It has been a little over 6 months since Chocolate and I ventured into fighting the Northern Thailand girls, and what a journey it has been. It gave Chocolate a clarity of what a "next level" opponent feels like and a glimpse, revealing bit by bit, of how top female Muay Thai fighters in the world fare against her. The odds are always stacked against Chocolate: coming into North Thailand clocking perhaps slightly over 10 fights in total, while going head to head with opponents who minimally have 3 digits in their fight records. But this arduous journey is Chocolate's Muay Thai life, and I, for one, know that she would not have it any other way, or any lesser.
I get that most of y'all don't really know or see what we do over at Thailand, largely because it is just the both of us: Chocolate fighting, and me cornering. Our schedule in Thailand is usually fixated and tight; arriving in Thailand in the afternoon, and fighting later in the evening. But we have been extremely fortunate to have Sylvie (@sylviemuay) joining us in Chiang Mai every time. Usually, Sylvie would fight one night before Chocolate, help and watch Chocolate fight the next night, and then, do a couple more fights the day after, before departing on her usual 12 hour drive back to Pattaya.
We went back to Chiang Mai just last week for the monthly Thailand outing of Chocolate fighting, but this time, there was a rare occurrence of Sylvie being on the same fight card as Chocolate.
Chocolate's opponent of the night was Phettae, a stalky fighter who is similar or a little taller than Chocolate (which is rather rare), and Sylvie was fighting Thanonchanok Kaewsamrit, who is the reigning 51kg WPMF champion. Chocolate was probably the most noob on that fight card that night.
We reached the stadium slightly earlier than the usual 930pm timing because Chocolate's bout was bumped up to bout 4, instead of 6 or 7. Sylvie's bout was supposedly bout 7, but got bumped to 6. So early preparations were already in place, and as per norm, the time for Choco to put on a show arrived quickly.
Chocolate did okay for her fight and it was a wrap for Team Onyx that night. What was left was to sit in anticipation of the next highlight of the evening: watching Sylvie's fight. Thanonchanok Kaewsamrit is a world-class female fighter, and I say that with conviction. Pre-fight, while sitting at the back corner of the stadium with Sylvie, I asked her about fighting Thanonchanok. Sylvie mentioned that she's probably one of the smartest fighters she has ever fought and that she's defended and held her WPMF title for a really, really long time. I didn't think much about it at that point in time, but merely nodded in agreement.
For me, and perhaps for Chocolate as well, watching Sylvie fight is a surreal yet pragmatic event. You see this small-framed farang, who has clocked more fights than anyone else (212 fights!), but if you do meet Sylvie preparing for a fight at the stadium, you get a sense that this is "just another day at work" for her. Case in point, while we were chatting away at the back corner, Sylvie was wrapping her hands with gauze and tape... by herself.
The fight ensued, and Sylvie was accompanied by her usual Chiang Mai posse, i.e. husband Kevin, and Kru Daeng from Lanna Muay Thai. Chocolate and I took our seats ringside, as audiences.
From the corner of my eye, I couldn't help but notice the "gambling den" corner of the stadium has been stirred awake by the Sylvie versus Thanonchanok bout. The gamblers don't usually partake in all the bouts because there are some which just don't interest them, but this was different. Both fighters are prominent names in the female fight scene after all.
When the bell rang for the first round, all is calm to the unknowing eye. But to those who in the know, it was a massive Muay Thai storm in the making. These two ladies have fought each other a few times by now. It was just slightly under a minute of posturing, exchanging small teeps to the thighs, and in-stance fakes, when Thanonchanok pulled the first trigger with a jab-jab-jab-lowkick combination, to which Sylvie returned with a snappy right kick to Thanonchanok's arms.
But like most Thailand fights (against Thais), round one ended without much fuss. I like to describe the first round (of five) as the gamblers' round, where they get to decide who they would like to put their wager on. Seasoned fighters know this as well, and they don't usually present much threat to one another in the first round.
Round two began shortly and as the round progresses, a feeling of uneasiness set in with both Chocolate and me. Thanonchanok was controlling the pace, the rhythm and the tempo of the fight, and was manipulating Sylvie into her orthodox "zone". It was tough to watch because I could see that Sylvie was getting confused with the exact selection and utilisation of tools against Thanonchanok, and to have each choice of technique/skill to be met with an equally nullifying effort from Thanonchanok.
As the rounds went on, Thanonchanok's finesse and style became more apparent and she settled into a very comfortable control of the fight. It was a cruel scene, Sylvie trying out options to little effect and her corner blasting all sorts of instructions to her, but mostly to no avail. Thanonchanok was THAT good.
But all fighters have weaknesses. And in the heat of things, I too started yelling out to Sylvie, in hope that she'll hear me. Thanonchanok has a very strong right, and when she leads into the clinch, her almost always preferred position is to use that strong right arm to lock and bend her opponent in a leftwards position, thus exposing her right side.
Chocolate and I yelled furiously to Sylvie, "LEFT KNEE! LEFT KNEE!", absolutely sure that she'll be able to hear us. Soon enough, her corner started yelling the same ideas too. It was perhaps late into round 4 and the final round when Sylvie started to turn things around and smashed Thanonchanok with knees in the clinch.
When the final bell rang for the end of the fight, and as I watched Sylvie stand excitedly in anticipation at the red corner for the results, I knew it was a little too late. Thanonchanok had done enough to secure the win. The referee raised Thanonchanok's hand.
Perhaps it was our complacency to assume that Sylvie, after fighting 200+ fights, would take losses much lighter. And our impression of Sylvie has always been that of a "fuck it, let's go, learn, move on, let's go again.". Well, she is, and she still is, but this loss hit her.
When we walked back to the back corner of the stadium to call it a night, Sylvie was walking off to the toilets, and it was just Kevin (Sylvie's husband) there. Kevin's usually this cool chap who's pretty laid back and does all the video stuff for Sylvie. A really nice person to have a chat with, or just to throw around ideas with.
As we approached Kevin, he was packing up the straw mats and Sylvie's stuff, but tears were visible in his eyes. We were a little lost, and thought that maybe it was a lover's tiff or perhaps Sylvie was angered. We approached Kevin gingerly, and I gave him a nod, to sort of indicate weakly that "I understand...", but in truth, I didn't.
Kevin pursed his lips for a second, and said: "She didn't fight for four rounds."
Kevin's words struck me hard. In our journey for the penultimate enlightenment of Muay Thai, I forgot that Sylvie and Kevin were both also on their own journeys. Because of Sylvie's prestige in Thailand, it is easy to forget that once upon a time, both of them left behind all they've had in the United States, family, friends, jobs, etc., and YOLO-ed to Thailand in search of Muay Thai greatness. She fought as much as possible to improve and to make ends meet, and he supported her like how marriage vows should be.
With the Von Duuglas-Ittu couple, you see what dreams are really made of. It is not a search of great riches and wealth as a source of happiness, but an endless pursuit of continuance and opportunity to improve her Muay Thai wisdom.
Later that night at supper, Chocolate and I had a chat.
"We're all fighting at the same stadium, and on the same card, but we're so different."
Because both Chocolate and I know that our journey in Thailand, no matter what the end of the road may be for us, we will still go back to Singapore, back to Onyx, and life will go on as usual. But it is not the same for Sylvie and Kevin. Other than time, we haven't really given up anything to chase after the Muay Thai dream; vis-a-vis Sylvie, who has sacrificed a lot more than we will ever know.
I get a lot of boys and girls, who come up to Pi Keng, or me, asking us if they can fight, telling us they want to fight, or they want to be XYZ champion someday.
But what are you willing to sacrifice?