Having a Muay Thai fight in Thailand is a right of passage for most Nak Muays. Whether you plan on being a world champion, or just want to test yourself, fighting in Thailand is something that you should consider at some point in your journey.
While you can do a lot of things to prepare yourself for the ring, there are some things that will make you feel uncomfortable no matter what. This article is going to break down specific things that will make you feel uncomfortable in your first fight.
#1. Slippery Opponents
Before you step into the ring your trainer will rub Namman Thai oil on your body and vaseline on your face. The oil is used to help loosen up your muscles before you enter battle, and the vaseline makes it harder for your skin to break when you get hit with elbows.
This combination of oil and vaseline makes you and your opponent extremely slippery all over. When you teep your opponent it can often feel like you are teeping a heavy bag that has been soaked with oil. When your foot lands on your opponent it will often slide to the side. (Women usually don’t have this issue because they often wear shirts in the ring which allows for a better grip.)
Clinching is also difficult because you won’t be able to get a tight grip with all of the oil on your opponent. This is one of the reasons why Thais don’t like it when male foreigners clinch with their shirts on. Besides getting rug burn from the shirt, you also have an easy grip when someone is wearing a shirt.
How to Prepare
The best way to prepare for a greasy opponent is to get your male sparring partners to rub on Thai oil and spar/clinch shirtless. To simulate a slippery opponent, you can rub water/soap on a heavy bag to make it slippery. When you teep the heavy bag it will force you to focus on hitting with the balls of your feet or your foot will slide off the bag.
#2. Smaller Gloves with Rock Hard Hands
Most stadiums will make you wear 8-10 oz gloves when you fight. In addition to the small gloves, your hands get taped with gauze and tape so they are rock hard. Punches you normally wouldn’t feel with 16 oz gloves, will cause your head to ring with the small gloves.
Because there is so little knuckle padding in the gloves, this benefits heavy hitters and knockout fighters. If you don’t have a strong chin or a tight guard, you are going to be in a world of pain if you face a puncher.
How to Prepare
There is nothing you can do to prepare for this physically, but you can get your mind ready for war. Expect the punches to hurt, and you won’t be shocked when you get hit with a hard shot in the ring. While I don’t recommend sparring hard (it’s bad for your brain), hard sparring has the benefit of getting you used to being hit.
People who have never sparred hard before are in for a rude awakening if they step into the ring. Getting used to being hit with hard shots, will also improve your guard because you will know the importance of blocking incoming attacks.
#3. Slippery Ring Corners
Most stadiums in Thailand put foreigners on towards the end of shows. This is because the fights can be highly entertaining and unpredictable. Before you fight, there will be five or six other fights taking place in the same ring.
This means there will be a lot of oil, grease, and water all over the ring (especially in the corners) by the time you fight. One of the reasons Thai fighters do the traditional Wai Kru is to walk around the ring and map out the danger zones of the ring where they want to avoid.
In a fight, you have to be tactical about when you kick or you could end up slipping. I’ve seen some fighters slip multiple times in a fight when they throw kicks because the mats get soaked with water, oil and vaseline. (Fighters doing Wai Kru’s also lather the center of the ring with oil when they are on their knees)
How to Prepare
Before your fight, sprinkle water on the canvas of a ring and make it very wet and slippery. Practice sparring on surfaces where there are slippery spots where you can’t throw kicks. This will make you aware of your footing and when you can and can’t throw a strike.
You can also wet the bottom mats in front of your heavy bag, and work on the heavy bag. This will force you to focus on your balance whenever you kick and try to establish enough grip when you strike. You might end up slipping multiple times while hitting a heavy bag on a wet mat, so be careful you don’t hit your head.
#4. No Shin Guards
This point applies mostly to new fighters or amateurs having their first pro fight. After a few fights, you will get used to kicking without shin guards. However, the first time you fight without shin guards it feels strange.
When you have shin guards on to protect your shins, you can kick all day long in a fight. But the moment you remove the shin guards, every kick that gets blocked hurts like hell. If you see an inexperienced fighter hesitating to throw kicks in the later rounds of a fight, there is a good chance their shin bones are throbbing from all the kicks they threw earlier.
I find that the more calm and relaxed I am in a fight, the more I feel the pain. While the more nervous and scared I am (filled with adrenaline), the less pain I feel. Even when you feel pain, you only feel it for a second because your mind has to focus on the immediate danger.
While there is a benefit to being nervous and filled with adrenaline, the downside is that you are tenser and won’t be as responsive. So you don’t want to rely on your adrenaline to ensure you don’t feel pain. Learning when to kick so your opponent doesn’t block, is a very important skill that you learn over years of sparring.
How to Prepare
There is no secret sauce to getting hardened shins, besides kicking a lot with your shins. If you kick an old heavy bag that has hardened, it will gradually condition your shin. Another thing you can do before a fight is to spar lightly without shin guards on. This will get you used to throwing kicks without the extra weight of shin protection. But no matter what you do, you shins are going to throb after the fight, just accept it.
#5. Elbow Strikes
Most first time fighters fear elbow strikes. Since you don’t really practice with elbows, it is uncomfortable when someone is thrashing you with elbows in a fight. Often the fear of getting hit with an elbow is far worse than the pain of the actual elbow.
It took me a couple of fights of getting my face destroyed with elbows, to realize that they aren’t that bad. Cuts hurt far less than actual punches that damage your brain. The only annoying thing about cuts is they limit your vision from the blood getting in your eyes.
How to Prepare
Before having your first fight, you can practice technical sparring with elbow pads on or you can have a trainer throw elbows without landing them. This will get you used to block and defending against elbows. Once you realize that a simple hand in front of your face will block most elbows, they become last daunting when you face them.
Thai fighters from Thailand like to throw elbow strikes against foreigners. Since it is known that “farang” (foreigners) don’t like getting hit with elbows, they will make a point to try to land elbows. Expect to get hit with a few elbows, and expect it to feel scary the first time. Just accept those feelings and realize that everyone goes through the same emotions.
Having your first Muay Thai fight in Thailand can be very daunting, but it is something that everyone should aim for. If you train at a good camp, they will (hopefully) match you up with someone that you can beat.
Before you enter the ring, it is important to expect to feel uncomfortable throughout the process. Just like the first time you step into any new environment, it takes time to get used too.
It is important that you try to stay relaxed and breathe. That will ensure that your cardio lasts much longer. Experienced fighters are able to stay calm because they know exactly what to expect. So the more times you enter the ring, the more comfortable you will start feeling.