Muay Thai comes to Seattle — NWAW’s Layup Drill columnist reviews Seattle’s first Friday Night Fight

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Sonny Singh wins by Unanimous Decision (Photo by Jason Cruz/NWAW)

A line of people waited outside the Fisher Pavilion on a Friday night in May to witness something Seattle has not seen in quite some time: Muay Thai fighting. Building on the fandom of mixed martial arts and the UFC, Muay Thai is one of the traditional martial arts from Thailand. Steeped in tradition and identified by the blunt violence of the sport, a New York-based promotions company, Friday Night Fights, hopes that Muay Thai becomes a hit in the Northwest.

Friday Night Fights brought in fighters from Canada and San Jose, Calif., as well as those from local martial arts gyms in the area. The event was far from capacity, but it brought in a smattering of Muay Thai faithfuls, and family and friends of the combatants.

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Paul Hage delivers a kick (Photo by Jason Cruz/NWAW)

“The sport of Muay Thai is reaching a sort of critical mass, and we wanted to build upon our history and standing by expanding to the West Coast,” said Justin Blair, president of Friday Night Fights.

It was apparent from sitting in the crowd that people were seeing the sport for the first time.

“They can’t do that, can they?” screamed the aunt of one of the fighters. The fighter, Paul Hage, was unintentionally kicked in the groin. Muay Thai, sometimes referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs,” involves various punches, kicks, knees, and clinching techniques to gain control of your opponent. A kick to the groin is not one of those techniques. Despite the illegal kick, Hage survived to win the bout to the chagrin of Hage’s aunt.

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Chanan Bunchaidung pre-fight (Photo by Jason Cruz/NWAW)

Muay Thai originated from an unarmed combat method used by Siamese soldiers when they lost their weapons in battle. It is claimed that the martial art dates back a thousand years.

It was a mix of tradition and the contemporary, as several of the fighters performed ceremonial dances before the fight and Thai music was played during the fight, while hip hop dominated the soundtrack for entrances and in between rounds. Some fighters wore the traditional headdress, the mongkhon, armbands, pra jiad, and shorts with Thai writing. Some fighters performed ritual dances before the fight, known as the Wai Khru Ram Muay, which is a sign of respect to their teachers and trainers.

Once the fights began, a hypnotic surge of music played over the public address system. The music, traditional Muay Thai music that is played during fights, is coupled with unpleasant slaps of human flesh as one opponent kicks the other.

The less experienced fighters on the card wore padding around their shins to protect them from injury. The more experienced fighters did not wear such protective equipment as they have conditioned their shins for the kicks and blocks. While  fighters are trained to kick with their shins to deliver the brunt of the force to their opponents, they are also trained to block an incoming kicks with their own shins.

Thus, a shin bone to shin bone block can prove to be excruciatingly painful. However, a shin bone to the thigh muscle is much more painful than one to the shin. At least that is the thinking of the training.

Although fighters are trained to condition their shins, a peek behind the black curtain, which served as the fighter’s dressing room, revealed fighters icing their shins as well as other parts of their bodies that were injured during the fights.

In one of the featured events, Sonny Singh of San Jose defeated Tacoma fighter Taki Uluiiakepa.

Unlike other fighters during the night, Singh and Uluiiakepa wrestled around on their feet for position, rather than attempting to punch and kick. At one point, the referee had to hold on to both combatants as they almost fell through the ring ropes. In the end, Singh defeated Uluiiakepa.

In the final fight of the night, Canadian fighter Chris McMillan defeated Alexksander Numoski after a spectacular head kick. McMillan’s kick displayed great flexibility, as his leg extended out and struck the temple of Numoski, which immediately sent the fighter face first to the canvas. With his equilibrium a mess, Numoski instinctively attempted to stand but wobbled toward the referee. The referee recognized that Numoski could not intelligently defend himself any longer, waved his hand in the air, shook his head, and immediately hugged Numoski. The ref’s action was part safety measure and part consolation. Holding the fighter ensured that he would not attempt a final run at his opponent. The referee’s hug acknowledged the effort and desire to continue, but Numoski would have to wait for another time.

The fights could’ve been better organized as they were delayed about a half hour for some unknown reason. Also, media had to wait in the will call line with everyone else before getting in. Notably, the will call line was much longer than the line of actual paid attendance.

In the end, the tradition of Muay Thai was very interesting as the rituals were as intriguing as the fights themselves. (end)

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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