This past year has been an exceptionally good year for Petchrungruang’s star fighter, 19-year-old PTT. In March he won the 26th Isuzu Tournament at Omnoi Stadium against a very experienced fellow finalist, Diesellek Pengkongprai. PTT walked away with the Isuzu Champion title belt, 1 million Baht, and a brand new Isuzu truck. By winning the tournament he was given the opportunity to fight for Thai Fight, winning his debut match against another very experienced fighter for that promotion, Payak-Samui Lukjaoparongtom. PTT was signed to Thai Fight and has gained greater visibility and reputation as he tears through his competition, his last two fights ending in very quick KO victories and winning yet another tournament for the Thai Fight title and another 1 million Baht. Two titles and two million Baht in one year. Good year.
Left and far right are the Isuzu belt and Thai Fight belt. In the middle is the Omnoi Stadium title, which PTT won a few years ago.
Tamboon, or blessing ceremonies, are special occasions but also very common in Thailand for businesses, new buildings or homes, and involve a combination of Buddhist temple practices and family/friend get-together feasting. Monks are brought in to conduct the blessing, which includes a white string spanning all through the space to be blessed. The monks all hold the string as they chant, which charges the string and the space all at once. The gym members, fighters, friends and family all sit facing the monks during the chanting. Then the monks are offered a spread of food, everyone takes part in putting the rice into the bowls so that everyone shares the merit. The monks eat and then there’s a blessing with water being sprinkled over everyone in attendance, the monks are given offerings and gifts for the temple (usually necessities like soap, toothbrushes, matches, etc. for the monks), and once the monks are headed back to the temple everyone else sits together to eat a massive array of really amazing food.
Last year Kru Nu held a blessing ceremony on his birthday, as a way to kind of “reset” the gym after a spell of bad luck. This year is a celebration of all the good luck the gym and PTT have had over the past year. This year there was a special treat of traditional Thai dancers in the small ring.
Traditional Thai dancers in the small ring (the original ring from when Kru Nu was a kid)
Traditional dancers, PTT with his 3 belts and a very proud Kru Nu
Chitert started training at Petchrungruang about a month ago. His father was a regular many years ago when the current weight room was a Snooker Club. Fast forward to now and he knew exactly where to bring his son when it was time to teach him Muay Thai.
Kru Nu has been working with Tert (for short) as the sun is setting and the gym is quieting down from all the fighters finishing up their work. By the time he gets to hit pads with Kru Nu, he has already waied to the shrine above the ring, bounced on the tire for 20 minutes, and held his fight poses for several rounds at a time. Tert does all these things with some repeated nudging from Kru Nu, but his favorite thing – and the reason he goes through all of the other parts – is hitting the pads. His face lights up when he gets to punch and kick.
Kru Nu and Tert before his fight
A month into his training Tert was scheduled to have his first fight at the bar. That sounds more sordid than it is – there is a Muay Thai ring set up in the center of a long stretch of bench-bars and many young fighters get their initial experience fighting there. The fights are akin to what in the West are called “smokers,” in that they are mostly informal and there are adjustments to the rules (usually no elbows), as well as only being 3 rounds with very long rest in between. The fights are not professional and are as “real” as any two fighters make them, but for the little kids it’s pretty indistinguishable between fighting and sparring. Kru Nu fought at the bar when he was a kid and any given night there is a reunion between numerous Pattaya gyms, bringing their young and promising students to get some ring experience. The fights aren’t paid, but the kids can walk through and get tips if they are inclined.
Kru Nu offering advice in the corner, Podee acting as the Second
These bar fights aren’t everywhere, but they aren’t entirely unique to Pattaya. Many young fighters in the provinces get the same kind of experience at temple fights, festivals and rural fight cards as the first bouts before the proper fight card begins. This is where every fighter you’ve ever admired – Buakaw, Saenchai, Samart, Pornsanae, at al – they all started like this. Tert put forth a valiant effort in his fight against a slightly more experienced boy. There was a great deal of support from the Petchrungruang gym, which had two fighters that night, and it’s a great opportunity for team building, practicing how to coach and be coached in the corner, and get used to the often disorganized and very long experiences of fight nights. Tert’s fight ended in a draw and he’s scheduled to fight again in 11 days. One month of training, about to have two fights already. This is the life of a nakmuay.