The following post was written by Matt Lucas. Matt is a Muay Thai fighter, manager, journalist, and author who has been in the game for nearly a decade. He works as a commentator at Max Muay Thai and has connections to all the top stadiums in Thailand.
In the mornings, before the sun rises over Bangkok, before the meager rays try to cut through the smug of the capital, the boxers shuffle into the arena. The stadium is the mecca for Muay Thai and since it’s doors have opened thousands of boxers have performed.
Official weigh ins begin at 6:45 to 9:45 in the morning. The fighters are allowed to check their weight on the digital scale between 5:30 and 6:40.
Some come early, some come on time.
Upon arrival the nak muay must register with the office, handing over their passports, Sport Authority of Thailand registration, or id cards to be copied. Forms are filled out and then the performers are ushered into the doctors room.
The room itself is simple. There is a small metallic desk on the right and a bed on the left. Two wooden doors, the kind you might see in a western movie’s saloon, creak occasionally. Behind them is the bed where the doctor performs his surgeries. His nightly needle sews stitches on faces, skulls, and legs.
The boxers sit and they are inspected. Their wrists are bent and the doctor checks for any legions, rashes, or wounds on their bodies. A cold stethoscope will be placed on the chest and the heart will be listened to. If it’s thump is steady and the lungs are clear the doctor signs a small piece of paper. The boxer takes it to the scale.
When the promoter arrives the weigh in process can take place. The boxers will stand naked, or in their underwear on the scale. The device is electronic and replacing a monstorous old clock of a scale. Set amongst gloves, robes, and cornerman vests the small room is gated by tall walls and fence.
“Paan,” the official will yell for all to hear if the boxer correctly makes weight. A check mark is placed next to each boxers name on a white board when they pass weight. The red corner is on the left side of the list, the blue on the right. If both boxers pass successfully an X is struck through the box.
If the boxer doesn’t make weight they still have time. But each second cutting weight is an ane excutriating moment when they could be recovering, eating or drinking. Their initial weight is logged. Donning sauna suits they will do laps on the upper tier of the stadium. Running off the water. Their mouths become parched and their skin sinks in with each lap around the coliseum. As they run the upper levels are cleaned. Popcorn containers, hot dog tins and plastic cups are swept up from the gamblers area.
If the amount to drop is small, just a few milligrams, the boxer will bounce up and down in place until the weight evaporates off the body.
Once the boxers make weight they are told to return to the stadium. Fights begin at Rajadamnern at 6:30pm. Doors open at 6pm. Fighters are allowed admittance at 5pm.
By 5pm there is activity outside of the venue already. Guides donned in brightly colored vests and jackets help foreigners buy seats. The stores near the stadium that sell gear, gloves, wraps, tape and guaze open and wide eyed tourists buy wares or cornemen buy supplies.
The boxer is given a slip of paper allowing him entry along with his cornermen. Upon entry their bags are inspected and they are ushered in. Most immediately go to the fighter’s room.
The dressing room for the fighters is a long and wide corridor. On the immediate left is a tall table behind which is the inspector who hands out the gloves. On the right is four stalls, two toilets and two showers along with a urinal and a sink. They are all made of concrete.
Further in the room are a series of wooden benches. These are for the boxers to lay on for their pre fight massages. To the right are sauna boxes, which are seldom to never used. A few hooks line the walls for the boxers to hang their mongkols and prajiats before the fight.
Bout preparation will begin immediately, depending on the order on the card. Hands are wrapped first. A layer of medical tape is placed on the back of the hand along with thin cigars of tape on the knuckles. A second layer of guaze is wrapped around the hand and then the cast is completed with a final layer of tape. The boxers are then massaged with Vaseline and Nam Man Muay, a menthol based liniment. The massage is quick and meant to activate the muscles. The Vaseline helps blows glide off the skin and prevent tears, it is applied to the entire body, including the face. Occassionally it is put in the hair as a poor man’s pomeade.
The inspector will check the handwraps making sure there is nothing besides tape and guaze in the cast. Then the gloves are given. The cornermen will tie the gloves on striking the thick part of the glove down with the laces to make the glove tighter and to decrease the cushion in the glove. Tape is placed over t he laces.
The steel cup is placed on the boxer. The protective equipment is made of a groin protector and thong. Tape is placed on the knot to prevent the cup from falling off during the bout.
The shorts are pulled up and then the mongkol is placed on the head with a prayer.
The cornermen will don their vests, and if the gym doesn’t have any, vests and robes or capes can be rented from the stadium.
The boxers will leave the dressing room and seat on benches before the bout. They will have a partial view of the ring before them.
When the last bout leaves the new bout will begin and the boxers will walk to the ring in the center of the stadium. The announcer will say their name, country, and weight as the cornerman holds down the top rope. The boxer will go over the four ropes and bow to the audience. His cape or robe is removed and he waits until his opponent arrives. The red corner enters first and then the blue.
The Wai Kru Ram Muay Music begins and the boxers will perform the ritualistic dance. Elaborate Wai Krus can last up to fifteen minutes. Shorter versions will just have the boxer seal the ring preventing any unwanted spirits from entering.
Upon competition the boxers will be brought together for final instructions from the referee. They return to their corners and the manager, or head cornerman will remove the mongkol with a prayer, give some water, and put in the mouth piece.
The first of five three minute rounds will begin with the clanging of the ringside bell. As the boxers battle using their punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, three judges will sit ringside scoring on a 10 point must system. The winner of the round will be given a 10, the loser a 9. If there is a knockdown the boxer will receive and 8 for the round. Scores are tallied at the end of the fight and a winner declared.
The break between rounds is two minutes. A large dish is put into the ring to catch water. Water is supplied by the stadium in a metal cup and red plastic bottle with a black top. Cornermen will give the boxer water, advice, and will stretch them. If he is cut Vaseline will be applied to the wound. A ten second warning is issued for the cornermen to leave the ring and the plastic dish is removed. A large spongy mop will be used to clean the corner. Immediately after the bell is rung by a ring side attendant.
When the bout is concluded the referee will take the score card from all three judges and then point to the winning corner. He will then raise the winning boxers hand. A photo may be taken in the ring and then the boxer will exit.
Typically the winner will go to the rear of the stadium for celebratory photos. A large Rajadamnern mural is placed on one of the walls and photos will be taken. The loser will go to the dressing room, or doctor’s office, depending on the way and form in which they lost.
Boxers are able to pick up their purses at 8:30pm or afterwards from the office. Purse amounts are displayed retroactively on a small board across from the dressing room.
If you enjoyed reading this article, make sure you check out Matt Lucas’ book On Fighting in Thailand. Whether you are a trainer, fighter or amateur, learn what it is like to fight in some of the top stadiums in Thailand from a Muay Thai insider.