Hey guys this piece is by Nak Muay Bryan Popejoy. For those of you who don’t know Bryan teaches Muay Thai in Los Angeles at his gym Boxing Works, and his been training, teaching and fighting for years. Many thanks to Bryan for taking the time out to write for us.
The recent news of the Thai Government’s decision to “ban” the sport of MMA came as a surprise to many. Judging by the buzz in various online forums, the decision has been very polarizing. The general consensus from the Muay Thai “purists” seems to be that the Government’s decision was not only just, but welcome. In their eyes, MMA was slowly eroding the quality of Muay Thai.
The response from the majority of MMA fans seemed to be of a more knee jerk “F— ‘em if they don’t want us” response, sprinkled with less than classy references to “Lady-Boys”, and the sex trade, and child exploitation. Also frequently mentioned were, in my opinion, extremely laughable claims of Thai jealousy that they had not been able to produce a high level Mixed Martial Arts Champion. I say laughable, because the majority of native Thai fight fans I have encountered seem to be mostly indifferent about MMA.
In an article in the Bangkok Post, dated 3/31/2012, Sakol Wannapong, Deputy Governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT), stated “it is against the 1999 Boxing Law”. Mr. Wannapong is referencing several new rules and regulations were established in the 1999 (2542) Boxing Act, including the regulation of the minimum age for nak muay, mandated rest periods between bouts, and enforcement of fair purse splitting between the fighter and the camp. As far as I can tell, there is no mention of anything related to promotion of other professional martial arts events in the Act.
There has been some speculation as to exactly why the ban has taken place. The Bangkok Post article mentions that the SAT was approached by a private company looking to hold MMA events in Thailand. One area of speculation stems from the origin of the MMA promotional company. The article makes no mention if the company was headed by Thais or foreigners, however, it could be speculated that a foreign owned or managed MMA promotional company wouldn’t be allowed to stage events in Thailand due to certain restrictions in the Boxing Act. The Act states “Under the Boxing Act B.E. 2542 (1999), boxing services supplier must be owned by Thai nationals. The manager of a boxing services supplier must be a Thai national.” If the MMA company was owned or managed by a non-Thai, this would effectively render any chances of them doing business non-existant. The wording of the Act is a little foggy, I would assume that by “services supplier” one could include a promoter or promotional entity.
Other areas of speculation which seem relevant could just come down to national pride, and the inherent threat of lost revenue that MMA may pose to those in the Muay Thai business. As readers of this blog are well aware, Muay Thai has seen a great resurgence in recent years. What was once not long ago looked down upon as a lower class activity has gained greater acceptance, and is once again a source of national pride. In my opinion, it’s been a combination of many things happening in succession that have thrust the sport back into the public eye. The success of Tony Jaa’s films, celebrity acceptance and involvement, and the recent push that the art has received from events such as Thai Fight have all helped to bring the art back into the mainstream. There’s no denying that MMA has grown in popularity worldwide, and it’s quite possible that the banning of the sport in Thailand may be similar to the way boxing promoters reacted as MMA started gaining popularity in the United States. Personally, I don’t think MMA is a threat to Muay Thai promoters in Thailand. I think culturally, those that flock to the stadiums to watch will flip-flop any time soon. The art is too deeply embedded with those are involved, the fighters, the camp owners, the gamblers. From my trips to Thailand, and other exposure to Thai culture, change isn’t something that happens overnight. I can’t see the country switching out flower garlands for Tap-Out T-shirts any time soon……