The crowd roars as blood spills on the canvas. The referee glances at the gash on the boxer’s face and lets the fight continue. Moments pass, the cut opens, the wound widens. Blood begins to run down the face of the boxer, impairing his vision. The referee calls for a time out, and Wirot Yonglaoyoong steps up to the apron of the ring, to examine the laceration. The boxer looks at him, nods his head; he wants to fight. The blood is wiped off and the wound is inspected. Blood continues to run down the face of the boxer who remains apprehensive. Wirot waves his latex gloved hands and just like that, the fight is called off.
Wirot has been working at the action packed Max Muay Thai for over two years. He first came to Max after being approached by one of the stadium’s promoters. “I worked at Thepprasit stadium and for other local promotions,” he told TFN.
Well practiced in judging cuts and injuries, Wirot works five days a week on average at Max Muay Thai Stadium in Pattaya. During that time he presides over 35 bouts a week or 70 boxers, attending to roughly 20 boxers a week. Injuries are more common at Max because the promotion encourages the contestants to actively engage throughout the bout regardless of whether they are ahead in the scorecards or not; a drastic difference from the stadia of Bangkok where the gamblers often tell the fighters to hold back when they’re ahead. Additionally, Max offers financial incentives to the fighters for exciting performances. Fighters that get cut are awarded 500 Baht per stitch, and the fighter responsible for the gash is also compensated for his handy work.
“If is a big wound and if it is bleeding all the time the fight is stopped,” he said. “The risky part is near the eye. If the boxer has a broken nose or jaw the fight will be stopped. If the shoulder is dislocated, we stop it. If there is swelling in the nose and if there is pain, it’s stopped. If I can see bone at all or if it is severely bent, we stop it.”
The art of eight limbs, like any sport, is comprised of risk. The injuries vary; broken noses, jaws, legs, arms, etc. with cuts and knockouts being the most common. With this regularity comes another staple to stadiums in Thailand: the ringside doctor.
Muay Thai is one of the only sports where a doctor can call for a stoppage of the competition. In football, a doctor may pause the game and take the player out but they will never say, “That’s the end of the game.” A keen eye on the boxers is required to step in and make that decision. Practiced physicians walk a thin line between ensuring the pride of the fighter and the competitiveness of the sport while also preserving the boxer’s safety.
Like many Thai men Wirot is practiced in the game. “When I was seven years old I fought,” he said. “I had to stop when I was 12 because my mother wanted me to.” Now the 46 year old spends his free time in his garden in his hometown of Chonburi close to the stadium.
Wirot tends to his plants with the same dedication he tends to fighter’s cuts. The major requirement of a ringside doctor is stitching. He takes swages, needles prepacked with suture thread, and attends to a variety of wounds.
“The boxer is brought to the medical room,” he said. “We use antiseptic to clean the wound, I use gauze as well. I then inject a local anesthetic for pain relief and use nylon 5-0 for facial wounds.” Different nylon sizes are used for varying body parts. Suture used for the face is larger than that used for the skull and foot.
After the wound is injected with the local anesthetic, Wirot uses an eyed surgical needle to pull back the skin and thread the nylon through. With deft fingers, forceps and surgical scissors, Yonglaoyoong sews the flesh back together.
Wirot uses a simple interrupted stitch to close wounds. This method involves placing and tying each individual stitch. Every stitch is knotted. Words of warning are given to the boxers not to get the stitches wet. Most lacerations on the face only take a few days to heal, while others on the skull, body, and joints will take longer.
The scars of a boxer are often seen as badges of courage; well known international boxer John Wayne Parr boasts well over 300 stitches. But fact to the matter is, scars are better left unseen, as Wirot‘s stitch work proves. The tight knots are placed close together to prevent lasting cosmetic damage and lower the risk of future cuts.
When asked how to prevent cuts Yonglaoyoong minced no words. “Carelessness causes cuts and carelessness causes knockouts. At Max, the boxers just go, go, go. The cornermen will tell them to push forward but if they get careless they get knocked out,” he said.
In Yonglaoyoong’s twenty plus years as a doctor he has seen all sorts of carelessness: household injuries, traffic accidents, and now Muay Thai. Upon graduating from the Department of Naval Medicine in Bangkok, Yonglaoyoong spent several years in hospitals. He worked in the emergency rooms at the Pink Lao hospital along with the UN hospital, but it was too dull for him. The past two years at Max have proven otherwise for him.
“Hospital are not exciting. Everything is normal. Here at Max I have to look all the time. It’s dangerous for the boxers and thrilling for me,” he said.
Ultimately, it’s his passion for the sport that has him return ringside every week and stitch together busted boxers.
“I like Muay Thai,” he said.