I sit only a few feet away from the ring. Two young, barely school-aged boys walk towards the ring obviously nervous, slightly excited, but also clearly proud of themselves. They cannot wait to be able to show off their skills. The Wai Kru is left short with modest dance maneuvers and bows and soon the bell rings – let the fight begin. The first minutes go past without much happening, both are still taking soundings of the opponent. During the second round, the pace takes up and little fists throw fumbling punches, little feet making hasty kicks. Neither of the little fighters is over 20 kilos, but the power in their punches and kicks is still strong enough to make an average western streetfighter quail. Knees hit hard on the opponent’s ribs, punches make their way to chest and cheeks. Every now and then one loses their balance and the referee intervenes. The pace and power of the hits escalate round after round until all of a sudden the whole stadium goes silent. The little boy in blue pants lies still on the ground right in front of my eyes, unaware of this world. Knockout.
The boy recovers in seconds but the referee has already called it a game. The winner is clearly confused, maybe even slightly scared – what just happened, is the opponent ok? He does not even realize to celebrate the victory. The fighters are quickly escorted out of the ring as a new pair of fighters already jump in. This time, they are slightly older. New match, same pattern. Harder kicks and punches, another knockout. Old pair out, next one in. All matches follow the same pattern, some end in a knockout, some go through all the rounds and the winner is announced by the judges. As the fighters get older fight by fight the fighting gets harder. At some stage, the hits get so violent that I can feel them in my stomach just by looking at the fight. But the fights go on, the fighters keep their faces straight, no matter how bad they are hit – you just do not want the judges to see that the opponent really got you. You have to keep on fighting in order to win this match. This is a match you have been training for, this is a match you have been waiting, hoping to get here at some stage. The Muay Thai matches at the legendary Lumpinee stadium in Bangkok are every fighters dream.
During my exchange in Bangkok, one of the courses I took at the local university was Thai boxing. We were taught by a rather successful Muay Thai fighter and naturally were strongly advised to go and see a match one night, preferably at Lumpinee. Back then, I never “had the time” to actually do that (read: I was too busy travelling around SE Asia). Now that we were, once again revisiting Bangkok a few months back, I finally decided it was time to tick this one off my list. We purchased the tickets in advance online, paying 2000thb each (around 50 €), which is the exact same price you pay if you buy the tickets at the counter before the fight. Naturally you can only buy ringside tickets online, but when buying the tickets at the stadium, you can also have the upper stand tickets for 1500thb or top row tickets for 1000thb. Goes without saying that these are the “farang”-prices, locals get their tickets much cheaper, but there really is not much you can do about it unless you know a local who can help you get the tickets… Also, bear in mind that the Lumpinee stadium has moved some years ago, the new stadium is located near Don Muang airport and there are no fights at the old one next to the Lumpinee park!
This time, we are unlucky. It is a show night, meaning the stands are half empty. I was really hoping to get to witness the famous Lumpinee spirit, hear hundreds of spectators roar as they cheer for the fighters, really feel the tension and the excitement. Even if the half-empty audience still cheers for the fighters and sometimes the noise gets surprisingly loud, it is nowhere near the spirit I was hoping to witness. What a disappointment! Nevertheless, the experience sure still great and I’m glad I finally hauled myself to see a match. Due to my own Thai-history, the fight at Lumpinee was more or less a must-see-thing, but I really think one time was enough. Only if I could be certain that I’d get to see “the real thing”, I would go again.
During the fight, I do have some really mixed feelings. I have never really felt comfortable watching someone being beaten, even the idea of seeing someone get hurt feels bad. Yet, I know how highly the most successful fighters are regarded in the country and being a Muay Thai champion is a lifelong dream of many Thais. The most successful are like national heroes. The most successful fighters even earn thousands of dollars if managed to win a highly ranked fight, so for many this really is a one-time chance from rags to riches.