November 6, 2013 by Melissa Ray
For a Muay Thai devotee, one of the main benefits of living in Thailand is the seemingly endless variety of venues to watch Muay Thai fights. These venues range from the traditional Lumpini and Rajadamnern stadiums to the crowded and intense Channel 7 Boxing Stadium, tourist-friendly Bangla Boxing Stadium in Phuket, Loi Kroh and Thapae beer bars in Chiang Mai, rural temple fairs, and numerous other rings in provincial locations.
Last week I had my first opportunity to watch Muay Thai at the Jitmuangnon Stadium in Or Tor Kor 3 Market, Nonthaburi. The Jitmuangnon team are well-known for having a stable of strong fighters (including Petkarat, Panpayak and Peemai), and recently held their first large promotion at Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium. Their Sunday night event at Or Tor Kor Market (“Suk Daorung Sor Poonsawat + Jitmuangnon”) is, I believe, also relatively new, but is covered by Thailand’s Muay Thai press and broadcast live on cable TV (PSI 174–119).
I was attending to cheer on American fighter Ognjen Topic, who trained for 3 weeks at Eminent Air Boxing Gym during October. Ognjen is widely regarded as one of the hottest prospects in US Muay Thai, after wins against Thai fighters Paowarit Sasiprapa and Coke Chunhawat in his most recent bouts stateside. He had been matched to fight a Thai of equal weight (in the 60 kg category), though we nothing more about his opponent prior to fight night.
I, Ognjen and two of the gym’s trainers—Sila and Ajarn Dam—travelled to the stadium by taxi, arriving sometime after 7pm. Although the daytime scene might be quite different, at night the market much resembled a bus terminal, with dozens of city buses parked in rows. Signs directed us to the small stadium inside. At the stadium entrance, the ticket booth displayed two prices: 100 baht and 200 baht. I was charged 100 baht for entry. The fighters and cornermen, of course, entered for free.
Once inside, it became apparent that the stadium has an alternative use as a cockfighting venue. The boxing ring was situated on one side of the arena; on the opposite side were four or five small circular cockfighting rings, each surrounded by low-seated benches, with digital timers overhead. Cockfighting is legal in Thailand (and apparently big business according to this article). However, gambling on cockfighting is not strictly legal, although police raids on cockfighting venues are said to be rare. As no cockfights were to be held that night the rings were redundant, and I noticed several empty circular wooden cages stacked up at the back of the arena, presumably to contain roosters on the designated fight nights.
With ample time before Ognjen was due in the ring, we relaxed and watched the first few Muay Thai fights. The first match was between two scarily young boys, barely able to touch the top of the rope when they performed their “wai kru”. In Western countries, debate continues on whether children should be encouraged—or allowed—to participate in combat sports such as Muay Thai and boxing. In Thailand, there is no such debate. Fighting is a way of life for some of these young boys—a source of income for their families and a potential passage to higher earnings and a better life.
The crowd showed no lack of enthusiasm for the two young pugilists and it seemed that the majority of the spectators were gambling, including a couple of old ladies adjacent to me, who waved their hand signals enthusiastically, taking up bets with various crowd members. Although their wagers were just a few hundred baht, I noticed larger amounts of cash being exchanged by some of the male gamblers in the vicinity. Even Ajarn Dam got in on the act—betting with a stranger to our left on the outcome of a fight between two teenage boys.
According to the program, Ognjen (or “Offben” as he was listed) was matched to fight a boxer from Somrak Khamsing’s gym, called Singdet Sor Khamsing. Neither boxer had to weigh in, which is a common occurrence at the smaller promotions in Thailand. However, Ognjen did get a visual sizing up (of sorts) by his opponent’s trainer, who approached to inspect the “farang”—a novelty in this very Thai stadium—looking him up and down and then nodding tacitly to indicate his agreement with the match. We surveyed the stadium area, looking for Ognjen’s opponent, but saw no sign of a Thai boxer of similar size.
Eventually Sila realised which of the boxers warming up was Ognjen’s opponent and pointed him out to me. “Yaai!” he squealed (meaning “big”), then laughed, which I have learned from living in Thailand is a common Thai reaction to a potentially stressful situation. My eyes widened when I glanced in the direction Sila was pointing. The boxer I was looking at was by no stretch of the imagination 60 kg. I wouldn’t have even put him at 70 kg in weight. He stood a few inches taller than Ognjen and (I would guess) weighed at least 75 kg, though was by no means as muscularly defined as Ognjen.
Ognjen remained cool about the match. When the fight commenced, he made a strong start, coming close to KO’ing his opponent in the opening round. However, for this action he was chastised by the trainers for excessive use of power so early in the fight. Fights in Thailand tend to follow a distinct pattern in tempo, with the first two rounds the slow “feeling out” rounds, and the pace increasing from the start of round 3.
Under instruction from Sila and Ajarn Dam, Ognjen adopted a slower pace during round 2, and then increased his work rate from round 3 onwards. Ognjen was cleaner and more frequent in his punch and kick strikes than his opponent; however, the Thai had an advantage in the clinch, mainly because of the disparity in weight between the two fighters. After the five rounds, Ognjen was declared the points winner, for which he was awarded the princely sum of 1000 baht!
All in all the night was an entertaining one. Jitmuangnon Stadium might not be the venue to watch the “named” fighters who headline events at the major stadiums such as Lumpini and Rajadamnern, but is no less enjoyable for it. At 100 or 200 baht for entry, a night there certainly doesn’t break the bank, although the stadium is a little out of the way in the Nonthaburi district on the north side of Bangkok.
At the time of writing, the Muay Thai program is held at Jitmuangnon Stadium every Sunday night, with the first fight commencing at 20.00.
Update: I returned to Jitmuangnon stadium on 31st August, 2014. The stadium’s Sunday night event has new sponsorship and is now broadcast on the widely known T Sports Channel, presented by Mr. Pong and co-hosts (20.00–22.00). I noticed some upgrades have been made to the arena—the cockfighting rings and cages have been removed, the ring has a shiny new canvas and corner/rope covers, and colourful strip lighting has been installed. These changes have been accompanied by a price hike, and a triple pricing policy is now applied—500 baht for foreigners, 200 baht for Thai men and 100 baht for Thai women. Although the T Sports connection does mean generally higher quality fights than before (at least those in the televised slot), the 500 baht entry fee is probably a little steep, given the stadium’s out-of-town location.