We took one of the death-defying tuk tuk taxis over to the Mui-Thai boxing ring and, on a tip from a local, I asked for ring-side seats. I recall the tickets were pretty pricey (insanely so by local standards), but I figure it's basically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so what the heck. And what heck it was! Upon dishing out the cash for VIP tickets, we were escorted though a private hall beneath the peasant stands and right next to the ring on folding chairs. As we sit down a pretty waitress (in no short supply in Thailand) comes by to get our order, and before long we're drinking beer and watching incredibly fast and surprisingly young boys and men beat the total shit out of each other.
Now, I really don't know much abut boxing, and especially not Mui-Thai. The full extent of my knowledge comes from my brother and I watching Bloodsport, where Van Daam takes a bizarre plot line involving broken glass being glued to his hands for a boxing match. Well, there was no broken glass on this one, but the sport was every bit as quick and brutal as in the movies.
Basically, two boxers step out into the ring and begin doing a traditional warm-up act, which involves doing high knee-stretches while walking to each of the four corners of the ring and bowing down in a quick prayer, generally finishing off with a tap or kiss on the ring's corner cushion. When all's done, this crazy band starts up with chaotic high-pitched trumpet is accompanied by hand drums and tinkering bells in a meandering, fast-paced tune that set the stage for the action to come.
With sometimes boring carefulness, the opponents approach each other and look for an opening. They can dance and weave for some time before anyone takes a strike. But when the strike comes, it's fast and excruciating. Though they wear boxing gloves, it seemed the real action came with their knees, as they'd jab a bit until they got into a close embrace, to then start pounding the other guy in his ribs one after the other. This'd be broken up by the referee, and they'd step back, and start the routine over. Over time, they'd be limping or bruised, or sometimes just gushing blood all down their zero-fat, pure muscle frames.
Normally, I think the whole thing would be frankly disgusting. But there was one redeeming quality to the sport that made it especially interesting: in every match I saw, you could just tell the people up there were having the times of their lives. Before the match they'd shake hands (or whatever you do with boxing gloves), after they'd congratulate each other, and - incredibly - even during the match when someone took an especially good hit, he'd actually congratulate the other for giving it. It was like they were just playing some game at lunch time, despite the incredible pain they must be enduring. And if I could believe this beaten, bloody, and (at times) unconscious person was actually enjoying what he was doing, it made it somewhat acceptable to enjoy watching him do it.