I had been oddly calm during the three weeks leading up to the fight. Neutral really. I didn’t feel excited or nervous. I was grateful for that. I don’t think I could have bore feeling nervous for three weeks. But on January 29, 2015, the day of the fight, I felt different. I went between periods of calm and waves of anxiety washing over me where my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest it was beating so hard and fast, my hands were clammy with sweat and it felt like the butterflies in my stomach were on speed.
Whenever this would happen I’d have to close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and do some visualization techniques that I learned from Alan Whitton owner of Fighters Mind: “Time to do what must be done, time to do what must be done, I will win this fight, I will win this fight.” I chanted to myself while envisioning myself executing flawless Muay Thai combinations on my opponent. This greatly calmed my pre fight jitters and helped to restore calm once more.
It was two hours before I had to be at the fight venue and I scrambled around my small room gathering things to go into the back pack that I would bring to the fight: A change of clothes, a towel, my mouth guard, boxing liniment.
At around 7:00pm I heard Dustin, part owner and head MMA trainer at 301, call my name from outside my room. I rushed over and went outside. “Hey Dustin what’s up?” I said smiling.
“How you feeling? Ready?” He asked me, with an unusually serious look on his face.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” I tried to appear as confident as I could. Smiling and standing boldly.
“That’s good. Look, I just wanted to tell you that Daly and I won’t be able to make your fight tonight. Our accountant’s mother has passed away and we have to go the funeral. But I gave Sak some money to get you some tape to wrap your hands tonight.” Now I knew why he was so serious.
“Oh….okay… no problem, I understand completely.” I stammered as I lied. The reality was I felt let down and hurt. I’d watched Daly and Dustin go to every single fight. Dustin’s wife Daly even agreed to recored my fight just a couple of days earlier.
“Well good luck Nicki, see you tomorrow.” He, and Daly who was standing in the background, walked away.
I went back inside my room. Accountant’s mother? I thought. Who has to attend the funeral of their accountant’s mother? Who has to attend a funeral at night? Why didn’t they tell me this yesterday, why spring this on me on the day when I would want the most support as possible.
My hurt turned to anger. Some ‘family’ this is, I thought to myself as I remembered Dustin saying that’s the atmosphere he liked to have at the camp. And after I’d spent four months there, bought all kinds of 301 swag, and attended as many fights as I could (including one of Dustin’s) to show camp support and loyatly and in the vein of trying to preserve that “family atmosphere.” It felt like a slap in the face.
I even shed a few tears (although that may have been partly due to PMS). Any doubts I had about this being the wrong camp for me had disappeared. I even had to call up a good friend to get a pep talk in light of the let down. His words were simple yet effective and pacified my utter disappointment.
“Forget about them, this is your fight. You will soon be out of that camp. Just do your best and forget the rest.”
“Nicki, you ready?” Sak hollered outside my screen door at around 7:20pm. I was. I grabbed my phone and backpack and got into his old pick up truck.
Danny a fellow Muay Thai student (and Canadian) came along to show his support. I was so grateful for his presence. As much as I was glad to have Sak, the main Muay Thai trainer at the camp, in my corner it was nice to have someone that didn’t have to be there go to my fight. Sak drove in unusual focussed silence as Danny went over basics with me again and again. “Keep your hands up, stand your ground and plough forward, use your reach advantage to your benefit, take it easy in the first couple of rounds otherwise you’ll gas yourself out…” I listened intently.
With adrenaline rising and nothing to expend this rush of energy on as I sat in the car I started to feel light headed. I closed my eyes, I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I silently performed my little mantra again for several minutes.
We arrived at Cong Carter Gym in Hua Hin later than anticipated. But it was no problem because I was 6th on the fight card roster and the first fight hadn’t even started yet. We greeted Kang the other 301 trainer and his wife Luck who had arrived ahead of us. Kang was the other person in my corner. Luck’s warm eyes and motherly smile seemed to communicate “don’t worry, it will all be fine” when we looked at each other. I found this very comforting.
There were people of all ages swarming around the gym grounds. Fighters laid on mats as their entourage oiled them up and gave them pep talks. Kids were running around, there were line ups at the food and drink stations set up specifically for this fight event. Some people stood in the bed of their pickup trucks just outside the camp trying to peer over the wall and watch the fights for free. The place was just a buzz with excitement.
I could feel the stares of others boring into me but whenever I’d meet their gaze they’d always smile sweetly letting me know their looks were out of curiosity. We found a small space against the wall for me to start my preparation. Sak found two plastic chairs for us and deftly began wrapping my hands in silence. He was sweating profusely as he did his job. I felt calm again. Watching him wrap my hands was like a meditation, I just zoned out.
After wrapping Sak instructed me to lie down on the dirty, sun bleached, jigsaw mat that was on the ground so he could start oiling me up. I felt a little annoyed that he didn’t bring his roll up bamboo mat to put over the jigsaw mat that was crawling with ants and was dirty as hell. The same mat I’d seen him bring for other fighters. All the other fighters had their own mats to put down too. That in addition to him stopping to buy tape at the last minute on the way over which subsequently made us late (although the lateness didn’t affect anything it’s still not the point) made me feel like my fight was jut an afterthought and not this important event I wanted it to be.
I laid down on the mat and Sak started the process of oiling me up. The familiar smell of menthol, (one of the main ingredients in the boxing liniment) permeated my nostrils. Sak rubbed the oil into my legs and arms, and neck with vigorous strokes of his thick rough hands. Shortly after I started to feel the sting of the oil as it heated up on my body. Next, Sak applied vaseline to my face. I could tell that he takes this preparation time very seriously because the usually smiling and chatty Sak had been silent with a serious look on his face throughout the entire process.
Finally done I did some light shadow boxing to keep my muscles warmed up. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror in my black and gold Muay Thai shorts, black spandex top, wrapped hands, and skin glistening with boxing oil and thought I looked pretty intimidating.
When the 5th fight started Sak and Kang got me into my boxing gloves. 10oz rather than the 16oz that I normally trained with. They laced up the gloves and wrapped them with packing tape at the wrists. I looked over and saw my opponent laughing and playfully boxing a young boy who was teasing her. She seemed so calm. I also noticed how small she looked. I was told she was only a little smaller than me. I suddenly felt more like I was a bully going to fight a child rather than a Muay Thai fighter. I was told that she was 18 but to me she looked more like 16 at most. I felt guilty. I didn’t wanted a fair fight not an easy fight. I told Danny how I felt.
He reassured me that I had nothing to feel guilty about. She had more experience than me and that is what made up for my size advantage. She was 18 and consented to this fight just as I had. In the end I had convinced myself that her being 18 was actually an advantage for her; she was working with a nice, young, supple body, whereas mine had been growing increasingly stiff, and sore with each passing year.
On the third round of the 5th fight we moved closer to the ring.
I sat on a chair just outside the ring, I looked over to Luck and Kang and they both smiled at me reassuringly. Nervousness washed over me anew, and once again with nothing to do with this energy I started to feel lightheaded. Much more than I did in the car. I honestly felt like I could pass out. I went back to my visualization and mantra with eyes closed. Next thing I knew Kang was touching my arm signaling to me that it was time. “Time to do what must be done.” I tell myself one last time.
I crouched at the base of the ring until I heard the announcer say my name over a loud speaker. At that moment I walked up to the ropes and did a ceremonial prayer where I steepled my fingers just above the ropes with my head bowed. Then I slide my hands in opposite direction across the top of the ropes as I looked forward, then slide them back to steepled position with head bowed again. I did this three times. Then Sak held the ropes up for me as I climbed in under the bottom rope the way all women fighters traditionally must enter the ring.
The minute I was in the ring I was calm again. The ref came to inspect my gloves, then my opponent’s. I’m I turned to face my corner and Sak placed the sacred headdress, the Mongkol on my head. I wanted a black one so that it would match my outfit but couldn’t find one. In the end I didn’t mind wearing Sak’s pre blessed multi coloured Mongkol, that had been worn by so many other fighters.
I then started what is known as “the sealing of the ring.” I placed my left knee against my corner, head bowed and said a little prayer. Grasping the top rope with my right hand, I walked to each corner of the ring and repeated this process. I intended to do a shortened version of the traditional dance that Muay Thai fighters often perform to not only show respect to their trainers but warm up as well, known as Wai Khru Ram Muay ,but I heard a bell ring before I could even get started and it threw me off. I looked over at Sak a little confused. I guessed I wouldn’t be doing the Wai Khru afer all so I began to walk back to my corner. But after a couple of steps in the direction of my corner I saw Sak waving me away. I looked back to see the ref and my opponent waiting for me in the middle of the ring. I hurriedly went over to them. The ref said something I didn’t understand but I nodded anyway, he then sent us back to our corners where Sak and I stood bowed head to bowed head in prayer for a moment, me inside the ring and him on the outside the ring before removing the mongkol. It’s was time.
In round one I heeded the advice to go light. Maybe it was a little too light. Not much happened that first round. My opponent and I circled each other like two snakes waiting for the perfect time to strike. I attempted a push kick on her leg but she backed up quickly and I missed. I pointlessly threw a jab, she was much too far away for it to land. I heard the ref telling us to fight, but my eyes were fixed on this girl. The shouting from the crowd was nothing more than background noise. The first round was nothing more than a few low kicks and push kicks and then the next thing I knew the first round bell had rung.
Sak and Kang pushed a round metal pan into the ring and set up a stool inside the pan for me to sit on with expert quickness. I sat down and Sak pulled out my mouth guard to give me a sip of water. Kang poured water on my limbs before kneading them aggressively. When the bell rung it was like being awoken from a dream and only now I could hear just how loud the crowd actually was. There seemed to be so much commotion, and Sak and Kang were both yelling at me. “Jab, knee” and “move forward” was what I heard the most. I knew that Sak had always thought that kneeing would be my strength.
During round 2 I tried to move forward but couldn’t find an opening to get off any knees. My opponent was always backing up and kicking. I quickly realized that having my trainer let me knee him was much different to having an opponent that doesn’t want to be kneed. During round two I was already angry with myself for not getting in there to knee or at least get close enough to get off a good punching combo. Next thing I knew Round 2 was over and I was back in my corner.
I took my sip of water, completely out of breath. Sak was telling me yet again to start being more aggressive in round three.
In round 3 she actually got me in a clinch and was getting some slapping knees off on me. These knees didn’t hurt at all since it was only the inside of her knee connecting with my body, but I knew that it was points for her. In that position that I was in though I was able to give her a good elbow to the head. I came down with the elbow on the top of her head, but I didn’t use full force. I punked out. I had heard before the fight that she initially wanted to change the rules to disallow the use of elbows. I didn’t agree. This is Muay Thai after all, the art of 8 limbs not 6. But there we were and all I could see was a really young beautiful girl who didn’t want elbows. How could I come slamming down into her head with one. In the end I did it twice, without full force but hoped I’d still get some points anyway. Round 3 was over and I was losing steam.
At this point even strangers in the audience who were near my corner were yelling at me and telling me to knee her. After another minute break I was back in. I held my hands low because I was too tired to keep the 10oz gloves up. But I also kept my distance. After more kicks from both of us and a jab from me that landed she got me in the clinch again and attacked me with more slapping knees to the side of my body. I got her off me but before I knew it round 4 was over.
At this point I thought my corner was upset with me. “You lose round 4, you lose round 4” is what Kang was yelling at me as he poured the water on me and rubbed my legs and arms.
This was it, round 5 was my last chance. I advanced and was a little more aggressive as my corner instructed me to be. We were both visibly tired but after more low kicks from both of us, a landed cross from me, causing her to fall by grabbing her leg as she tried to kick me and some push kicks to her stomach that kept her from executing her strikes the bell finally rung again. Round 5 felt like the longest 3 minutes of my life. That bell ringing was like sweet relief. I was in disbelief when the ref rose my arm as the winner.
I was so glad I won, but I was far from satisfied with my performance. Especially considering my size advantage I feel like I should have won easier. I was already aware of most of the things I did wrong. I climbed out of the ring and shook hands and smiled at the people who were congratulating me on a good fight as I walked away from the ring. A good fight? Really? Apparently they thought for a first fight after only 3 months of training I was decent. I couldn’t help but think they were only trying to be nice. I went over to my opponent and thanked her for the fight. We even took a picture together. I love how the fight is always about respect win or lose. Or so it should be.
I went into the bathroom to dry off and change clothes. I looked at myself in the mirror thinking to myself that I should feel happier.
On the car ride back to the camp I cringed as I watched the video of my fight that Danny took for me. I knew I could do better. I wanted to win on my terms. I wanted to be proud of my win. Of course I am proud to a degree for even getting in the ring at all, something I never thought I’d do; proud that I fought despite a nagging knee and foot injury. But it didn’t stop me from thinking that next time I wanted to be better.