo Bill’s valet parking area. A red vested valet attendant took twenty minutes to get to his car while Ross and I stood in the blanketing heat of the Nevada desert.
“Maybe one of the appeal’s, along with that stupendous roller coaster out front is the valet parking service,” I said watching as Chaz’s car was finally moved.
“Yesterday Chaz was saying it took him almost an hour to park his car,” Ross replied.
Chaz joined us and we went inside. An immediate rush of air conditioned air hit my skin along with the stale smell of cigarettes. The casino was dimly lit overhead, making it seem like early evening. The main room was lit mainly by the bright glittering slot machines that whirled, dinged, and shook with electric joy every time a slot handle was pulled or money was put in. The inhabitants of the slots didn’t look like they’d moved much in the last few days.
“They can get drinks served to them, food too. I bet they can get a catheter put in as well,” Ross wryly commented as we moved into the arena area. The ring was set up in the middle of the arena. A large screen emitted the WCK logo behind it. We walked to the back staging area where Chaz hung his monkong and then we waited.
The doors had opened already and a small crowd had filled the seats. The fights should have started shortly after our arrival but due to the disappearance of the commission doctor, the bouts started 45 minutes late. The ring girls were brought out in their skimpy bikinis and swimsuits to placate the audience but as soon as they left the stage the boos began again.
Having extra time to kill, I walked over to the sports book. Rows of old men watched horse races and lined up after the horses heaved with exertion on the television to collect their winnings. I grabbed the odds for the night’s bouts.
Chaz was the underdog at +130 while Remy Bonnel, his French opponent was favored at -160. I didn’t understand the odds that well knowing only that the casino would somehow get a take. I put $10 on Chaz and $5 on Shawn Yarborough, another Vegas fighter. By the time I made my bets the bouts were beginning.
The majority of the bouts were like many I’ve seen in the states, more kickboxing than Muay Thai and more punching than kicking, kneeing or elbowing. Most of the fights out here are boxing fights where you can kick than Muay Thai. I was happily surprised and impressed with the first bout’s Damien Early. He fought the smaller Latino Julian Logo with excellent Muay Thai. Lugo responded to Early’s onslaught with tough machismo, weathering Early’s attacks with bravado. Early, while skilled, was unable to finish Lugo. The technically savvy Early lacked the explosive power to finish the fight but took a unanimous decision win.
Alfred Khashakyan’s bout against Ruben Dominguez, another amateur bout, was more usual for American “Muay Thai.” Khasakyan jumped on Dominguez with a flurry of punches and put him out of commission in the first round starting off a succession of knock outs that would thankfully make the night end a bit more swiftly.
After two more amateur bouts, including Bay Area local Amber Pope winning a unanimous decision against Deanna Jenny, the professional bouts began. It was nice to have a card that was mainly pro fights. Usually the rules and necessity of experience make for better bouts; usually, but not always.
Russian Artem Sharoshkin made his pro debut against Titus Holmes. You could see the eagerness at moving up to the “big time” in Sharoshkin’s desire to use his elbows. He threw his elbows at Holmes like his countrymen throw back shots of vodka. The two fighters became drunk quickly as the bout turned into a boxing battle with the occasional kick. Sharoshkin was able to land his desired elbow, but without the desired effect of knocking out his opponent. Titus was able to engage in the lively bout of fisticuffs that left me feeling brain damaged due to the amount of head blows. Sharoshkin won the head hunting bout by split decision.
Fights are theatre, and like classical theatre they display the broad range of human emotion, the victor’s glory is often in contrast to the loser’s sorrow. Jack Thames fight with Mike Ryan ended quickly but their feelings resonated the entire evening. Thames ended the fight in the first round splitting Ryan’s forehead open with a succession of elbows that not only let out profuse blood but also wobbled Ryan to the ground. He struggled to get up and was eventually sat on a chair given to him by his corners. Doctors attended him as Thames basked in the triumph. Thames shook and danced with exultation as Ryan came to. The verdict was announced and Ryan already knew his sentence as he looked outward from the ring. The sad look in his eyes spoke not of his physical pain but of the pain of loss. He looked out and made eye contact with a friend in the stands who waved his hand attempting to obscure the events with his hand motions, the slight wave of the hand pushed the events into the past, further down the river of time.
The next professional bout between Stephen Banks and Richard Cheek was entertainment par excellence. The huge slabs of meat smashed into each other, marinated in each other’s sweat for nearly eight minutes, until Banks put Cheek down to the mat. Things were looking bad for Cheek, in the first round. He looked out of shape, his chest heaving slightly as Banks employed his mediocre yet effective Muay Thai. Especially cruel and productive was Banks’ push kicks to Cheek’s front leg. A black knee brace encompassed Cheek’s temptingly weak left leg making it an obvious target. The finale of the match was stupendous as Banks bent Cheek down in the clinch and kneed the shit out of his head. It was beautiful. It was gruesomely beautiful.
A chess match took place in the bout between Shawn Yarbough and Stephen Richards. Richards constant action won him a unanimous decision against the strong Shawn Yarbough. The two had fought before as amateurs with Richards taking the win, yet this time it wasn’t without pain. Yarbough made the revenge kick of the night. Behind on points going into the fourth round, having been dropped by Richards early on, the eight count may have shaken the man’s confidence, but for a brief moment it didn’t matter when Richards kicked Yarbough, the latter blocked and retaliated. To say kicked back is an understatement; he demolished the side of Richard’s arm breaking it as the bell rang. Richard was able to stand the pain for the next round. Richard’s left arm hung low during the round as if he was taunting Yarbough with his lack of guard. Richard’s arm was splinted before the unanimous decision was announced.
Chaz looked nervous stepping into the ring for his sixth professional fight. “I felt off, even hitting the mitts, but I’m in there so what am I going to do,” he said later. The tall man was fighting the even taller Remy Bonnel. Bonnel looked like he had been stretched out on a medieval torturer’s rack adding extra inches to his already lengthy frame. Bonnel had an emaciated look to him as the two stepped into the ring, with over sixty fights the hungry fighter was the more experienced of the two and dictated the fight. Chaz had a hard time dealing with the obscenely tall man’s reach but in the clinch was able to dump the longer man showing dominance. That didn’t prevent Remy from giving Chaz an eight count in the second round. Chaz was looking down, guarding his head with an outstretched left hand when Remy leaned back and threw a right uppercut that landed squarely. Chaz dropped to the ring shortly and rose. The referee gave him an 8 count and the fight continued. Despite Chaz’s solid performance after the count Remy’s basic bread and butter Muay Thai got him the unamious decision win.
“I thought that you would fight a little different,” Remy said to Chaz after the match. “I was really afraid of the elbows so I made sure to clinch you close.”
“We were either too close to elbow or too far away, at which point you had the upper hand. I had a difficult time dealing with your range, usually I’m the taller opponent,” Chaz replied.
“I know how that is,” Remy said in his heavily French accented English. “We will have to do it again.” Remy nodded and waved with the respect of an old hand.
We walked back to Chaz’s hotel room provided by the event promoters after the fighter had made it through a gauntlet of fans all offering support. He showered and dressed.
“I just have to put a little hair gel in,” he said as he finished up getting ready. “Girls like that fresh I just got out of the shower look.”
“You have hair,” Ross quietly questioned.
I snickered to myself as we went back to the casino floor. Not much had changed in the past few hours for the gamblers. They were still in their seats pulling handles, watching the machinery twirl and whirl. We hung about a few of the fighters as we made plans to go out in Vegas.
“I saw you,” Shawn Yarbough said to me. “You kept saying ‘Attack! Attack!’ during the bout. I heard you, but you know you can’t always do what people are saying to you. You’re not the one in the ring. You’re not seeing what I’m seeing. If I had pressed forward I would have been caught.” Yarbough looked at me through his swollen black eye. I scanned him over for more bruising, of which he had little. His shin was lumped and jaundiced but his arm, unlike his opponent was still attached.
I nodded at him, saying nothing. I know too well the confusion of the ring. Swimming in a surreal sea of time you make small decisions that don’t mean much at the moment that dictate the bout. One block, one punch, one knee, one small action can decide the course of events in an uncertain sea.
We made our way to the car and began the return to Las Vegas. The strip hadn’t moved. The Luxor’s light still beamed straight into the starry heavens. The neon lights of the strip still blinked off and on as if nothing had happened to the fighters at Buffalo Bill’s.
More about Matt Lucas
Born to a working class family in rural New York I grew up working like a dog and drinking Natural light in the woods. After a brief stint attempting to escape the poverty of employment via university I gave up on escaping the grind and moved to sunny California where the burritos are as generous as the weather. I work in the service industry slinging booze and food.
I got into Muay Thai as a recreational activity. I saw an interclub fight and decided to try it out, everyone has to test their mettle somehow. A few fights and a year later I was in Thailand training, and fighting. I haven’t quit stepping into the ring since. I currently live in East Oakland and balance my time blocking punches with my head with attempting to prevent brain deterioration through writing, studying Thai; language, culture and history, and going to wild dance parties with my friends.