Thai boxing ten year olds in Kho Phi Phi, Thailand

Day 25-26 – Round the World 2008

The next couple of days on Phi Phi were a pretty lazy affair, highlights being swimming around the cool little bays, eating far more food than any human needs to survive, drinking enough alchoholic liquid to threaten aforementioned survival and scoffing a few more clandestine pancakes.

On our last night on the island I was in a dilemma trying to decide whether to go to the big Muai Thai tournament that had been pretty heavily advertised around the town. The night before we had seen the little bill-board carrying cart trundling around the town blaring out suitably rocky-style music and followed by a few of the fighters in their shorts and gloves. I was pretty keen to see some real fights after the comedic amateur efforts of our first night but the entry fee was pretty steep on our tight budget and Cat wasn’t that bothered about going in any case. In the end though, Cat was feeling a little ill after our dinner that evening and just fancied a wee lie down. Being the great gentleman and caring boyfriend that I am I swiftly grabbed the opportunity to skedaddle and headed off around the big hill to the stadium after hastily (but caringly of course) tucking Cat into bed.

The stadium turned out to be suprisingly small and my cheap seats ticket bought me a really good view up on the first level, directly overlooking the ring. The venue has a capacity of probably around 500 people, with three rows of floor seats surrounding the ring and sets of stadium type seating on 3 sides. I managed to bag a seat on the fourth side which held an upper deck full of tables and chairs, and duly plonked myself down at a front row pew with my big chang on the table beside. As the place busied up a swedish couple took the seats on the other side of my table and we shared what we knew about the upcoming tournament, which is to say, not a lot. They were good fun though and we were chatting about Phi Phi when the first fighters entered the ring.

The swedes and I were slightly surprised to see a pair of kids ushered into the ring by some weathered looking old trainers. And when I say kids, I mean kids. The first pair can’t have been more than about 10 years old, but they were dressed up in the full gear – slightly gay looking luminous short-shorts (although I wouldn’t say that to some of the rock solid looking guys that came out later. Or the 10 year olds after I’d seen them fight for that matter…), disproportionatley huge boxing gloves and woven headbands. They started to go through the pretty cool looking warm-up-slash-dance in which they go through various motions in circles around each other, swinging their legs in large circles and lunging while spinning their gloves. It’s a pretty cool little introduction to the fight and no doubt based on traditional muai thai ceremonies – they hadn’t been handing out tourist guides at the door though so I just had to admire it in ignorance.

After the warm up the fighters visited the four corners in turn, offering up a prayer at each post, before removing their headbands and moving to the centre of the ring. A touch of the gloves later and they were off. I had been expecting a bit of a exhibition match with the combatants so young but they obviously start them early and seriously in Thailand because the two pre-pubescent Van Dams went at it with wince-inducing enthusiasm. I could see straight away that the fight we’d seen on our first night was definately for show as there were no wild fists and feet here, the action was much more defensive with frightening flurries of blows in between grapples and all-out wrestling.

The pair spent a lot of the match with arms around each others heads, hammering knees up into each others stomachs, sides and chins. One would occasionaly lift the other and slam their rival to the ground before being split by the referee who, by the way, was the most enthusiastic ref I’ve ever seen in my life.

As the night wore on, every time the fighters needed to be seperated, or if one figher went down and he moved to stop the other hitting them again, he wouldn’t just run inbetween, he would hurl himself between them head first, often knocking one of the fighers over, and once almost flying between the ropes to land in the crowd. Only a knee hooking over the bottom rope stopped his headlong dive into the spectator’s laps. I could only guess that it’s a pretty bad breech of the rules and/or ettiquette to hit a fighter when they’re down or falling so the refs have to be pretty pro-active about preventing it. Either that or this ref fancied himself a part of the show and wanted to display a bit of athletic prowess by leaping about like a 200 pound salmon.

Probably about half of the fights went the full distance and were judged by the outside referees but there were plenty of crowd pleasing knockouts too. Often you’d think they were pretty evenly matched, and then suddenly one guy was falling like a stricken tree. It was so quick that sometimes it was simply impossible to tell what the hell happened apart from the fact that one guy just fell flat on his back.

There was a bit secondary entertainment in the form of the local’s stand where you could see a good 200 Thais crammed into the stand opposite the entrance. They were going mental for the bouts, far more so than the westerners doing the tourist thing, and you could see them throwing money around, one pretty rotund gentleman in the middle obviously acting as unofficial bookie for the evening. During the first fight it was pretty weird watching 200 grown men baying for blood and violence from the pair of 10 year olds in the ring. The kids certainly give them it though, and from the volume of the cheers at the end they were no doubt bought a few pints of chocolate milkshake at the end.

I was disappointed when the last fight ended with a huge knockout from a middle-aged village-people looking boxer against a far younger and fitter looking fighter, and I walked out of the arena with the cheers echoing in my head. It was a good choice despite the price – where the hell else in the world could I pay to watch a pair of 10 year olds beat the crap out of each other while¬†middle aged men bet on it. Well, now that I think of it there’s this place in Fife…

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