Muay Thai is today an international sport. The Science of 8 Limbs is growing at an uneven rate with some countries, like Australia, England and France surging forward at a much faster speed than other countries such as America.
With the sport rooted in its home of Thailand, many foreign fighters make the journey out to the Land of Smiles to pursue and develop their career. There are several reasons for them to do so.
First Thailand has more fights. As every good boxer knows experience is one of the keys to success. Second it is relatively affordable. Flying in from the Western world and staying in Thailand is something that one can do for a few months, to a year or so if you’ve saved enough cash. Thirdly, because the pool of talent is big and because of the economics of the sport, fighters can train twice a day and massively increase their skill set training with other full time fighters.
The sport of Muay Thai in Thailand is a business. This is evident in the ranking of fighters according to their purse size, or ka dtua. Fighters with a higher purse are deemed better and the level of skill, technique, etc. usually corresponds to the purse size. You can break down the regions and career trajectory of a Muay Thai fighter according to where they are fighting and the development of their purse size.
Isaan and the Temple fights
Most Thai boxers in Thailand begin their careers as untrained fighters at local shows. They will get approximately 300 baht for getting into the ring and duking it out. Many foreign fighters skip this necessary stage of development in their fight career. These low level shows, while not monetarily valuable, create a base of experience for a boxer which is important to fall back on.
Foreigners fighting in corn fields will be lucky to get more than a few thousand baht for their performances. Match ups for these fights will be based on “weigh-ins” where people are eyed up and down and then matched up. Even high level fighters like Saenchai and Buakaw started off at these low level fights.
Most foreign fighters have their first fight at small but tourist friendly stadium such as Bangla in Phuket, Asiatique, or a variety of small stadiums in Chang Mai. These bouts pay slightly more than Isaan but will still include a variety of fighters. Some of the Thais that have bouts there will be regulars who make a living off fighting, they won’t be giving it their all but will do enough to win on points, or to put on a good show. Others will be fighters looking to earn some extra drinking money for the night.
Once a fighter has built up their name they can finally start making some real money. It’s a long uphill battle to get decent money at the stadiums though. Most fighters will start off at approximately 6,000 baht with a win increasing their purse by 2,000 baht. Two losses in a row will see a deduction. While fighting at a major stadium like Lumpinee or Rajadamnern is certainly something to check off one’s life bucket list, it doesn’t mean one fought a high level opponent and these stadiums are looking to fill cards just as much as others.
STAYING IN THAILAND IS SOMETHING ONE CAN DO FOR A FEW MONTHS TO A YEAR IF YOU’VE SAVED ENOUGH CASH.
Getting good fights at the main stadiums also heavily relies on one’s connections. The highest ranked fighters are the muay saan, boxers that make 100,000 baht or more per fight which is roughly $3,000 before deductions. A good foreign stadium fighter will have approximately 60+ fights under the belt already before beginning to hit the real money.
Female boxers will be able to gain experience in Thailand but the good fight opportunities are overseas. Because of gender dynamics in Thailand most Thai female fighters rarely become more than mediocre. This may change in the future though with female boxers like Nong Rose fighting at Rajadamnern regularly as she may open the circuit in Thailand for more women fighters.
The road to the top tier of fighting is long and requires a lot of time and monetary investment and like everything there is always a bit of luck involved. When reduced to economic imperatives fighting is no way to make a living, but who wants to merely survive these days?