Nowhere in the World Does Muay Thai Quite Like Thailand
You’ve made it to the motherland: Thailand, home of the art of eight limbs.
Here, Muay Thai is truly on another level. Fights back home can’t compare to the technicality and ferocity that Thai fighters put on display.
Fights in Thailand are different from what you’re used to in your hometown, and it’s not just the matches.
Gamblers are everywhere
Gambling is an integral part of Muay Thai and always has been.
Gamblers almost always make up the majority bulk of the crowd in attendance. They also make the most noise out of everyone there.
While there have been incidences of fighters being poisoned to hedge bets, gambling does promote fair match-ups in the sport. These guys know the odds better than anyone else.
Sometimes, especially out of Bangkok, bets between the opponents (“side bets”) are required if they want to fight. Without a side bet, gamblers aren’t satisfied that there has been no “fixing” or mutual agreement between the combatants to fight at anything less than 100%.
Some rounds have little activity or none at all
Outside of Thailand, generally speaking, every round is scored evenly. This is not true of fights in Thailand.
The 1st and 2nd rounds are “feeling out” and you will not see a lot happening. Action starts to pick up in the 3rd round; the fighters give it their all in the 4th.
During the 5th round, you may see the fighters touch gloves, then walk or dance around the ring without engaging. The touching of the gloves is an acknowledgement between the fighters, as if saying, “Okay, that’s enough. I respect myself and you, and we both know how the fight went.” They already know who has won and do not wish to inflict anymore damage by engaging in the fight.
Thai fighters fight pretty often. It is understood between the camps and fighters that there is no reason to continue fighting a losing battle, nor is there reason to keep on hammering someone into injury. An amusing scene occurs when each fighter is absolutely convinced he or she has won the fight in the 5th round, so they both opt to wait out the round. The confusion on the faces of the losing corner is priceless.
How young the fighters are
Yes, they’re teenagers.
Most of the fighters you will see are not older than 20. Yes, you will see 13 and 14 year-olds fighting one another. You may also see kids as young as five or six in the ring, although not at the well-known stadiums in Bangkok.
Foreigners get front row seating
As a foreigner in Thailand, you will have to pay a premium to watch fights at the prestigious stadiums, such as Lumpinee and Rajadamnern. For this premium, your ticket comes with ringside seats, which is pretty sweet if you like watching the action up close (I know most people do!).
There are also second-tier, third- tier and bench seats that don’t cost as much, so budget according to what kind of quality seats you want.
How many people are in the corner
Outside of Thailand, two cornermen are allowed for amateur and three for professional fights. Officially, you are allowed three corners. This means that only three corners can step in the ring between rounds to aid their fighter, and this is usually enforced.
However, there is no limit as to how many people are physically allowed in the corner outside the ring. These can be family members, friends, gym teammates, financial supporters, etc. They’re all there to help and cheer on the fighter.
Designated metal tin and water man
In between rounds, fighters in a Thai ring sit on a stool… placed inside a short, wide metal container.
This is to collect water. Water is used to give massages, dump on the fighter’s heads and so on. It’s smart to have something there to catch it all so the ring doesn’t soak it up.
In the big stadiums, this metal tin is usually handed in and out of the ring by the water man, who is responsible for filling the water bottles between rounds. He has the responsibility to make efficient use of the time between rounds and prevent people from giving the fighters mystery drinks, which could be prohibited.
Muay Thai sanctioning bodies don’t always score by Thai rules outside of Thailand, so many people are used to watching fights scored based on aggression.
That said, if you’re used to watching fights being won by the aggressor, you may be surprised at the decisions here. The scoring system is very different in Thailand and ring control is much more important than aggression. The calmer fighter who seemingly retreated the entire fight can win the round on points, which can be a shock to the untrained fan sitting ringside.