Visiting Thailand? If you’re bopping around the Kingdom of Siam for even a short time, you’ll no doubt experience Muay Thai – the Art of the Eight Deadly Limbs. In part one of this series we told you some of the basics about Muay Thai, and now we’ll take a closer look inside the sport here.
Even though Muay Thai is an ancient art, it’s still the national sport and passion of Thailand (soccer is also increasing in popularity).If you visit a match for the first time, you’ll notice so much pomp and ritual that goes into the lead-up to a fight, including wearing sacred headbands that are supposed to strengthen and protect the fighters, and a dance-like warm up.
But the life of a Thai fighter is anything but glamorous. Although they are highly respected and even revered in Thai culture, big-money fighters who win title belts are few and far between. Instead, most professional Muay Thai fighters earn only about $100 or less per match! In semi-pro or smaller local matches, they may make 1/5th of that!
Unlike boxers and big UFC superstars that may fight twice a year, Muay Thai fighters usually fight every 3-4 weeks. Up and coming or lesser known fighters sometimes are required to fight weekly or even several times a week! So, but the time the average Muay Thai fighters is only in his mid-20s, he’s probably already had 120-150 fights under his belt.
But Muay Thai isn’t a martial art that people just consider a sport and start seriously in their teens. Instead, in Thailand, the combat sport is a way of life, with children starting serious training as young as six years old. Many of them have their first fight by eight or ten years old!
For poor children and families, it’s also a refuge from living on the streets and the only opportunity to win some money they’ll ever see. A lot of the poor kids that start professional Muay Thai training actually live right there in the gyms, sleeping on the mats and using boxing gloves as pillows!
These training centers welcome poor kids, who take them in and groom them for the chance at a winner or prize fighter emerging from the group – a great honor for that training center (and some sizable coin).
The very first Muay Thai boxing center was theSuanKhoolab School, built in 1921 right after World War I.
But the meccas of Muay Thai fighting today are Lumpinee Stadium and the newer Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok. Lumpinee is actually owned and managed by the Royal Thai Army, and the honor of fighting there is like batting cleanup at Yankee Stadium! Once you fight admirably and courageously there – win, lose, or draw – you’ve gained the whole country’s respect.
Watch a Muay Thai match – no matter if it’s in Lumpinee or the smallest village in the country – and you’ll soon see that betting on Muay Thai is almost just as heated as the matches! In fact, gambling on every match, round, exchange, and just about every other outcome of the fights is a national obsession, as well!
Enjoy your Muay Thai match!