February 27, 2014 by Melissa Ray
When news of the impending closure of Lumpinee Boxing Stadium on Rama IV Road was announced several months ago, Muay Thai fans around the world reeled in dismay.
Granted, the stadium was falling apart at the seams (the roof leaked in heavy rain and a cat famously fell through the ceiling into the ring during a show last year), but it represented a cultural landmark—the scene of some of the greatest fights in Muay Thai history since opening its doors in 1956.
However, as explained pragmatically by Major General Surakrai Jatumas (Chief of Lumpinee Stadium) in a video by the Bangkok Post, “Lumpinee Boxing Stadium’s land lease contract ended and changes happen.” The construction of a new Lumpinee Boxing Stadium had been underway in the grounds of the Royal Thai Army Sports Centre on Ramintra Road in the Anusawaree area of Bangkok.
The opening of the new venue was highly anticipated, with a countdown until its grand unveiling. But, as photos were leaked of the new construction, some fans were sceptical. With its space age shape and bright interior, the building appeared slick and futuristic but also sterile and characterless in comparison with the much loved venue on Rama IV Road.
However, after opening night on 11th February, feedback on the new premises was resoundingly positive. So, I was excited to get the opportunity to experience a night at the stadium, on 21st February for the Eminent Air promotion, courtesy of Eminent Air (Sagami) gym boss Mr. Somboon Niruttimetee.
I travelled to the stadium by taxi with friends Niamh Griffin (former WMC champion and creator of Inspiring Sports Women) and Jamal Younis (who also trains at Eminent Air). As described in Rob Cox’s review, the new Lumpinee Boxing Stadium is relatively far from Bangkok’s centre, in the direction of Don Muang airport, and at least a 20-minute taxi journey from the nearest MRT station, Phahon Yothin. From On Nut BTS station, the taxi fare plus toll fee amounted to around 200 baht, which was not extortionate among the three of us but a round trip travelling alone would certainly add expense to a night at the venue.
On arrival at the stadium we took a few moments to take in its structure. The new Lumpinee Boxing Stadium is relatively tall, with curved sides and a metallic grey unfussy exterior, and is separated from the main road by a single lane for taxis. Although some ticket touts loitered out front, with the stadium so far out of the city and no opportunity for luring in passing tourists, the touts were fewer in number than I remember there being at the previous site.
The entrance for ringside is located on the right-hand side of the stadium’s facade, adjacent to a single small Muay Thai equipment shop selling Kaewsamrit products (no doubt other brands will have opened stores by the time this post is published). Food and beverage stalls line opposite sides of the building, selling Thai and Western items. The presence of a Black Canyon Coffee is notable, and perhaps indicative of the more upscale image the new stadium is aiming to project.
After several minutes milling around outside the venue, I felt initially disappointed. On fight night at the original Lumpinee stadium, the forecourt would be buzzing with gamblers, tourists and Muay Thai enthusiasts mingling, eating and shopping at the Twins, Windy or Top King stores. Outside, I felt the new stadium lacked the same energy. Had the usual spectators deemed the journey too far to travel, I wondered.
Inside, however, my opinion soon changed. The new stadium’s interior is considerably brighter than the stadium on Rama IV Road, its fittings shiny and pristine. Although the ringside area seems smaller than at the former site, the stands are steeper and higher, with the potential to pack in a larger number of fans, giving patrons in second and third classes closer views of the ring.
We had entered the stadium just after the start of the first fight and as the action heated up, I was stunned by the acoustics. The gamblers had mainly congregated in two sides of the arena and when a roar erupted from this section, the sound resonated throughout the building, causing my eardrums to tremble. Despite the stadium far from approaching capacity, the sound was immense, and I can only imagine the decibel count on a packed fight night.
One of the aspects I had liked most about the old Lumpinee stadium was having the freedom to walk around the fighters’ warm up area and to cheer from the corner if someone was fighting from the gym. However, with none of the Eminent Air (Sagami) boys competing I didn’t attempt to enter either of the changing rooms (separate for red and blue corners) or approach a corner, though there seemed to be no restrictions on access from ringside (though no touching the stage, ladies, as we well know!).
Aside from location, I would say the only negative point about the new stadium is its temperature. In Rob Cox’s report, he described the stadium as “cool, so cool I wished I had worn a long-sleeved shirt”. I would describe it as cold to the point of discomfort (think Thai cinema cold), and wished I had worn a warm fleece and scarf! Wrap up, is my advice to anyone planning a visit soon.
The new Lumpinee Boxing Stadium on Ramintra Road bears no resemblance to the original stadium on Rama IV Road—the bosses opted for complete change and modernisation. While tourists will surely be impressed by the stadium’s clean and contemporary facilities, I imagine some of the die hards of the sport might still be resistant to the change in venue. I too was unsure but was won over after experiencing the electrifying atmosphere inside. Change might not always be welcomed, but it doesn’t make it a bad thing.
The official grand opening of the new Lumpinee Boxing Stadium takes place tomorrow night, with a star-studded line-up including Yodwicha Por Boonsit vs. Petcboonchu Borplaboonchu, Saenchai PK Saenchaimuaythaigym vs. Nong O Gaiyanhaadao, Singdam Kiatmoo 9 vs. Pakorn PK Saenchaimuaythaigym, and the King Fighter 4-man tournament, featuring Sam A Gaiyanghaadao, Sangmanee Sor Tienpo, Superbank Mor Rattanabandit and Superlek Wor Sangprapai. Part of the show will be broadcast live on Channel 5 from 21.30 to 23.30.