I had been watching Senrak cut weight for 4 days now. It was painful. He didn’t have that much weight to cut it was more so the way in which he was doing it; run, sweat suit, repeat. The weather at this particular time was also quite vehement; not such much the heat but the humidity that left you feeling sticky tired all day long. After training he would then replenish his body with steamed fish, som tam, and Big Boy syrup— the red stuff. At this time Martial Law had already been declared in Thailand.
Today was Thursday the 22nd; Senrak and Mr. Dit were to head off to Bangkok on Friday to make it in time for the Saturday morning weigh in a 6AM. Then it happened when we were doing our sit-ups; a coup d’état was declared in Thailand and a national wide curfew was decreed. The 2007 constitution was suspended, all TV and radio programs were blocked, demonstrations forbidden and schools across the country were ordered to close from the 23rd to the 25th. Shortly after I got home Mr. Dit called to say that Senrak’s fight had now been officially canceled and that he would most likely be fighting next Saturday.
The village was quiet as always, only the sounds of motorcycles racing back and forth through the dirt roads could be heard, along with the crickets and frogs in the fields. Boom’s Dad said nothing, Boom said nothing, and so I just went to bed. At only 29 years of age Boom has lived through military dictatorship, three coup d’états (including this most recent) and one faltered coup attempt. For many people in Thailand this was seen as a very violent action in a so-called bloodless coup, but it for just as many there was a sense of relief when the military took over. For others, like the villagers here it was more a state of exhaustion at the whole political process them to ask ‘why are we here yet again?’ As it stands now, Thailand is still very much a divided country.
As the schools were closed I didn’t have to go to work that day and managed an extra hour of much needed sleep but was woken by my daughter’s complaints that she couldn’t watch her morning cartoons. I had known that Thai TV had been blocked but wasn’t aware of the extent. All of our channels, including English only cartoon channel, Disney Jr. were blocked and replaced by the National Peace and Ordering Maintaining Council who aired only military approved announcements.
Once back at the gym I learned that local fights on both Saturday and Sunday were cancelled due to the curfew. On both those shows not only did we have fighters fighting, but the promoters were also renting our ring, which meant the gym was out of a lot of expended income.
It takes a lot to run a gym. We are responsible for not only a lot of people, but a lot of children too. Our gym generally takes forty percent of the fighter’s purse; this money goes to feeding the fighters three times a day, vitamins (yes, we buy our fighters vitamins), buying soap and laundry detergent, paying for electricity etc. It is pretty much like running a giant household. We then give the fighters (depending on their age) a small amount of their allocated sixty percent to spend and try to save the rest for them for times when they are not fighting, injured, or when their families need it. Fighting however doesn’t come close to paying the bills so Mr. Dit also works as a promoter and has a ring he rents out frequently to help with the extensive costs involved with running a gym. By doing this, he is almost always able to break even but has yet to actually make any money yet.
By this time promoters were scrambling to move their fights into the daytime, but as anyone was has managed any sort of event a sudden time change like this is no easy feat. Some promoters managed to do it where as others had to cancel their event. Other issues arose as the schedules in Bangkok changed. Senrak was set to fight in the Thai Insurance Tournament at Lumpini on the 24th and then a big fight in Na Chuek, Mahasarakham province on the 1st of June. However, with his Lumpini fight tentatively being moved to the 31st Mr. Dit had to pull him out not actually knowing if either fight would even go through. For the local promoters in Issan, a lot of them lost their main event attractions.
We were able to rent out our ring and have out fighters compete on both the 30th and 1st but not without difficulty. I had arranged for a good friend and photographer to come up and shoot the fights on the 1st before he was to head back to Bangkok that same day however when the curfew changed on the 28th so did the time of the fights. They moved the fights from 11AM to 5PM meaning that he would not be able to shoot the fights and make it back to Bangkok that same day well still adhering to the new curfew.
On the 30th we sent four fighters to Prayak, Mahasarakham to compete. When we arrived at the venue; a temple fair celebration held in honor of the head monk of the temple, we learned that there would be over thirty fights! We arrived around 10AM and luckily enough the fights went on until 9PM— the photographer was nice enough after travel all day to Buriram only to jump back in the car and head off to Mahasarakham Province to take photos of the fights. People that day were so eager to get a fight that a few were matched up without purse, instead gambling what they had hoping to come back not only victorious but ahead financially too.
Senrak ended up fighting at Lumpini on the 31st but nothing was officially confirmed until the after the morning weigh in that happened three hours late. This meant that he had to cut weight on two separate occasions and maintain high intensity training for an extra week. Needless to say his performance was affected especially for a fighter who had to travel such a long way from the provinces.
It has been a few weeks now and things are slowly starting to get back to normal. I was scheduled to fight on the 7th in Mahasarakham as well but the military denied the promoter a gambling permit and in Issan if there is no gambling there are no fights. I managed to get a fight for a different promoter on the 14th but overall things have really slowed down. It appears that for those hopping to promote fights the application process has become much more selective for the time being.
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 .