The largest venue for Muay Thai
(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) by Benjamin Kim = The night air that hung over Bangkok was humid and thick with trapped air.
I was inside the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, the largest venue for Muay Thai. There were six matches that night but main interest, as mine, was focused on the last match. This was because it was going to be between Osvaldo Ochoab, a Portuguese and Tantawan, a local.
There was incessant chatter going on as everyone waited for the match to begin. I was told Ochoab had been learning martial arts since the age of 17. He was now 27 and in his prime. Standing at 183cm height, Ochoab was the only foreign boxer in the Muay Thai Boxing Programme that day.
He had settled in Thailand to pick up the art as much as possible. He revealed his special skill was in the use of his elbow with which he had won 57 titles already. His next step up the boxing ladder was to be a K-1 fighter. But for now his focus was the night fight of which he was very confident of winning.
There was a sudden hush as the fighters entered the ring. Ochoab made his way to the red corner, reserved for defending champions or a fighter thought to have an advantage over his opponent. So it was now clear who was the crowd favourite! Tantawan took the blue corner. There was a murmur of unrest. The crowd was getting impatient. Bookies, inevitable in any match, were busily taking bets. Tonight fight had the prize money standing at 500,000 Baht. Ochoab was already deciding how he was going to spend it; maybe a trip to Spain! Tantawan would not go home empty-handed either; he would take home about 3,000 Baht. Enough for taxi money?
The crowd began to chant. Osvo, Osvo, Osvo!?That was his first name and the crowd used it as a pet name. His second name held that of his training camp. The crowd continued calling out his name until they suddenly fell silent.
It was time for the Wai Kru ceremony. Tonight dance paid respects to His Majesty, The King. Tantawan, who had been still all this while went into an elaborate dance.
Ochoab not to be outdone put on an eloquent performance. The spectators just loved it and let the Portuguese fighter know. Ochoab was pleased. For the Thais loved and respected the King and their Wai Kru teachers and woe to anyone showing disrespect to either. He also knew there were some who by just looking at the way opponents danced the Wai Kru, who the winner would be. Already he had his name being mentioned. He certainly was going to win this fight!
As he stood ready to take on the Thai, Ochoab thought back to all the tough training he had undergone. The countless times he had
kicked down the banana trunks in his master garden. He had lost track of the period he had jumped into the river only to jump out again, his master counting without a break until he had reached a hindered. The day he was told all the trainees would be going to the sea for a swim but instead had to slap waves in front of his face so he gained a steady focus and concentration. had been tough,?Ochoab sighed, 밷ut worth it.?The roar of the crowd brought him back to earth and forced him to prepare for his first move.
He warily circled Tantawan. A sudden leap, a quick jab, a fast jump back and he had hit the Thai fighter before he knew what had hit him. The crowd shouted their approval. More lightening punches and Ochoab drew blood.
Tantawan had a slight cut on one side of his cheek. Next Ochoab did a first turn, showed his prowess in elbow hitting before kicking his opponent towards his blue corner.
There was no stopping the crowd as they screamed in excitement and asked for blood. The heat of over 2,000 bodies stifled the stadium, but no one seemed to care. They wanted to see more punches, more strikes and more kicks. It did not matter to them that it was a Thai that was being pummeled. All they wanted was hard flesh knocking down hard flesh! Tantawan did not seem to put up a fight. Instead he seemed to be just defending himself weakly.
He parried the other fighter as much as he could. The end of the first round saved him.
Physically Ochoab was taller than Tantawan, who was only 163cm high. The Portuguese had longer legs and hands to attack his opponent. The second round began and the entire crowd stood up as Ochoab hit the right spots of his opponent. Dimly he could hear his coach shout, not attack too much, you have to control your attacks, careful.?
Overconfident, Ochoab ignored his coach advice and kept on attacking. Judging from his powerful hits, everybody thought he was going to be the winner that night. The gamblers increased their bets as Ochoab relentlessly went after Tantawan. The whole stadium was in frenzy and screaming their heads off in excitement, expecting at any moment the Thai would drop on to the ring floor.
Tantawan, without anyone noticing, least of all Ochoab, now began to go into an offensive mode. He stopped avoiding his opponent punches and kicks. Instead he absorbed them as much as he could. He waited for the right opening, concentrating on finding that vital weak spot.
All it needed was one punch right at his opponent centre abdomen. In one split second he got it and gave that killer jab. Ochoab gasped for air and fell down in a heap. It was knock-out! Moments later he woke up in a daze, not believing that he had lost the match. The crowd loyalty, ever so fickle, was now singing the praises of Tantawan. In Muay Thai, as in any other sport, a winner is always honoured.
Back in his home village, Tantawan family and friends went into a tizzy as he was announced the champion. The whole village, as in countless others, has sat glued to television sets watching the boxing with bated breath. Before the night was over, there were numerous 9-year olds, all over Thailand, dreaming of becoming the country next champion Muay Thai fighter.