When it comes to fighting in Thailand the first thing you should realize is matchups are not like back home. In most cases in Thailand, you won’t weigh in for the fight. The only time they will check your weight is if there is a big bet on the fight or you are fighting in the major stadiums in Bangkok. Given the fact that there are fights happening every day of the week in most places, the local promoters are in a constant struggle to find fighters to fill their fight cards. Even when a promoter has a fight card lined up, there are often last minute changes or injuries that can still mess things up.
Don’t blame the promoters, blame the system. While promoters back home might have a fight card every few months, these promoters literally have to put on shows 3 nights a week in most stadiums. Keep in mind there are multiple stadiums that all organize fights throughout the week, so the pool of fighters is split between the various stadiums and promoters that use the fighters.
The longer you stay and fight in Thailand (without moving around) the better the matchups you will get. This is largely due to the fact that your promoter (usually you will fight for the same promoter) knows exactly how good you are, so they can find fighters that are at your skill level. So don’t complain when you come to Thailand for 2 weeks and have a fight that you aren’t happy with. Stick around and have a couple fights. Trust me, they won’t give you any walkovers after you get a couple wins – the promoter will want to see you tested.
People often have this idea that if you fight in Bangkok you will get perfect matchups and weigh in for your fight. That is simply not true. Bangkok is full of mismatches just like everywhere else in Thailand. Bangkok is the best place for high level fighters to test their skills, but if you are an inexperienced fighter, it’s all the same.
It is important to know that Muay Thai fights in Thailand revolve around gambling. Since Muay Thai is the only legal way to gamble in Thailand, many of the Thai’s get their daily fix at the Muay Thai stadiums. For gambling to take place, the fights have to be close enough for the gamblers to be willing to bet on each fighter (with odds of course). Majority of the time when you see a huge mismatch taking place, it’s simply because the promoter couldn’t find an opponent for the foreigner.
After seeing hundreds of different muay thai matches and fighting in a good few fights myself, there are a few common scenarios that will generally happen when you are having your first few fights in Thailand.
Note: *These scenarios are specifically for fighters with under 10 fights. If you are skilled and have a lot of fights under your belt then mismatches are much less likely, but can still happen as demonstrated in the final video below. Usually they’ll give you a couple easy fights then match you up with someone your level.
Scenario #1 – Close, Even Fight
You Fight a Foreigner (sometimes Thai) with the same skill level/experience and roughly same weight
- Have better cardio than your opponent – Most first fights will come down to which guy can survive the war and last the full 5 rounds.
- Keep your Hands up – If you fight another foreigner there is a good chance they will freak out and try and throw haymakers. Expect the guy to explode for a few punches and kicks and be really stiff.
- Be relaxed – This will help you last longer in the fight and allow you to save energy.
- Out Point (Smart) your Opponent – These fights usually go the distance and the fighter who scores the most points wins. Make sure you are focusing on landing your kicks and knees in the fight. You corner will tell you if you are winning or losing between rounds.
This is the ideal scenario that everyone should hope for. Whether you win or lose the fight, you will feel happy that you got to test yourself in the ring.
You are probably wondering why the hell would you want to fight a foreigner in Thailand, right? Well, most of the good Thai fighters will smoke you in a fight, unless you have a significant weight advantage. Just accept that fact.
If you have had a bunch of fights back home and want to specifically fight a Thai, fair enough. However, for the majority of foreigners who fight in Thailand, the closest thing to a fair matchup is a foreigner with similar weight who has 1-5 fights.
Always be on the lookout for the “first time fighters” who don’t count their amateur fights in their record. I know most guys who come to Thailand often fail to tell the promoters about their amateur fights. So when you see two guys having their “first fight” in Thailand, one guy could have 15 amateur fights while the other guy is actually having his first fight in the ring.
These fights are usually extremely close and entertaining for the spectators, but are tough for the fighters. Whenever you fight a guy the same skill and size as you, expect a battle.
Scenario #2 – Tuk Tuk Driver
You fight a Taxi/Tuk Tuk Driver that is out of shape
- Don’t underestimate your opponent – They will try and scare you with a few elbows to see how you react. Don’t show fear and back away from them.
- Push the pace – These guys don’t train and their cardio is weak. If you keep a high pace in the fight they will get tired.
- Survive the first couple rounds and you’ll win the fight – These guys will almost always gas if the fight goes longer than 3 rounds.
This is probably the most likely scenario when you have your first fight in Thailand. It’s happened to the best of us, including myself. In my first fight my original opponent from France came to the stadium and refused to fight me (even though he was my size), so the promoter had to grab a replacement on the spot.
Now when I say Taxi/Tuk Tuk fighter, it doesn’t mean these guys don’t have any skill. A lot of the time they are ex Thai fighters who were never good enough to go anywhere in Muay Thai and have been retired for a few years, while drinking away all their savings.
Some of these Tuk Tuk drivers are actually pretty decent from the amount of fights they’ve had. They will usually make up their mind within the first few minutes of the fight if they are going to try hard or take a dive. If a Tuk Tuk fighter thinks they can get an easy win over their opponent they’ll go for the win – it is quite common for them to go “all in” during a fight if the gamblers are betting on them.
It is important to know that this is a huge part of how they make their money. Most of them don’t work and supplement their income by fighting foreigners on a weekly basis. Some fight as often as a couple times a week. They get paid to fight bigger, stronger foreigners who train all the time, and they accept that fact. The promoters don’t expect these guys to win their fights; they just want them to put on a good show for the crowd.
Most of these guys legitimately have soft chins from the amount of times they’ve been KO’d in the ring, so don’t blame them if they decide to dive against a much bigger foreigner.
While Taxi/Tuk Tuk drivers have a huge range of skills, the one trait that defines them is they don’t train and are usually out of shape. This means that if they don’t cut you or knock you out, they almost always gas out in round 3, 4 or 5. Most of them will end up taking a dive if they think the foreigner is going to be tough and can injure them.
Scenario #3 – Smaller, Skilled Thai
You fight a smaller Thai that is better than you
- Never Show Fear – These guys know that a foreigner having his first fight is probably scared of elbows. For this reason they will often try and utilize their elbows a lot.
- Come forward with Punches – The Thai’s fighting first time foreigners usually aren’t good with their hands. For this reason you should be moving forward looking to engage with your hands.
- Don’t Play for Points – When it comes to the skilled Thai’s they will often sit back and score points on you. You have to push the pace and go forward on these guys or you will lose.
- Wear Them Down – Use your size to your advantage and try and wear your opponent down. These guys are so good at conserving energy so it is important to try and tire them out.
This is another extremely common scenario that happens a lot in Thailand. Given the fact that most foreigners who fight in the stadiums are naturally a lot bigger than the Thai fighters, they will often have strength vs skill matchups.
This is especially true if you are a big foreigner who is over 70 kilos (155 lbs). You’re probably thinking that 70 kilos is light as hell, but in Thailand this is heavy. The most competitive weight divisions in Thailand range from 54-60 kilos. For this reason bigger foreigners are likely to fight smaller Thai’s.
These are the situations where you hear about guys who were paired up against Muay Thai trainers (usually not in fighting shape) in their first fight. I’ve seen this happen a couple times and the results are usually not good. Most of the times the trainers will take it easy on the foreigner and the ref will stop the fight when they see the guy being outclassed in a fight. This is the ideal ending to that scenario.
These Thai’s are usually pretty good (almost always more skilled than the foreigner) and they are extremely experienced. You should expect your opponent to utilize elbows and other techniques that can end the fight. They are usually weary of foreigner’s hands, so don’t expect many of them to try and knock you out with punches.
Example Fight (This is more of a mismatch but you get the point):
Scenario #4 – Smaller, More Experienced Foreigner
You will fight a Foreigner Smaller 5-10 kilos (10-20lbs) lighter than you, but more experienced
- Use your weight to your advantage – Clinch and try and wear him down with your added weight
- Use your punches (Be hand heavy) – Remember that you have more size and should be taking advantage of this
- Don’t Let them get Comfortable – Don’t let these guys get into a good rhythm in the fight, try and push the pace and make your opponent feel uncomfortable in the fight.
These are the type of fights that the Thai’s will often put on for gambling purposes. Whenever you see two people enter the ring and one guy significantly bigger than the other, it is a natural conclusion to assume the bigger guy will win. Well, that’s exactly what the gamblers want you to think when you watch these types of fights. These are the fights where the bookies rake in all the money from the crowds betting on the bigger fighter to win, only to see him get smashed by the smaller fighter.
If you find yourself in this scenario I generally wouldn’t recommend that you sit back and attempt to win the fight on points. 99% of the time if the fight goes the distance the smaller, more skilled fighter will outpoint his opponent to get the win. These are the tough fights where you need to walk forward and go for it. You can often score a significant amount of points if you are always walking forward and your opponent is continually backing up.
Usually your smaller Farang (foreigner) opponent has had over 10+ fights and is good, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken the fight. When it comes to fighting the one thing you can’t substitute is ring experience. 5 kilos won’t make a big enough difference if a guy is a lot more experienced and skilled than you. These are the matchups that we’ll usually see in some of the stadiums of Thailand.
Scenario #5 – Complete Mismatch
You fight a Foreigner or Thai who is similar size and WAY more experienced
- Refuse the fight – If you are having a first fight and you know the guy is way better than you, tell the promoter you want to fight someone else. Nobody will hold it against you. There’s no reason to be a hero and fight a complete mismatch to ‘prove’ something. Remember, this is your health at stake here. I’ve seen plenty of horrible mismatches where the guy who’s taken out on the stretcher ends up in the hospital for major injuries. Not worth it.
- Cover up and protect yourself – That’s the only piece of advice I can really offer you in the ring. You are going to lose the fight if this happens, best case scenario is you get smashed and you last the full 5 rounds. If that’s the case, cover up and protect yourself.
These are the type of fights where you can almost be certain to get KO’d or hurt badly. I’ve seen it happen many times.
Complete Mismatch fights are your worst nightmares. These are the fights where you will get injured, KO’d, or cut. The problem with these types of fights is usually your gym or the fight promoter doesn’t have much information about your opponent because almost every gym will lie about their fighter’s record or experience, it is impossible to really know how good someone is until they get into the ring.
There are a couple types of these mismatches.
Unknown Foreigner (with a lot of experience)
This one happens sometimes where you get a guy who’s really good and maybe even has a bunch of titles back home, but comes to Thailand and claims he has no Muay Thai experience or lies about his record. Or his gym lies about his record to the promoter because they want to bet on him.
The problem with this setup (where you fight a highly skilled foreigner that no one knows about) is usually your gym or the fight promoter doesn’t have much information about your opponent because almost every gym will lie about their fighter’s record or experience (to bet on them and get good odds), it is impossible to really know how good someone is until they get into the ring.
Examples: One guy I knew fought a Canadian Kickboxing champion for his first fight. The only reason he found out the guy was a kickboxing champion was one of the guys from Canada recognized him after the fight-little too late, as the guy was knocked out cold in round 2. And more recently in 2014, one of the local gyms in Phuket pushed one of their (new) guys to have a fight (the local stadium in Patong, Phuket). He ended up getting kneed so hard he had to get rushed to the hospital where they removed one of his kidney’s. Last time I’ve heard, he has to carry around a bag to piss in now — all from a fight he wasn’t ready for. I can list dozens of such fights I’ve witnessed over 3 years of living, training, and fighting in Thailand.
Known High Level Fighter (with lot of experience)
I’ve also seen some major mismatches with Thai’s who are trainers or ex champions fighting completely beginner fighters in the ring.
This usually only happens when:
- a promoter is desperate to find an opponent for the foreigner and there are no handy Tuk Tuk drivers available. A trainer steps in and you pay the price in blood. In most cases, the Thai will be respectful and clearly beat the foreigner on points or until the ref stops the fight. Although I would never take a dive in a fight, if you decided you didn’t want to get hurt and dove, I would probably call it the smart thing to do. (I’ve been punched too many times in the head to do the “smart” thing!)
- a shady rigged betting jig. This really is the worst case and what I coin ‘the dark side of Muay Thai in Thailand.’ The usual scenario that would involve you as a foreigner (there is plenty of shady shit that goes in with Thai on Thai fights at the highest level stadiums — read our article about Sangmanee getting poisoned during his fight) is if you are say a very big foreigner who’s put against a ‘small’ Thai guy (or even a much smaller foreigner). The smaller guy might be 10 or 20 kilos lighter than you. But he’s very high level with a lot of fights. And what happens is that the locals then are in the know and will bet against the foreigners in the stadium who usually will all bet on the clearly much bigger guy. You can see an example of this sort of thing in one of our recent articles: Size (and no skill) vs Skill.
- you or your gym have pissed off the promoter somehow. This is one of the dirty sides of Muay Thai, but if you’ve ended up afoul of a promoter (say by cancelling out on a fight last minute or not showing up for your fight or your gym has a number of people who keep skipping out on their fights), you could be the used as the object lesson and get set up for a beating. This doesn’t happen often, but I have seen it happen. Promoters can make or break you, so you don’t want to have a bad relationship with one!
Complete Mismatch fights are your worst nightmares. These are the fights where you will get injured, KO’d, or cut. Note that promoters usually do try their best to put on a good show and it’s not (usually) in their interest to put out a serious mismatch. So it doesn’t happen too often. However, there are crooked promoters or circumstances that can make it happen though, so you need to go into your fight with eyes wide open about the possibility.
Expect the worst, Hope for the best
No matter who you fight, always expect to fight a tough guy who is experienced. This is why I always tell people to make sure they are ready physically and mentally for their first fight in Thailand. Don’t ever listen to the Thai trainers if they tell you to fight, because they often have financial incentives from the promoters to get students from their gym to fight. Always make sure you are ready to face anyone they put in front of you and you will do fine in the ring.
Make sure you leave a comment below and let me know what you think about these fighting scenarios. Whether you agree or disagree with the article, I would love to hear it in the comments below!