The town of Thamaka is small. Located in the southern most tip of Kanchanaburi Province, it possesses the stereotypical Thailand small town staples.
There is a Tesco Lotus, a 7-11 and a weekly night market. Thamaka is one of those towns that people just drive right through, but for American Muay Thai fighter Willy Whipple, Thamaka is home.
Born in Dayton Washington, Whipple made his way to Reno, Nevada, before landing in Thamaka. The son of a helicopter pilot and a nurse, Whipple made the decision to stay in Thailand and pursue his career fighting over two and a half years ago.
After several visits to the legendary Sitmonchai Gym, known for its technical brawlers like Pornsanae Sitmonchai and Thepnimit Sitmonchai, Whipple was invited to stay. Now he’s fighting regularly on Max Muay Thai in Pattaya and is taking international bouts.
Whipple is disciplined. He wakes every morning at 5:30am, long before the sun rises above the horizon he is on the road. “My run is flat and long,” he told ROUGH.
“I run by a canal. I count the bridges on the canal to measure the distance.”
Upon returning Whipple smashes pads with one of the trainers of Sitmonchai and does conditioning work with the regular strength and conditioning coach of the gym.
“I can gauge my fitness better if I have a regular regime. If I’m not fit I start at 100,then 200, then 300. I can tell when I’m fit. I’m not a knee fighter so I don’t do 500 skip knees. Instead I do three hundred sit ups cuz I get kneed a lot,” he said with a smile.
Stylistically Whipple follows the classic Sitmonchai style. He is well known for his heavy handed approach along with his smashing leg kicks.
“At first I mainly only punched,” he said. “Now I’m not afraid to throw knees, elbows and I’m kicking more. It looks easy but to progress it takes time, to not only punch and low kick. That’s my favorite it’s my style but I can do other stuff now.”
He develops as a fighter through regular competition; with only a few days off between fights Whipple generally fights every month. A well known favorite at Max Muay Thai, Whipple went on a long plateau period. He was winning as much as he was losing. The chances of him taking another defeat seemed almost inevitable. It seemed he would fall into irrelevance, just another body in the ring.
Then he turned things around. His preserverance has him on the upswing though and has won his last three fights at Max and arguably won his last bout, a tournament at the Sports Authority of Thailand.
The fight game isn’t easy. There are the tough calls and rough knocks.
“It’s hard. You have to take responsibility for how you do.” Whipple said. “You have to keep fighting and not get discouraged. No matter how dumb you are you will have to adapt and do it. You will find a way.”
Adapting as Whipple says takes time. It also takes dedication. For many making that commitment is hard. There are family ties at home that make a long term journey to Thailand difficult. There are also monetary issues, and feelings of loneliness.
“When I first moved out here I was homesick for 4-5 months. After the 6-7 month mark it just went away. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love it. It’s home. When I’m in America I feel like Thailand is home,” Whipple said.
The adjustment period is long and not something easily jumped into. There are the everyday experiences that make the cross over challenging.
“I lost my old debit card and was screwed. I was so tied to America before,” Whipple said. “Now I sold my old phone and I have a Thai bank account. Shit changes over time. The people you talk to on a daily basis changes. It’s a part of life. Things change. The people I talk to all the time are here. It’s just different.”
Gyms like Sitmonchai cater to people’s dreams of entering the ring and of fighting in Thailand but reality eventually sinks in and they must return home.
“A lot of the people coming in and out they aren’t trying to make money as a boxer. They are coming out here to escape their regular normal routine,” Whipple said. “Their escape is my regular life. That’s why I fight for basically no money. People work regular jobs and pay a lot of money to do what I do.”
Whipple is slated to go to work at Rebellion 18 against Alexi Petroulias on March 3rd in Melbourne. He’s made his way out to Australia before and is looking to impress the crowd with his improvements. His career won’t stop there though. Whipple has no plans on quitting. There is no clear end in sight.
“I don’t know where I am in my career,” he said. “Maybe I’m halfway. I hope to get good enough to fight bigger names. You always want to progress until you’re an old fuck. Muay Thai is always humbling but I do feel good. I am getting better. I am finally understanding how to do stuff. Everything is so gradual.”
Things don’t happen fast in small towns like Thamaka, Thailand or Dayton, Washington but they do happen and if you are committed enough, like Whipple that slow, gradual progress can make all the difference in the world.