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Ready to rumble

By Chindawan Singkonsin
29 August 2006 17:13
Women are stepping into the Muay Thai ring in greater numbers than ever. And thanks to the cute tops they wear, there’s no shortage of spectators.

Gone are the days when Thai kick-boxing was considered purely a man’s domain. Today, more women than ever are putting on the gloves to train in the art of Muay Thai, some of them going on to become professional fighters.

Although the trend was triggered a couple of years ago, the popularity increased dramatically late last year when boxing arenas began to organize female kick-boxing events. And this desire to fight is not limited to Thai females; girls from around the world are traveling here to learn the Thai martial art from the best.

“Has female kick-boxing been going on for a long time? Yes, it has. But it wasn’t so popular because there were no arenas for women to compete in,” says Priyakorn Rattanasuban, vice president of Wansongchai, the first boxing promoter to organize women’s kick-boxing matches.

The company held the first women’s Muay Thai event on Mother’s Day (August 12) 2004, but it was not well-received as there were no sponsors interested in supporting the matches.

“From then, we had a chance to organize a female kick-boxing event again on Mother’s Day last year. And we promoted the matches via commercial spots on TV and radio. We also informed boxing camps that they could send female boxers to us as one way to promote their camps. The feedback we got was much better than we expected. Several hundred female boxers turned up but we could only organize 50 matches at the most,” Priyakorn says.

Since then, women’s Muay Thai has gained widespread popularity and these days every male kick-boxing event features at least one female fight as an event opener.

“This year on Mother’s Day, female kick-boxing was a complete hit. After the matches were over, promoters came to book female boxers for new matches nationwide. At the same time, the media turned their interests to female boxers who were busy giving interviews,” she says.

The path to becoming a boxer isn’t easy. Most of the women begin training around the age of 10, some of them in high school. They have to practice just as hard as men do, up to four hours a day, to keep their bodies fit and hone their techniques.

“Petchyoo Sitkruadul” – real name Ratree Krongkapt – is a pretty 18-year-old Muay Thai fighter. She says she started learning Muay Thai when she was in grade 12, with her gym teacher who owns a boxing camp in Phayao province. Her boxing record grew so impressive that many universities offered her athletic scholarships. She is currently studying at Siam University, where she continues to box regularly.

“At first I played basketball. But then my gym teacher trained me in kick-boxing. After two or three days of training, he sent me to compete in my first match, in which I got hurt a lot. But I wasn’t afraid of the pain and I continued to practice kick-boxing,” Petchyoo says.

So far, she has been in 23 matches. Every morning, before and after school, she trains to get her body ready for the next one.

“At first I didn’t think I’d take it seriously. But as time went on, I grew to really like it. Sometimes my eyes were bruised, sometimes my legs. But I never thought of giving it up. I wasn’t afraid of losing my beauty,” she says.

Some women kick-boxers are trained with tears, like Jaroon “Krayangkao” Lokruam, a 15-year-old from Ratchaburi province who began to train in Muay Thai at a young age in her uncle’s boxing camp. She has fought in 14 matches and won 11 of them.

“I practiced until 9pm. At first I wasn’t good at it. My uncle kicked me hard. When he saw my tears, he did it harder and I had to keep on kicking and boxing him while I was crying. But I wasn’t mad or afraid because I knew that my uncle did it because he wanted me to improve,” she says. “I like practicing with guys more than girls, because girls in the camps are my friends and I am afraid to hurt them. But with guys, I can kick as hard as I want.”

Although their training teaches them how to use a variety of Muay Thai techniques, many girls find it hard to use all of the tactics they learn in practice in the real matches.

“The match goes by very fast. As a result, it is hard to send out all that we’ve been trained. Most of the time, we kick. There is no time to think about which tactic to use. Because if for just one second you break your concentration, your opponent will fight back immediately and you could be knocked out,” says Petchyoo.

Ratree Krongkapt is an 18-year-old Muay Thai fighter.
It would be wrong to imply that most spectators enjoy watching women’s Muay Thai in appreciation of the ladies’ kick-boxing skills. It doesn’t hurt that many of these young girls are good-looking and wear colorful sleeveless shirts with pink boxing gloves, a fact promoters are unapologetic about.

“We have to admit that the charm of female kick-boxing is the beauty and cuteness of the boxers. This is a selling point. Petchyoo, for example, she looks like a celebrity. People get excited to see her in the ring,” says Priyakorn.“But we also make sure that the boxer is good at kick-boxing as their beauty is not enough. At first people kind of looked down on female kick-boxers as they thought the boxers only had the looks but not the kick. So we made sure that their camps trained them good.”

Priyakorn says that besides the good-looking girls, what the audiences like about female kick-boxing is the delicacy of the traditional dance that boxers perform as a show of respect to their Muay Thai teachers. Each female kick-boxer brings her own unique performance into the ring. Petchyoo, for example, usually wears a traditional Lanna costume while performing a northern-style dance.

“After the dance, she takes off her beautiful clothes and begins to fight, which totally changes the mood,” Priyakorn says.

The income earned by female boxers, however, is not as high as that earned by their male counterparts. Inexperienced women fighters earn about 2,000 baht a match while the popular and experienced ones can earn as much as 30,000 baht a match, says Priyakorn.

“I believe female kick-boxing will become more and more popular. As far as I can see, more promoters want to organize female matches and more audiences want to see the matches,” she says.

These days, women’s kick-boxing is also growing in popularity internationally, with many young foreign females flying to Thailand to train. The majority of them are from Japan, Germany, Australia, England and the United States.

“I like all fighting sports including taekwondo but I like Muay Thai the most since it is very hard-core and I think that is its charm,” says Papala Stankova, a health therapist from the Czech Republic who has trained in Muay Thai for five years. She is currently the women’s Muay Thai champion in the Czech Republic, where she has fought 25 matches.

Priyakorn says the next big women’s Muay Thai event will be held sometime in October. She hopes these events will encourage women who are interested in kick-boxing to go ahead with their dreams.

“I wish it could become another profession in Thailand. Some poor women could have another channel to earn a living. Kids and youth could use their income from the kick-boxing matches to further their educations.”

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