A Night at Jitmuangnon Stadium

9

November 6, 2013 by Melissa Ray

Jitmuangnon Stadium

Jitmuangnon Stadium, Or Tor Kor 3 Market, Nonthaburi

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.

Two of the cockfighting rings

Two of the cockfighting rings at the stadium

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.

The two youngest fighters competing on the night

The youngest fighters competing on the night

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.

Ognjen having his hands wrapped by Sila

Ognjen having his hands wrapped by Sila

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.

Ognjen and his opponent Singdet Sor Khamsing post-fight

Ognjen and his opponent post-fight

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.

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9 thoughts on “A Night at Jitmuangnon Stadium

  1. Del says:

    What happened to that awesome girl, Petjeeja? I heard her fight last month was cancelled at the last minute. Was she banned or something?

    • Melissa Ray says:

      Yeah the authorities decided it was no longer allowed for her to fight boys. Hopefully the promoters can find some suitable female opponents for her.

      • Del says:

        Thanks for letting me know. That’s so unfair! She is so good, so tough, so focused that she could compete successfully with boys for several more years and show what a girl can really do. Instead, these sexist pigs hold her down just because she’s female. They should be ashamed of themselves and they should let her fight according to her abilities, not some conservative idea about what girls should be allowed to do.

      • Melissa Ray says:

        Generally I have always disagreed with male/female fights until watching Petjeeja in the ring as she is so competent and capable. It is a shame she can no longer compete with boys but I do agree the hormonal changes that separate girls and boys at puberty would make it less appealing to watch her fight the opposite sex. Am sure there are girls out there she can compete with, though she will probably have to give up weight.

      • Del says:

        It’s always bothered me that girls are blocked from competing with boys when they are perfectly capable, just because someday the best boys will pull ahead. In the US, some girls are doing well in wrestling against boys, even in high school, even winning state championships, and many do well against boys in BJJ and MMA. I think there can be long-term damage to girls’ self-esteem when they are prevented from competing against boys when they are ready and able to do so. I knew a girl who was really tough and loved rough contact sports. She was stronger and better than the boys her age, and everyone knew it. She was one of the toughest 12 year olds I’ve ever seen, but her parents kept insisting that girls are too fragile for such things and forbade her to do wrestling, fighting, or tackling sports. After she quit the contact sports, her self-esteem tanked, she got pregnant a year later, and she struggled with depression for years.

      • Melissa Ray says:

        Sad story….shame. I hope Petjeeja hasn’t been discouraged by the sports authorities’ decision. I missed the live show the day she was due to fight but heard about it later in the day, and it seems so cruel that the promoters made her perform her wai kru before making the announcement and making her leave the ring.

  2. boxingscientist says:

    Your posts give a fascinating insight into life in a very different culture. If I were starting now, I’d have loved to spend time in Thailand,

    The idea of cockfighting seems quite appalling to any westerner. The cocks have no choice in the matter, so it’s quite different from human fighters. If we get in the ring it’s because both of us really want to do it. That’s why I find it very annoying when MMA is called “human cockfighting”. It’s quite different because nobody is compelled to do it against their will.

    I’d also be worried about 11 year-olds fighting if they were forced into it just for the money, rather than competing because that’s what they want to do. But I see nothing wrong with starting young if that’s what you want to do. Quite on the contrary, in fact.

    There’s nothing unique to Thailand about starting young. I started boxing when I was 11, and a lot of my friends started at 9 or 10. And in my time we had no head guards and light gloves, and we fought 3 x 3 min rounds from the start. I’ll admit that I had to be pushed a bit to begin with, but I soon came to love the sport. Not only did starting young give us the chance to learn good technique from the start but also, at that age, we weren’t strong enough to do any serious damage so you learned gradually how to take, and give, punches in relative safety. Of course it got much tougher by the time we reached 16 or 17 but by that age we’d had 5 -7 years of being in the ring so we were ready for it. Now that combat sports are coming back into fashion, some of my friends kids start as young as 7 and they are loving it as much as I did.

    On the question of Phetjee Jaa, she’s terrific, but it I think it would be quite wrong to have mixed fights after puberty, so I’m with the authorities on that. I guess it is fine before puberty and perhaps it should happen more often. I imagine it must be very good for girls’ confidence to know they can beat boys. That’s the biggest change since I was boxing and it’s great that women now compete. Good luck to you.

    • Melissa Ray says:

      I think I read an article quite recently (in the Guardian/Independent?) stating that there is actually very little difference in the strength of girls and boys (pre-puberty), and that girls and boys should be allowed to train together and compete against each other. Post-puberty is, of course, a different matter once testosterone has its influence.

      Yes, I was quite glad not to have been subjected to my first cockfighting experience, although it would have provided an insight into another aspect of Thai culture. I used to have a Thai friend who trained dogs for fighting, which is even more appalling than cockfighting and I definitely would not want to be exposed to that “sport” at all.

      Best wishes to you for the new year.

      • Del says:

        Yes, it’s now well documented that young boys and girls are equally strong (even though many people still think that young boys are stronger than girls). Another study was just released by the US National Center for Health Statistics based on a sample of hundreds of girls and boys from around the country comparing ages 6-11 and 12-15. It found no difference in strength between boys and girls in the younger group. In the older group boys were stronger, particularly in the arms. There were overlaps between the strongest girls and the weaker boys, and top 5% of girls had stronger legs than most boys.

        Other studies have found that it is about age 13 when boys generally start pulling ahead. There are a lot of individual differences, but by age 16 only the very strongest girls are stronger than the average boy.

        Best wishes for the new year!

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