Watching a Live Muay Thai Match in Pattaya | Thailand

My first impression of the sport of Muay Thai was of a violent one where fighters battle each other almost to a pulp. No thanks to my childhood memory of watching the film ‘Kickboxer’. In the movie, Jean Claude Van Damme’s character had to go through a blood-spattered match against the villain Tong Po—to avenge his brother who was left paralyzed after an earlier fight with Po. Besides, if Boxing can kill fighters on the ring, how much more in a martial arts sport that uses fist, elbow, knee, and the legs as main weapons.

It turns out, Muay Thai is every bit but a violent sport. It is both a martial art discipline and a major part of Thailand’s cultural sphere. Known as the "art of eight limbs" because it utilizes the combined attacking power of the fists, elbows, knees and shins, Muay Thai or otherwise known as Kickboxing, has become one of the most popular form of mixed martial arts.

Even in the UFC, you will come up with a long list of names who were highly decorated Muay Thai fighters: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, Edson Barboza, Jose Aldo, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Cris "Cyborg" Justino, Jon Jones and fellow Filipino Brandon "the Truth" Vera just to name a few.

“Watching Muay Thai in Thailand”

Are the words I captioned on a photograph I posted on social media, showing me standing in front of Max Muay Thai Stadium in Pattaya. Watching this sport in this country is akin to watching cricket in India, Football in any European or South American country, Rugby in New Zealand, Sumo Wrestling in Japan and so on. 

The crowd inside the stadium isn’t filled to the rafters but the decibel level brought on by the mouthing of “oohs” and “aahs” by the spectators each time the fighters connect at each other, gives the impression of a raucous environment one might expect in such a sport of pure action.

Every match follows an animated introduction of the fighters whose profiles are displayed on a giant screen to the cheer of the crows. This is followed with the traditional ring walk over a platform leading to the ring. Wearing Muay Thai shorts, boxing gloves, and the Muay Thai signature aesthetics, the mongkhon (headband) and pra jiad (armbands), they acknowledge the crowd with a gesture of pressing both hands together, palms touching, fingers pointing upwards and a vow to the audience. 

We sat down for at least a couple of matches—with each one going the distance after 5 rounds (3 minutes per round). In those two matches, I was astounded at the realization of finally witnessing in person a competitive Muay Thai match I only see on UFC and in movies like the popular Thailand series Ong-Bak before.

Some of the striking moves the Muay Thai fighters showcased are an assortment of jabs, cross, hooks, spinning back fists, uppercuts and superman punches for the punching attack. Maximizing the use of their elbows, I saw the fighters unleashed a few moves like the elbow slash, the uppercut elbow, spinning elbow, double elbow chop and more. For kicking, there's the straight kick, roundhouse kick, diagonal kick, half-shin, half-knee kick, jump kick and more. Even the knees are used as a main weapon to inflict damage via the knee bomb, flying knee, curving knee strike to several moves involving the Foot-thrust action.

Compared to boxing and other martial arts, Muay Thai generates more body movements and uses all the limbs—except the head—in attacking the opponent.

Bloodied and unbowed, one by one the fighters exited the ring appearing every bit of a proud warrior. Cheers followed until their shadows disappear through a thick black curtain. As I come out of the stadium, I came into an understanding that Muay Thaias a martial art disciplineis more than just a contact sport that dishes a lot of hurt.