I saw this briefly on one of those things you’re supposed to do in Thailand but it was number 10 or 15 on the list, so it wasn’t necessarily a high priority. When I landed in Chiang Mai, the airport had a massive ad saying the local university had a Muay Thai competition lasting from exactly when I landed to a day or so after I left Thailand. It’s essentially boxing that uses the fists, elbows, shins and feet, and is more hugging than normal boxing, but less than Mayweather-Pacquiao. I never got to it in Chiang Mai (I wasn’t there that long in all fairness) but in Bangkok I was told every Wednesday night at the main stadium they host a big event. So sure enough, I headed over there.
The outside of the stadium was pretty packed, and after grabbing some street food (seemed to taste better than most restaurants’ if I do say so myself) I tried to buy a ticket. It was $30 for the cheap seats, and about $65 for ring side. I couldn’t imagine the stadium was large enough to warrant a ticket that expensive, and even after the saleswoman pleaded for me to buy an expensive one because “it was standing room only” I said screw it. It wasn’t “standing room only” at all. You could easily find space and sit. So there I was in the crowd of old Thai men screaming and shouting from a caged upper tier, down at young Thai men kicking each other in a ring.
Every so often if something somewhat major happened the men would erupt and start gesticulating and motioning to others that they wanted to bet. Esoteric hand gestures hid the specifics from me, but their body language was revealing. If the red fighter got a good kick in, one of the gambler’s eyes would light up, meaning he was all-in for him, and after 20 people would all make the same gesture and no one would bet back, you know that the crowd gave up on the poor blue fighter. I have to say, this was genuinely one of the loudest sporting events I’ve been to. That area was absolutely rocking on certain occasions.
They bow or wai in the boxing ring as well. Before the bout, there’s a pre-match ritual of dancing and swaying and presumably displays of respect. They also go to all four corners and bow. And after the match, after running around and smacking each other in the shins and face, the winner must go over to the poor loser and bow with the gloves on, because of course.
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