Through observation I’ve deduced that the typical post-college graduate, in saying he wants to travel the world, generally chooses Southern Asia as a destination more often than any other place. It’s a reasonable choice – a gratifying and healthy meal can be easily acquired at a fraction of the cost, a living situation can be found for pennies, and the untouched habitats are unbelievable. Perhaps, at the price, safety and quality will be compromised, but unless you’re addicted to hard drugs, Southern Asia allows any young kid to live out their dream.
This entry shouldn’t be read as a showcase on the peculiarities in Thai culture, and I don’t intend to write it as such. Yet, the pig face pizzas, the red light shows, and everything I encountered in Thailand are indeed peculiar even from my tainted American eyes. I’m not going to deny, however, that others have better stories than I do. But then again, I didn’t go to get drunk and lose myself in the madness. I went to fight. I just had to get out of Taiwan first.
The first half of our voyage from the U.S. to Thailand consisted of sixteen hours of painful engine drones and atrocious space limitations into Taiwan. The second half consisted of a sixty hour layover in Taiwan. In what was conceivably the most peaceful protest known to man, the denizens of the Land of Smiles decided to gather around airports in political protest, preventing all flights from getting in (although later we find out 18 people are killed in a struggle with law enforcement). After a nearly six hours of baggage cart races up and down the aisles with Jake inside Taiwan’s security deficient airport, the airline finally found a vacant hotel for us to stay for the night.
The lobby of the hotel, decorated with Shining-esque red lampshades, emits an ominous red glow that most likely scared the former patrons away. The rooms have a similar unnaturalness to them, but given our situation, we need to take what we’ve got. Bryce fights for the title in five days. Tizoc fights in six. Mike, Jake, Jordan, and I fight in a week. And here we are, in a desolate corner of Taiwan, in a haunted hotel. I’m feeling ready.
That now familiar tone of the promoter echoes down the hall, making its way through the dense air of moans and groans. As we track behind Tizoc (who’s remained silent the whole time), the hallway has been nearly evacuated except those who had lost their fights. The medics tend to them with rudimentary medical supplies. Menthol still burns through my nose.
Tizoc fumbles into the ring, which looks especially awkward considering the continued confidence in his strut. And that’s how the pre-fight is always like – you tend to lose yourself in something that’s not fear or nerves but yourself. Small mistakes like that don’t matter. The crowd and the noise disappear from the background. On the other side of the ring is Jordan’s initial opponent. Whatever poise/ arrogance/ etc. that he exhibited yesterday has vanished.
The fight lasts a minute and a half. After a minute of no action from either fighter, Tizoc lands a few perfect hits, and it ends. But the celebration is deafening. Tizoc celebrates by hugging Bryce and jumping on the ring before checking on his opponent who’s been out the whole time. It calms him down a bit, and by the time he leaves the ring, Tizoc is back to his solemn self, quietly walking back to our dark little corner to get the gloves taken off.
And then it happens.
As Tizoc sits there getting the tape cut from his hands, a teardrop lands on the metal blade of the scissors. He’s crying. This entire trip, the journey to get here, the daily devotion for three years…it all flows out. He sits quietly, his shoulders hiccuping up and down. I finish cutting up, then leave when he calls his girlfriend.
Everyone wants to talk to us - they want to pay for our food and promise room and board the next fight. The fighting world works in your favor once you prove yourself, but of course, all of us have agreed on the incompetence of this organization. Ultimately, we never even got any of the things they promised us for that trip. To close off the night, we meet up with Andy and Jeremy to grab a few poorly mixed drinks on the upper deck before heading out. Liquor stores close at ten (damn it Texas), giving us less than an hour.
We step out with all of your supplies, and it’s perfect outside.
The gentle snowfall had evolved into a blizzard at some point in the night while we dealt with our own problems in the fighting hall. It covered every dirty bit of grey and black asphalt in pristine white snow, transforming Texas into something innocent – something its not. By the time we get home, snowballs intrigue us more than alcohol. Thankfully, my would-be opponent had enough shots to go around for his team and ours. We watch the fights Andy and Jeremy record until five in the morning, walk through the snow to a neighboring Denny’s (we didn’t care what we ate at that point) then drifted off into a deep sleep.
Most of the snow melts by morning except for the disgusting remains of gray slush. We stay one more day to train at a Saekson’s local gym (although none of us have enough energy to do much) and eat at the Souper! Salad! one final time. We leave that night. The van ride back, considering its pitch black the entire way, is uneventful except for a drunk driver that nearly drives into a ditch. Five minutes later, a cop pulls him over.
As the sun rises behind us, we elude its stretching rays into California, and make it into San Diego by noon. Bryce and Tizoc remind us that training begins on Monday, and I’m reminded that I have schoolwork to finish. Jordan hits on a girl with fake boobs at the gas station we carpooled from, while Jake and Elwood make some comment that results in them being called gay. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
The weigh-ins is a disarrayed watering hole of fighters with their chests out bragging about how low their heart rate is. My opponent, a short stocky black kid with a Mike Tyson lisp, comes up and asks me about my fight record. I tell him it’s my first fight then he tells me he’s knocked out two opponents then got choked out by one. That nigga jiu-jitsued me bro. I hate that shit. Well, that could help me in my fight. We all make weight and head back to the motel. A few cockroaches skittle across the room. It didn’t matter. I moved the bible and no smoking sign on the bed stand to the drawer, take my watch off and fall asleep.
Someone knocks on my door at around ten, rattling the whole room. It’s my opponent: Dude, fights cancelled bro.In some strange way,he looks relieved, but I probably did too. Yet, this was two months of sobriety, two months of severe devotion to my art to be taken down by some one guy’s decision. It turns out, like all brash, money-driven ideas, the combination of poor management and financial problems led the organization to drop two fights – mine being one of them. The other had been my teammate Jake’s. Two months of preparation dismissed in a single second by a short exchange of words.
We all take a silent ride to the stadium – Bryce, Jake, and I without fights, Andy and Jeremy videotaping, Jordan and Tizoc in the back. No awkwardness, just silence. There’s that pre-fight tension I had felt before in Thailand. And in this strange moment, out of instinct, Jeremy puts on some of his ambient semi-heavy metal music filling that silence with a beautiful drone – almost as if we were meditating in some Buddhist monastery. Then a snowflake hits the windshield, and everything in that moment is so perfectly synced up that none of us dares to say anything. As we later find out, snow hadn’t hit Plano in over twenty years. No one talks until we reach the back room.
The burning smell of menthol lingers in the air, and the promoter pushes us to the back corner where we walk past the other heavily inked fighters. It’s like walking through a prison ward. We get to our cramped, darkly lit 4x4 space. Tizoc and Jordan don’t have fights till the very end, which is perfect, since none of us realized hand-wrapping supplies weren’t part of the contract. So Jake and I gather the leftover scraps from the fighters besides us who nod us away with dirty looks. We walk by Jordan’s opponent calling us unprofessional. The other fighters smirk. Every one is every one’s enemy until the fights finish.
At the end of each fight, someone shouts the results down the hallway, which resonates against the walls before reaching us at the end. Five T/KOs, three submissions, and three decisions so far. Finally the promoter calls Jordan over in that condescending tone of his. Jake sticks around with Tizoc, while the rest of us strut over to ringside. I catch a glimpse of my opponent in the crowd, drinking a beer, and waving at me. He’s a pretty nice guy after all.
Jordan’s opponent is a skinny white guy who would fit better in hipster attire than Muay Thai shorts, which is strange, because it was a big black dude the day before. And as the appearances would suggest, the fight ends in seven seconds. Jordan knocks him out with two jabs. Afterwards, he runs through to the back room where the other fighters (now that Jordan proved himself) congratulate him. He freaks out and tries to dump some of the post-fight adrenaline onto Tizoc. But he doesn’t say anything; he doesn’t even make eye contact. He’s 30 now, an age some fighters even retire, but he’s been training for this. It’s important to him. And we all know that.