It’s Not ‘Where’ You Fight, It’s ‘How’ You Fight
In some places, there is a kind of fluidity between being an amateur Muay Thai fighter and a professional one.
The main difference is the presence (or absence) of shin guards, head gear and/or elbow pads in the fight. Many fighters move regularly between pro and amateur just to keep active.
However, in most other countries, such as the US, once you go pro, you can’t go back to being amateur. In these countries, the difference between being amateur and pro is not so much about the gear, but whether or not they get paid.
One’s pro debut is often made a big deal; once a fighter is pro, a certain level of skill and discipline is expected. Most fighters obtain at least 20 amateur fights before making their pro debut, making sure their amateur career gives them a solid foundation before jumping up to the next level.
Both the fighter and trainer realize this base is very important, as the fighter cannot afford to make the same mistakes as an amateur over and over as a pro. So while getting paid to fight separates the two legally, the functional definition is a statement of high skill level.
Once professional, the record is “wiped clean” and amateur records are irrelevant when it comes to getting matched up (for the most part).
Two pro fighters with the same record can have very different skill levels, based largely on their amateur career.
Something a lot of fighters do, both amateur and pro, is go to where the art of the eight limbs originated: Thailand.
In Thailand, the fighters will definitely train and may even take a fight. In Thailand, there is no such thing as a stand-alone amateur fight. Muay Thai is a way for Thais to make money; they must get paid in order to support their families.
Fighting without pay for is pretty outrageous to a Thai.
Now this begs the question: “Once you fight in Thailand, are you a pro?”
In countries like Australia, where one can move easily between pro and amateur statuses, this question isn’t of much importance.
But for a lot of other fighters and promoters, it’s a topic of hot debate. It makes some amateur fighters feel like they must hide their fighting in Thailand in order to avoid arguments back home.
To further frustrate the issue, some carry a lot of pre-judgments pertaining to fighting in Thailand. They think:
“You fought in Thailand, huh? So you fought a Thai, then?”
“Man, those Thais are crazy. Your guy probably had over 100 fights, huh?”
“He must have been a straight-up killer.”
The reality is less dramatic:
1) It’s not always a Thai standing across the ring.
2) Not all Thais sport prolific records.
3) He was almost certainly no superstar.
It’s understandable that many hold fighting in Thailand in high regard, especially if the fight is against a Thai.
After all, almost all the videos we see of people with the most ferocious kicks or beautiful technique are Thai fighters. But just because you see one side of it doesn’t mean they’re all like that. Not all Thais are good, not all Thais have good technique, and not all Thais are hard to beat!
Fighting and winning in Thailand is not some magical spell someone can cast upon themselves to become an amazing, intimidating, unbeatable fighter — nothing but hard work and time can do that.
This relays back to the previous point made about skill level and expected skill level when being pro. Fighting in Thailand does not make someone a definitive professional back home, whether or not it is counted as a professional bout within Thailand. If an amateur fighter still has an amateur skill level, then fighting in Thailand a few times is not going to change much. The only thing that will change is the number of fights they have overall, and maybe some shin hardening from full contact.
There are so many people up in arms about how so-and-so had a fight in Thailand so they can’t compete amateur anymore, which is just ridiculous. Should someone who has only had one fight (and that one fight happened to be in Thailand) be considered pro?
What would happen if this hypothetical pro fighter competed back home with another pro fighter who had dozens of more amateur fights, and thus a much high skill level? This one-time fighter would have absolutely no chance to make it in the professional rankings. Again, it boils down to skill level and skill is a much more important aspect to consider rather than money.
Also, there are plenty of amateur fighters who have had one or two bouts in Thailand. Are promoters going to make all of them go professional? Is this what people want for the sport of Muay Thai, to see people of low amateur skill levels fight as professionals?
At the end of the day, fighting in Thailand is not grounds for considering oneself a professional fighter. Whether someone should be considered pro or not ultimately rests on their skill level — not where they’ve fought.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.