In every fighter’s career there comes a time when a fight becomes so much more than a fight. When a specific matchup has the potential to define a fighter’s career. For Kulabdam, that moment had arrived.
Once a fighter reaches a certain level of status in their career the pressure begins to crystallize. Gamblers are no longer putting a few hundred Baht down, but instead utilizing the odds to make hundreds of thousands of Baht on a single match. The fighters understand what’s at stake, but are assured that a single bad performance will not break their career.
That is unless that single bad performance was on a night like this one.
After the controversy broke regarding Kulabdam’s winning of the Sports Writers Award, everyone held their breath waiting for him to fight again. Then, a re-match with Muang Thai was announced shortly after his acceptance of the award.
When the pair met last November, Muangthai put an end to Kulabdam’s dominating rise through the ranks at Lumpinee. It was a superior performance by Muangthai, leaving Kulabdam completely outclassed.
It was that very fight that tainted his record. The Muay Thai community used that performance as a key factor in their argument against his winning of Thailand’s most prestigious accolade. They protested so much, that for the first time in history, a different judges’ panel was selected. However, even when a new vote was cast, Kulabdam remained the victor.
Shrouded in controversy, the pressure was on for Kulabdam to prove himself amongst the Muay Thai elite— this was no ordinary rematch.
On a night like this, everything counts.
Hands are tapped slowly, unless in the case of southpaws, always the left first . The massage isn’t rushed, and must be done thoroughly. Just before the fight, vaseline is applied, and blessed. After the fighters have performed the wai kru, the mongol is removed by someone of significance, it’s not the job of the cornermen.
The two corner men allowed in the ring with the fighter are not just conveniently there, but have been told to be there. Even the cheering section matters, there to emphasize the triumphant blows and wave off the ruinous ones.
While Thai fighters have a great deal of experience in performing under pressure, this was a rematch of extraordinary consequences.
Ringside photographer Rob Cox was there to capture the action.
Rob Cox has been an indelible part of Muay Thai for the last two decades. His ringside photos tell the story of some of the greatest stadium bouts in the sport’s history. And now the Kiatphontip gym owner lends his vast expertise to Max Muay Thai as lead commentator.