I had been training at WPT Gym Thailand in Bangkok for nearly 4 weeks. I would have my first Muay Thai fight in Patpong.
Before this trip, I was training MMA at my local club, Trojan Free Fighters in the UK.
I thought I was pretty fit, I did multiple classes every day after work. I took myself for a 'cute' little run on the weekend and did a private with my coach on Sundays; I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me.
To say it was a baptism of Tiger Balm is an understatement. I had never gone through an organised fight camp before. I had ‘picked up’ my training for a couple of inter-clubs but I had never trained as part of a professional fight team for long periods twice a day.
On fight day, I watched sparring, stretched and had my hair braided. I didn't know what to expect but was reasonably calm, albeit the fact I would be making my Muay Thai debut in Bangkok against a local.
Master Pimu had warned me to 'not get too excite'. Also in my corner would be two UK fighters, Scott Michael Myers and Sheree Halliday. We all either trained under Tony Myers or were affiliated in some way; Tony recommended the well respected Master Pimu (RIP) who ran WPT which was considered a sister gym.
The four of us caught a taxi to Patpong. It seemed a long trip over the highway and through three toll booths but it wasn't far from the gym. I had never been to Patpong before or explored much of Thailand. For the entirety of the fight camp, I stayed at the gym which was located in a village called Amon Wiwat; it wasn't remote but the strict training regimen was isolating. There were more Thai fighters than Westerners at WPT, perhaps as no beaches in Bangkok which made for a strict Muay Thai camp, more than a training holiday.
I loved learning about the Thai culture and the traditions that permeate the National Sport. However, seedy Patpong was a culture shock for me. I remember walking through the streets and seeing sign after sign for 'Pingpong shows' with a disturbing list of cameos from living animals as well as inanimate objects. We stopped outside a strip club called The Pink Panther and my trainer talked to the owner. This turns out to be the 'promoter'. He looks me up and down and nods at Master Pimu to accept the match. I ask if I'm fighting and he confirms so we leave the club to get food.
When the girls stop dancing at 11 pm, the fights will start.
For my pre-fight fuel, we go to Maccas at about 8 pm. This goes against everything I have been taught about nutritional requirements for performance. I was allowed some fried chicken but not ‘too much’. When the others order sundaes, Master Pimu glances sidelong at me, smiles and wags his finger. If I could read his mind, I'm pretty sure he was thinking 'not for you, fatty' - it honestly hadn't crossed my mind to have ice cream before competing!
When I initially arrived in Bangkok, we stopped at a supermarket called Foodland on the way back from the airport. I ordered a prawn salad. Master Pimu smiled sweetly at me, with a kind face although missing some teeth. Then he asked me, ‘why you eat little but you so fat ’. Gotta love brutal Thai honesty, I was pretty shocked at the time and the Western fighters had tried to talk to Master Pimu about UK sensibilities. It was a fair call though, I was overweight for my size at the start of my martial arts journey, reaching my personal heaviest at 61 kg.
We headed back to the club to wait it out and I tried to get zen and zone out the dancers and sex pests. While I was getting my hands wrapped upstairs, Master Pimu insisted I drink Thai Red Bull (not carbonated). I didn't drink coffee so only had half, it was thick and sweet like syrup but burned like fireball and made me feel like I was tweaking.
Someone used the upstairs bathroom and came out in Muay Thai shorts. My friend said that's your opponent but it looked like the bouncer. I thought that's odd and filed it in my 'we'll worry about that later' mental box.
When it came time to glove up, I had a comedy pair that had the stuffing already falling out of them. These were duct taped on and I was allegedly ready for action.
Downstairs, the dancers had cleared off and a tiny boxing ring was set up. I was curious as to why the ring was so small was it simply due to space limitations or to incite toe to toe action for the audience. The possibility of it being used to accommodate sexy fighting midgets wouldn't have surprised me either because this night was getting weirder.
Master Pimu forgot to teach me a Ram Muay (Wai Kru) but I had seen others perform it and knew the bones of the routine. I was told to do everything three times and tried my best to look as if I knew what I was doing. If this last-minute requirement hadn't unsettled me, I now noticed the female bouncer that had let us in was across the ring from me. She must have been on her work break or fighting as part of her shift.
The fight went for 3 rounds. So much for not getting too excited; I felt as if I was on fire from Thai oil and on crack from my first taste of caffeine. The first two rounds consisted of me coming forward windmilling. She wasn't technical either and it was hammer and tong from each bell. I stopped her in the second but she got up from the count. In the clinch, I could hold her but was too gassed to knee. I was knackered in the third but apparently this was when I performed the best. True to sod's law, my friends only captured the first two rounds as my memory card was full.
I can't remember the fight and wasn't composed enough to carry out instructions; Master Pimu kept calling for me to right kick and told the other corners to tell me, in a more familiar English accent but I kept throwing my left.
I won. At the end of the fight, we had to go around to the tables of spectators in the club and if they enjoyed the fight they would give you money. My opponent went first and got the majority of tips. I hung back and felt very awkward cap in hand but received 200 baht from the promoter.
Master Pimu told Scott that I didn't 'make sad his face' or 'show him bad face', which we interpreted as to not have shamed or embarrassed him. I was happy with this ruling; we had suspected that he was not overly confident in my abilities so took me to Patpong instead of a stadium.
I felt sick after the fight, most likely from the mix of fried chicken, caffeine and adrenaline. The next day my face was bruised and my left thigh was dead but I was reasonably unscathed. I went to an internet cafe and let my worried relatives know that I had survived and won my first fight in Thailand.