Fighting in Thailand is a much different experience than the West.
Arguably, one of the biggest differences is you often don’t know who you are fighting. The promoter might give you a person’s name, but that name will mean nothing to you unless they already have a reputation in the area. You could be fighting a professional from Russia with 50+ fights, a tuk-tuk driver, or a first-time fighter who has less experience than you.
Even when promoters tell you who are fighting, most of the time the opponent is going to be completely different than the person they told you that you were fighting.
Because you have no idea who your opponent is and what their background is, the first round of the fights can be extremely nerve-racking. As you stare at your opponent across from you, all you see is the person standing in front of you, but you don’t know their experience or fighting style.
This person could have won 5 fights in a row with head kick knockouts. Even if you are facing someone who says they have no fights, I’ve seen countless foreigners lie to promoters telling them they don’t have any fights, when in fact they have 20+ amateur fights in their home country. They could also come from a non-Muay Thai background, and throw you off with their fighting style.
You basically have no idea what is standing in front of you until the fight starts.
Because of this uncertainty, over the years I have developed a strategy to combat this factors. This is a strategy that works in 5 round fights, but won’t be effective in amateur fights that are all about scoring fast points for 3 rounds. When you fight amateur, you can expect your opponent to rush forward with relentless punches and kicks, so you can prepare for that.
Before I talk about what you want to do in the first round, I want to mention first what you shouldn’t do. The one thing you don’t want to do in the first round of a fight is trying to rush your opponent or score a quick knockout. Both of these strategies are bad because they don’t help you improve in the long run.
Sure, you might overwhelm a beginner and catch them with a hard shot, but it isn’t going to work against a good opponent. Skilled opponents will take advantage of your sloppiness and catch you. Rushing an opponent is a great way to get knocked out in the first round of a fight, so please don’t do it.
If you plan on fighting in Thailand, consider using this strategy in your first few fights.
First Round Strategy
#1. Staying Relaxed in the Face of Danger
The build-up to a fight is often the worst. You go through weeks of hard training, with so much uncertainty about what will happen in the ring. Finally, when you get into the ring, all of that anxiety comes to a head.
Your bodies natural response to this stress is to tighten up and enter the flight or fight mode. While this is good for surviving in the wild, it will completely gas you out in the ring. When you are tight your strikes will feel slow and heavy.
Even after you exchange of blows with your opponent, your body will instinctively tighten up. You are going to have to fight through that tension and force yourself to breathe.
I will be the first to admit this is easier said than done. When your opponent comes out swinging with a flashy display of moves, it can be hard trying to stay calm. But trust me, if you stay calm, it will pay huge dividends in the later rounds. Stay relaxed will make your defense sharper, and allow you to save energy for the later rounds.
Experience plays a huge role in being able to stay relaxed in the ring. The more you fight, the easier it is to learn to stay calm.
#2. Keeping a Tight Guard
Besides staying calm, you also want to ensure that you are keeping a tight guard and are prepared for anything your opponent throws at you. Since you don’t know what kind of fighter is standing in front of you, you need to be prepared for any type of situation. A strong defensive guard is going to ensure you can withstand a hurricane if that’s what your opponent wants to throw at you.
Remember, if your opponent tries rushing you and overwhelming you, just weather the storm. The moment the fight enters third round they will gas out and you can take advantage of their early rush.
You would be surprised how many blows you will block just by keeping your guard up high and in front of your face. As long as your chin is tugged in tight, you’ll be fine.
Your goal is to make it through the round without taking any serious damage, while at the same time learning about your opponent. The first round of the fight is the most dangerous round, so we want to be more cautious in this round.
#3. Make Your Opponent Respect You
Just because you are focusing on staying calm and keeping a tight guard, doesn’t mean you should shell up and be scared of your opponent. In the first round, you want your opponent to respect your offense, which will cause them to tighten up. If your opponent doesn’t fear your offense, they will fight more relaxed and will be more dangerous.
Any chance you can instill fear into your opponent, that is going to play into your favor. The only way you can do this is to make sure that you throw your strikes with a purpose.
It is important to remember to take your time and choose your strikes. Less is more when it comes to striking. Too many beginners rush in and try to overwhelm their opponents with strikes. This is not good. You want to focus on keeping your strikes short and sweet.
Your offense in the first round should be clean and crisp. Don’t get fancy with your combos, just keep it simple. The goal of this round is to learn about your opponent, without revealing too much about your own game.
If you notice your opponent is dropping their hands, feel free to throw that head kick if you see an opening. Whether you land or not, that will keep them on edge throughout the fight.
You want to keep everything clean and don’t want to use any techniques that can put us at risk. The later rounds you can experiment with other techniques and combinations, but just play the first round conservatively.
If you let your opponent feel your power when you strike, it will instill fear into their minds. This is what we want. We want our opponent starting to fear us.
#4. Learning to Read Your Opponent
Now that we understand the importance of staying calm, having a tight defense, and making your opponent respect you, we now enter the more advanced area: reading your opponent. The first round is where you are going to figure out what you are up against. Are you against a heavy hitter who is looking to put you to sleep or is it someone who is a counter fighter waiting for you to strike first?
The keys to winning the fight are going to be revealed in this round.
People always wonder why Thai fighters start off so slow in the first round of a fight. While it is true that judges don’t score round 1 with the same weight as round 3-5, the first round is also used for fighters to test each other and find weaknesses in the opponent. Thai fighters will see if they can outstrike an opponent, or whether they need to push the fight into the clinch to win later on.
If you realize that your opponent is a step ahead of you and able to outscore you with ease, you are probably going to need to think about walking forward with more aggressive, or you will lose the fight on points.
If you don’t have much experience, you can rely on your coaches to help you develop an in fight gameplan on how to counter your opponent. A good coach will be able to read your opponent’s skill set and help you devise a strategy to beat them based on your own fighting style.
Too many fighters enter a fight without a good gameplan for the first round. Instead of using the round as an opportunity to learn from their opponent, fighters will go out and try to impose their gameplan on their opponent.
Listening what your opponent has to say, is much more valuable than trying to tell them what you want them to hear.
This is the round where you start to remove the uncertainty and see what kind of obstacles you are working against. The goal of the round is to make it into round two, without taking too much damage and making your opponent respect you.
Once you see what you are working with, you can use the intermission to focus on developing a strategy to win the fight. Good luck.