I am largely a Boxer at heart, except for a few short stints to play around in Muay Thai classes at Onyx. I've seen my fair share of Boxing fight events. Occasionally, when the stars and the moon align, I'll also get to watch some of my Onyx Muay Thai teammates compete.
Whenever I watch a Boxing fight, it feels like a sped-up process in a third person's perspective. The fighters would enter the ring, the referees check their mouth guards at the corners, the fighters then meet in the middle, and then when the bell goes off, the bout starts.
During the fight, the room is pretty much silent. All I can hear are the sounds of the gloves clashing against each other, or smashing into someone's face. The sound of the brawling aside, there's also the cornermen yelling out instructions and the occasional 'ooooos' and 'ahhhhhs'. When I am watching boxing fights, my eyes are fixated on the fighters and nothing else. No chants, no shouting, only interval mumblings of the fight analysis to whoever's beside me. The rest of the people in the room are similar, not much is projected in elevated voices, we all remain gentlemanly, and professional-looking while at it. Sum it up, boxing fights allude a tensed and serious atmosphere.
It's a 180 degrees difference in a Muay Thai fight. The place, and usually the areas around the ring, are packed, and the atmosphere is exhilarating. The fight music blares through the speakers in such volume that I sometimes can't even hear myself think. But beyond the madness in the atmosphere, and the spectacle, a Muay Thai fight is like a ritualistic process to me.
Versus the sort of freestyle-ish entrance of boxers, the Muay Thai fighters' entrance is like a ceremony that seemed rehearsed between the two corners, but yet, everyone knows that it is not. The fighters know exactly what to do, and when to do. Upon entering the ring, they bow, and they perform the Wai Khru ritual. It is simply beautiful.
I remembered the time, when Jia Bing was learning how to Wai Khru for her fight. The soft, smooth and flow-like manner of their movements is a stark contrast to what they will be doing minutes later; beating the shit out of each other.
After the Wai Khru, the fighters each have their last words with their trainers/cornermen, and they get ready in a way that seems steely. Not much is done, a shrug here and there, a rotation of the neck, a back bent at the ropes perhaps, and voila, they're ready. They meet in the middle again, and after the signatory "ding", the samara (Muay Thai music) plays and the fight ensues.
The whole place gets rowdy and the mood is in overdrive. The sounds of the kicks and punches are amplified, even through the loud blaring music. The last time I sat ringside to watch Team Onyx Muay Thai fight, it was like a 4D experience. When the fighters get too close to the ring, I'd lean back at my seat almost as if the fighters might fall out of the ring onto me. I even had the "pleasure" of blood splattering on me. The fighters go at each other, at a rhythmic pace, until the next bell is heard.
Any form of action that results in perhaps an advantage to one side of the fight is unanimously greeted with cheers. Any successful sweeps result in a loud "THUMP", followed by cheers. The crowd often get up from their seats. And the crowd makes the same noises and sounds; just close your eyes and fill up your mind with these words...
"KNEE KNEE KNEEEE!"
Those are the things that you'd hear if you were watching a Muay Thai fight... if Onyx was present. I was pleasantly shocked the first time I saw a fight with Onyx. The others surrounding us would probably be wondering who's this bunch of noisy people. I thought that it was part Onyx, part Muay Thai culture that resulted in this noisy, funny, and exhilarating experience as a audience.
I was wrong. Because if you put the Onyx Cheerleading Squad into a Boxing fight, you get the same results. I remembered during Edgar Tiger's boxing belt fight, and despite the night being a serious, WBC sanctioned event, it was filled with the same roar of Onyx. I was pretty sure, that at one point, a bunch of us actually shouted "KNEE" (a boxing match?!) and it had me in laughing cramps.
The atmospheres might be organically different between Boxing and Muay Thai fights, but when it comes to it, Onyx folks have a way of making it similar... ...or similarly noisy. But having this group of loud, noisy, passionate cheerleaders is just one part of a big equation. The principles, regardless of Boxing or Muay Thai, is the same. It is ultimately a show, put up by two humans who has trained endlessly just for the 3 or 5 rounds.
There are some, unfortunately, who thinks that fighting is easy, who come into the gym, beaming with confidence that "I can, and I want to fight". But it is not just about the fight, or the fantasy of receiving a medal or belt at the end of it. The months leading up to the fight are absolute hell.
I've been around Onyx for sometime, and I know what are the expectations of me as a fighter. Training aside, what destroys a lot of aspiring fighters, is the lack of mental strength, and the wrong mentality. The coaches know that all too well. Their nonchalant, merciless and emotionless look when they train us, gives us the impression that they are probably not looking. BUT THEY SEE EVERYTHING, and they know much more about us than we give them credit for.
Even if you're the strongest fighter in the gym, but if you're not mentally ready to fight, then it is not your time. The trainers at Onyx have this fortune telling ability to tell when a fighter is ready or not. A lot of us train hard and after some time, clench our fists tight and tell our trainers confidently that "I'm ready" but alas, get heartbroken when Iskandar tells us otherwise. There could be rage or disappointment after that, but they are almost always right. I've also been proven wrong several times. Trust your coach; continue to train until it's time.
But if you do get a chance to step into the ring, be prepared, and be very prepared. Coach Zim used to tell me this:
"If you start off winning, there will eventually be a time you will lose. If you start off losing, eventually there's a time you'll win."
I try to digest and comprehend this zen-like statement, but I interpret his words, as a clarity towards fighting. That both winning and losing merges into a singular pathway of not giving up. Truth to be told, and sadly, I've seen some of my teammates give up. I did not win my first fight, and I felt like shit afterwards. It sucks to lose, and worse, it sucks even more when people keep asking me how did it go. Amongst the suckiness, I sucked it up, and threw myself back at the gym, and kept grinding.
My personal letter to the next generation of aspiring fighters:
Be ready to die in the gym. And whether you win or lose your first fight, get your ass back in Onyx.