They sit, patiently, quietly. The vaseline shines their faces which bring life to the worn out boxing robes, the old, drab muaythai regalia that covers their battle-ready bodies like a piece of armor. The monkon sits atop their heads pushing their ears down; it’s a relic, a sacred amulet in a new world. Tradition. Superstition. Torn up hand gauze make up their prajiads. They are poor. They are hungry, hungry for the win! They all dream of becoming the next superstar, the next Saenchai, perhaps.
On two benches sit two fighters, separated not only by the space between them, but separated in motivation. Separated by their desires, their strengths and their weaknesses, separated, but at the same time one and the same. Who wants it more? They are among the thousands of Thai boxers who dream, but tonight there is only enough room for one of these dreams to manifest.
The fighters take to the ring. There are no cheers. There are no makeshift banners in the crowd. There are no grand entrances and there is no applause. The silence is only broken when the clarinet sets off the chorus of instruments and the fighters begin their wai krus. The drum follows. It’s a heavy thump, rhythmic. The music echoes throughout the stadium. The fighters circle the ring to seal it off from any harm or evil, and in turn they seal their own fates.
The fight has begun, yet, there is still no crowd reaction. That is, not until round two or round three, about the time when the gamblers become satisfied on which fighter they will bet on, and about the time when the stadium erupts into controlled chaos. To the Thais – and those efficient in the system, – it is controlled. To those unfamiliar, it is, without a doubt, chaos. A sea of hands gesture for bets, up and down their arms wave. Whistles. Yells. It’s dizzying.
All the while on center stage the fighters dance. It’s a dance of heart, smarts, and technique. Free-styled. Unrehearsed. Unmatched in skill by any other combatants in the world, yet they are never as revered; maybe by the foreigners that see muaythai as a sport, but not by the general Thai populace that sees muaythai as a struggle. The fight ends and the winner’s arm is raised, but there is no celebration. There is no post-fight speech. Instead, they are shuffled out of the ring, and into the ring enter two more fighters who sat, patiently, quietly, waiting on the very same benches dreaming that they, too, will one day make it big.
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