“Tee! Tee! Tee!” yelled the crowd in unison every time their favourite fighter landed a successful knee. When their fighter landed a powerful kick, a chorus of “Ohay!” erupted across the stands. The punters in the audience were on their feet yelling and waving their arms. With these vigorous hand gestures they placed and updated bets as the fight unfolded . It was Christmas day in Bangkok and we were watching the main event at the Rajadamnern Muay Thai Stadium.
Taking Down the Champion
At first the reigning champion, his bright red shorts emblazoned with 'Merry Christmas', was the firm favourite. As the rounds continued however, opinion swayed towards the blue corner as the contender proved the quality of his Muay Thai. In a dramatic upset, the contender threw the champion to the floor with a smooth leg sweep. The crowd exploded with a flurry of frantic yelling and even more frantic gestures. Now the tables had turned, those with faith in the contender exclaimed every strike with renewed enthusiasm.
Rajadamnern Muay Thai Stadium
How Traditional Is Muay Thai?
We had heard that much like Sumo wrestling, Muay Thai was an ancient sport with many important traditions. As we took our seats however, the stadium looked like any other boxing venue. The brightly lit ring decorated in Thailand's colours of red, white and blue dominated the centre. This was surrounded by tiers of seating, with separate areas designated for foreigners. In the build up to the first bout, the fighters appeared in gaudy robes, escorted by their corner teams.
It was only after the fighters entered the ring that the deep rooted cultural traditions of Muay Thai became apparent. Each wore a colourful headdress and a garland of flowers to enter the ring and perform the pre-fight ritual. After 'sealing the ring' with a prayer in every corner to banish evil spirits, the fighters began their wai khru. This ritual dance is a mark of respect to the fighter's gym, coaches and family. It's a reminder that many people helped the fighter get to where they are. The wai khru also helps the fighters prepare mentally and physically for the fight.
After the wai khru, the fighters returned to their respective corners where their coaches had laid out a shallow tin bath. Each fighter stood in their bath as their coach removed the headdress and flowers. The corner team then squirted their fighter with water and scrubbed them down. After some last minute stretching, they were ready to begin. As the fighters squared off, the support team removed the baths and vacuumed up any excess water.
What Is Muay Thai All About?
Far from the evasive style of western boxing where avoiding strikes is essential, Muay Thai is based on power and confidence. Showing you can take a hit and keep fighting is as important as blocking or dodging. The first round of each fight was a warm up where the fighters traded occasional relaxed kicks. This helped them to get the measure of their opponent. Later rounds were more competitive as they demonstrated how much they could dish out and how much they could take. The Thai boxers all worked hard to gain the upper hand, some achieving that all important knockout.
Music is another unique feature of Muay Thai. During the wai khru ritual the traditional Sarama music was very slow and dignified. The tempo increased as the fight started, bringing an extra dimension of excitement to the atmosphere in the stadium. As it was Christmas Day, some seasonal favourites, including Jingle Bells, were added to the usual repertoire.
Tips For Watching Muay Thai
Our fight night consisted of 9 fights. The bouts built up towards the 7th fight which was the main event. The last few fights were less dramatic and featured university students and younger kids, still developing their Muay Thai careers. Most of the local spectators left after the 7th fight. This pattern is fairly standard so make sure you get there in good time to see the best matches.
At Rajadamnern Stadium there is an area designated for foreign spectators. Most foreigners tend to stay seated during the fights whereas the locals prefer to stand, wave frantically at the bookies and yell. This really adds to the atmosphere but if you join the locals you'll have to stand if you want to see anything.
Rajadamnern Stadium does not allow food and drinks to be brought in from outside. Drinks and snacks are available for purchase inside the stadium. If you get there early, someone may serve you from the comfort of your seat.
Where To Watch Muay Thai in Bangkok
There are several stadiums in Bangkok that host regular Muay Thai events. The biggest and most well known are Rajadamnern Stadium and Lumpinee Stadium.
We visited Rajadamnern Stadium, which is more centrally located. You can book tickets through the stadium's website. Exchange your printed booking confirmation for tickets on the night.