Not all fighters fight as often as they would like to. Sometimes, the business of fighting is more about waiting. You can be fit and ready, training full time but end up waiting for months at a time for an opportunity to materialise.
I have been active and fight ready for more than eight years now, but have not yet had my thirty-fifth fight. Getting most of those 34 fights to go ahead has been arduous, even with the support of excellent managers. There can be a few reasons for fighter inactivity; weight class, gender, experience level, and the frequency of fight promotions would rank among the most common causes.
A fighter who falls outside of the populous weight classes for his or her gender will typical accrue fewer fights across their career than fighters within more populous weight classes. This also varies between countries. A 48kg female fighter may struggle to be matched in Australia, but will find matches in Thailand where women generally weigh less than their western counterparts.
Females generally find it harder to find fight opportunities. Fighting is a male dominated sport, and participation levels in professional Muay Thai in Thailand – the mother country of Muay Thai- are heavily influenced by gambler demand and promoter interest. It is males who supply the fighter ranks of the great Bangkok stadiums: Lumpinee, Rajadamnern, Channel 7, and Omnoi.
According to Frances Watthanaya, former fighter who runs a not-for-profit gym in Isaan, there is less demand for female fighting amongst gambling circles in female friendly fighting stadiums. This is not because female fighting isn’t spectacular, but because gamblers are less familiar with the individual female fighters due to their comparative inactivity with their male counterparts. Being less familiar, means less confidence when putting down large sums of money.
Inactivity is due to lack of opponents. In turn, infrequency of fighting leads many fighters to divide their energies between professional fighting and alternative sources of income, further weakening the ranks of female fighters.
Having said that, there are female fighters who have illustrious fight careers. They too, however, reach a glass ceiling when they have achieved levels of greatness that make it difficult for them to find fighters who can match them at their level.
Lommanee Wor. Santai, who boasts a fight career of over 200 fights, recently reached a point where nobody would fight her. She has fought the famous Loma Lookboonmee five times already, and was facing premature retirement due to lack of opponents. Fortunately, her prospects changed when she was offered new management who sought overseas opportunities for her. She’s recently been active in China fighting outside of the Muay Thai discipline and 4kg above her normal fight weight.
Male fighters can also suffer from lack of fight opportunities. In Australia where professional fighters train in the hours between the end of their full time jobs and sleeping, there are no Muay Thai stadiums. There are no stadiums even in Australia, and in the large city of Melbourne there are perhaps nine professional shows per year. Those shows are at venues hired for solely for the evening, and Muay Thai often shares the event with other disciplines such as Kickboxing.
This is a stark contrast to Bangkok where stadiums featuring exclusively Muay Thai function multiple times a week. Possibly the most active stadium the world, Max Muay Thai, currently offers nine professional shows a week, every week. They however only book male fighters.
Outside of Thailand, the battle to be matched often comes down to sheer lack of promotions, where male and female fighters alike suffer from lack of fight opportunity.
Alex Ilijoski who recently contested the 69.8kg WMC Australian title in Melbourne struggles to find matches. Early in his career he was out for months due to injury, and he then spent more than 12 months seeking a come-back fight.
“The promoters didn’t know who I was, and they probably didn’t see any point finding a match for me as I’d only had five fights,” Ilijoski tells ROUGH.
Four years later, Alex has overcome the odds and accrued more than twenty fights, but struggles again to find matches due to lack of similarly experienced fighters.
Domenic Leone, a gym manager in Melbourne is frustrated by the lack of co-ordination between promoters. He feels that promoters should work together in order to spread out the shows to give fighters and gyms the opportunity to support all the shows. The pool of fighters and the fan base supporting them is simply not big enough for promoters to go into competition with each other.
According to Leone, there also needs to be more reciprocity between interstate promoters bringing in fighters from different cities to fight the local fighters.
“When there are large gaps between fight shows, then there’s a gap in fighter’s preparation, their motivation, and their confidence. Fighters need to be active to be at their best,” Leone said.
“The fight schedule needs to be full so that we can see the best of the talent we have in Melbourne and Australia.”
I continue to train, and my managers continue to look for fight opportunities. I am fortunate to be connected with excellent trainers, managers and sparring partners who help keep the passion alive.
However, the struggle to find matches has always been deeply frustrating, and the joys of learning the intricacies of Muay Thai can never quite make up for the disproportionate amount of time I spend training compared with fighting.