Muay Thai in Chiang Mai

There were signs up all around town, advertising “Real” International Muay Thai fighting. Every day or two, a new sign went up, highlighting a new challenger from a different country, usually Western. Well, staying in one place for a week resulted in these things eventually catching my eye (I was sold when I finally saw “Lady Boxer” listed as one of the fights) and I decided that if I was ever going to see this sport in person, I might as well experience Thai boxing in Thailand itself.  Besides, I’ve seen UFC on tv, so it couldn’t be much different from that, right?

Plus- free drink!  😉

Since it didn’t start till 9pm, I stopped a block away from the stadium for dinner near the Tha Phae Gate at the East city wall. I had a great spicy Khao Soi noodle soup, (only $2.20- it would have been even cheaper at a non-Western place) so with burning lips I made my way to the ticket gate with my cheaply pre-purchased ticket.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but the word “stadium” didn’t seem to fit the tin-roofed cinderblock building I was ushered into. But once inside, the space was both open and cozy, with lots of colorful little half-bars lining the walls behind the seats. I was seated in close quarters in the “Sandy Bar by Al” section. Soon after being seated, my free drink was delivered- a house punch that tasted like it was fermented in someone’s bathtub last week. The little bits of apple floating in it gave the drink a festive touch.

They started a little late, but the event is scheduled from about 9pm to midnight, so you certainly get a full night. When the first fighters stepped into the ring, to a grand intro of sound and light, I realized just how much different a boxing event could be in another country.
I’m pretty sure that there are age limits in the UFC. There did not appear to be age limits here. The first fight was fought by what looked like 8 year olds. They must have been a little older than that, but they were these skinny little boys who supposedly weighed in at 100 lbs. They didn’t look 100 lbs to me.

It felt really odd to be cheering for children… who were fighting.  At least I wasn’t the only one who thought this was weird (sometimes I wonder); I overheard a fellow spectator asking his buddy if he could claim that he had six pack abs when he was in 5th grade.

There were 6 main fights ending with the international “super fight”, which Spain won. The “special fights” might have been the best part- a hilarious (yet maybe very dangerous?) blindfolded group boxing bout. One guy almost took out the ref:

The activity on the sides between rounds is almost as entertaining as the boxing itself.  There’s an interesting routine of limb-rubbing and water-dousing ending with the coach (or, in the childrens’ case, another child) picking the fighter up off his feet for a moment.

During the less-active moments of the night, the high-pitched noisy music got a little annoying, but also lent to the night’s feel of “otherness”.

I confess that I had been planning to leave early if the fights went long (I’d been warned they might), but there were a few knock-outs that night between the older/heavier fighters, so that kept the event to its scheduled end-time. So, for the reasonable price of 300 baht (less than $10) I got a whole night’s worth of entertainment, though it was slightly disturbing at times and probably far more amateurish than the equivalent show in Bangkok. However, it was also a fraction of the cost of the same experience in Bangkok, and could not have been more conveniently located. There’s just nothing like being able to walk home after a weird night on the town.