The bout begins slow. First, there is the traditional 15-minute wai khru ram muay dance, and then the fighters start to “feel each other out.”
The boxers don’t engage in the first, they don’t fight in the second. Maybe the action begins in the third, but then they clinch in the fourth and whomever is winning backs away to protect his points in the fifth while the other boxer goes wild with his hands as he tries to save the fight.
It wasn’t always like this. During Muay Thai’s golden era, in the 1990s, the five-round fight was action-packed right from the opening bell. This occurred for a variety of reasons – the pool of talent was larger as there were more high-quality fighters regularly fighting and helping their stablemates sharpen their tools. The money was better, too, making fighting a decent career choice for many young men.
GAMBLERS WANT THE FIGHTS TO START SLOW SO ODDS CAN BUILD AND THEY CAN MAKE MORE MONEY.
Now fighter purses have stagnated, the value of the baht has deflated while commodity prices have inflated. It doesn’t make as much economic sense to be a fighter. In the golden era, the larger pool of talent also increased competitiveness making the fighters have to go at it from the opening bell as every win would see their wages raise.
Gambling has also helped slow down bouts. Gamblers want the fights to start slow so odds can build and – potentially – they can make more money. Plus, gamblers have taken over many gyms and changed the way boxers fight. There is not an incentive to knock out your opponent and to fight as hard as you can when you can still win via points. Going for a knock out is too risky.
Gamblers have made it more about betting than the sport itself – something that is reflected in the way bouts are fought at the major stadiums and the tendency at times for judges to give a little “greng jai”, or consideration, for camps that have a large gambling influence.
During the golden era more average Thais enjoyed the sport. The stadiums were filled not just with gamblers but with fight fans. Stadiums weren’t economically as tied to gamblers for their gate revenues. But as Thailand developed the average fan has turned towards other sports and other forms of entertainment. Now there are iPhones, iPads and other social media distraction devices – and the opinion that Muay Thai is too slow.
Three Rounds Left
Things have started to change due to the emergence of the three-round format. It all started with the K-1 kickboxing organisation out of Japan that boosted Muay Thai superstar, Bukuaw Banchamek, to international fame. K-1 created a global fight product. From there, Thai Fight was the first of the new Muay Thai promotions to herald the death of the five-round bout. They came on the scene with better production quality and were designed specifically for TV – just like the K-1 format.
Other three-round promotions joined the fray including Max Muay Thai, MX Extreme and Super Muay Thai. These promotions offer bonuses to boxers for particularly hard-fought bouts. By creating a more action-packed bout the promotion draws more average viewers and so more advertising revenue can be generated.
The judging in three-round fights places an emphasis on continual. Ringside, you’ll have the promoters, the coaches, and the television crew inciting the fighters.
The modernization of the sport and its entry into the world market has been made possible in part because of the three-round format. But as Muay Thai grows will the death of the five-round fight also herald a death of its or should we say ‘other’? traditions.
MX Muay Xtreme has a great show lined up for Friday, 29 October with two Scotsmen set to battle it out for the 65kg MX Muay Championship. Andrew Miller beat three opponents to get to the finals while his opponent Craig Dickson beat two after a bye (given as he is a former MX champion). The winner will scoop up 250,000 baht along with a new car. Fireworks should be flying over three rounds at GMM Grammy Studios in downtown Bangkok (50 GMM Grammy PLACE, Sukhumvit 21 Rd).