I woke up this morning very excited; one because I didn’t have to go to work, and two because Mr. Dit was taking me to interview Rotduan Sit. Seeanbreeak who is a professional Muay Thai fighter that identifies as a ladyboy. I first saw them fight in March of this year, Rotduan Sit. Seeanbreeak was scheduled to fight one of our fighters Taepbundit but Taepbundit had to pull out simply because he was fighting too often and was replaced by our golden boy Senrak who is currently fighting in the Thai Insurance Tournament at Lumpini. Immediately the ring announcer began to take jabs at Rotduan but their corner, simply put, told him to shut up. I was very impressed by this because the ring announcer is a prominent gambler and also a local teacher so stepping up to him definitely took some courage.
Prior to the fight Senrak had also been taunted by his father who warned his if he lost to a ladyboy he would be walking home that night; obviously this worked because Senrak fought much more aggressively than I had ever seen him compete before. The fight went into the third round even but Senrak managed to land a few devastating kicks that ended up breaking Rotduan’s arm. Rotduan fought valiantly until the bell but it was apparent to all there that something bad had happened. In between rounds their corner decided to stop the fight and a victorious Senrak was able to pick up the 6,000 Baht [$200 USD] side bet and get a ride home from his Dad.
After the fight Rotduan hurried off home, which is very common in Issan regardless of the outcome of the fight. Fights happen so often here that many don’t care to watch. I wanted to stop and talk to them and wish them good luck but figured I would see them again soon.
The next day at the gym I asked Mr. Dit more about Rotduan and it turned out that they were much more than a local Issan fighter. Rotduan has fought multiple times on Channel 9 and was even a victim to a poisoning at the stadium. Poisonings by gamblers sadly are quite common but I was wondering if Rotduan’s status as a ladyboy had anything to do with it. I was also wondering if they were able to fight at any other stadiums like Channel 7 or Lumpini that do not allow female fighters to compete. Channel 9 however does let females fight and is recently famous for the boy versus girl matches they promoted featuring Phetjee Jaa O. Mee Khun. It was also at Channel 9 that Rotduan was offered 50,000 Baht [$1,700 USD] to take off their sports bra during the fight, but Rotduan flat out denied and said if forced, that they would not fight despite that being the equivalent in Thailand to five months of full time paid labor.
All of these thoughts and more would finally be answered today as we headed off to Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima, which is where Sit. Seeanbreeak gym is located. Once we were about 5KM from the small city, Mr. Dit called the owner of Sit. Seeanbreeak to ask the exact location of the gym at which point we were notified that Rotduan had retired. Now, I had asked Mr. Dit about a month ago to arrange this interview, and had subsequently reminded him at least once a week to make it happen; however this is Issan and I was not surprised what so ever that this interview was now not going to happen. Mr. Dit did still tried however to locate Rotduan but since he was no longer fighting, the gym owner did not know their current whereabouts.
We decided to stop for fresh coffee, which is a new trend that is emerging in Issan. Before freshly ground espresso would be near impossible to find locally but now it is slowly starting to replace the steeped Thai coffee known as gafe boran. After sitting down, Mr. Dit said that he would offer up one of our fighters to dress up as a ladyboy, particularly Lek Lai who he felt would best fit the part. We talked for awhile about getting him a sports bra, powder, and some lip stick and how that having him fight as a ladyboy might actually help his career. In the end however we gave up and settled on going to Sai Ngam, an ancient banyan tree just outside the city center.
The small city of Phimai has been inhabited since pre-historic times and is the home of the tentative UNESCO World Heritage site Prasat Hin Phimai that is a stone made temple resurrected during the Khmer Empire in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. According to the locals Sai Ngamhas been there for hundreds of years, meaning that it was not planted but grew naturally from existence. It is a single tree that covers such a stupendous area that it is believed it to be the largest in Thailand, and possibly even South East Asia. Banyan trees are also believed to be inhabited by ghosts and this particular tree is believed to inhabited by a female ghost. Therefore, as part of our visit we presented ourselves to her offering nine sticks of incense and one candle per person after which we were permitted to stick a sheet of gold onto a statue erected in her honor.
It was now time to head back to the gym, and also the time that Channel 7 started fighting. Once Mr. Dit realized this he was on his phone right away placing bets with someone who was at the stadium. He placed bets on four fighters, each the same amount. He explained to me that by placing four bets, as opposed to one or two for a higher amount, he was most likely going to break even or win some money. Mr. Dit is very knowledgeable in regards to gambling; so far I have see him win more than he has lost and when he has lost a bet it is usually a small amount.
It is very common in Muay Thai for people to become so addicted to gambling that it can ruin their lives completely and in the case of fighters forcing them into fighting far too often for far too little, or if they are at the top of their game, into throwing a fight.
In this very moment Mr. Dit received a call notifying him that one of the fighters he had placed a bet on was about to throw the fight. This particular fighter had just finished his wai kru when we got the call so Mr. Dit not only called to cancel his bet but to also alert all of his friends who might of placed their money on him as well. How they found out is anyone’s guess, but what impressed me most was that Mr. Dit was informed right away, which then made me feel like a very small [but happy] fish in a very big pond.
We arrived at the gym in time for the main event. Mr. Dit rallied me and the other fighters, most of who were still taking their afternoon naps, over to watch. It was a great fight, however this time it did not go in Mr. Dit’s favor but as per his prediction he broke even today.
After receiving a Muay Thai scholarship to train at a prominent gym in Northern Thailand, Watthanaya packed her bags at 19 leaving home with a one way ticket. She ended up however at a Bangkok street gym affiliated with Sor. Thanikul and married one of the fighters. They took off for Khorat and Watthanaya fought her way through Issan. Now, with a degree in tote, a four year old daughter, and a passion to fight again, she is back. Connect with Frances Watthanaya on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook .