Bangkok is the hub of Muay Thai, inside the walls of the most well known arenas in Thailand: the Lumpinee Stadium and Rajadamnern stadium.
I could not leave Bangkok without visiting these two stadiums. Both hosting several fights each week. They are also home to Muay Thai stores where I felt like a kid in a sweet shop and had to buy some new gear! Other than seeing some very fit, ripped guys coated in Thai Oil, I really had it in my head if I wanted to see the best Muay Thai. There would be a good chance of seeing it here.
The original Lumpinee Stadium was built in 1956. Before the stadiums completion, the Rajadamnern Stadium was the only other Muay Thai venue in Bangkok, so athletes had long waits between fights. Lumpinee stadium was established to protect Muay Thai and to enable athletes to compete in more fights.
The stadium was also built to improve the chance of success for classical boxers in international competition, for example at the Olympics and bringing honour to Thailand. The Stadium is controlled by the Royal Thai Army and is also used for military events. In the past it was also used to hold events to determine delegation of ranks. Whoever came out on top was the one who obtained the position in the army.
At the moment, there are 11 promoters with responsibility for bringing fighters to challenge for the titles. The rules are the same as in Rajadamnern with the boxers having to weigh more than 100lbs ( 45.4 kgs ), be aged over 15 years and there cannot be more than a 5 lb weight difference between the boxers. Thai fighters dream of achieving the prestigious rank of “Lumpinee Champion,” a title that only recently became possible for westerners with the first non-Thai fighter , Damien Alamos, winning a 140 lbs title in 2012.
The Lumpinee Stadium relocated in February 2014. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated on many local maps. So we ended up walking around Lumpinee Park for a while looking lost. Unfortunately they are 30km from each other. Fortunately it cost us about 40BHT/76p via taxi to get there (I think that included the tip).
We decided to shell out for the most expensive ringside tickets at 2,000THB/£37, and our tour guide helped ensure that besides getting ringside seats, we got put right up front in the first row, so we were really up close and personal with the action. Being right up front means the only guy who might block you is the referee, and that when they start punching on your side of the ring, all that sweat you see flying… flies right on to you!
The evening kicked off with a display of patriotism. Everyone stands and faces the portrait of the King and Queen, surrounded by the Thai flags. The National Anthem plays. Then the entire stadium shows respect to the Royal Shrine before a drape is lowered over it.
One thing that struck me here is that not only are women not allowed to fight here, they aren’t even allowed to ‘touch’ the ring. A sign reading “Ladies please don’t touch the stage” sits visible on the side of the ring. I later found out this is due to tradition.
This stadium was in existence before the Lumpinee Stadium. It was completed when World War II ended when construction supplies were more accessible again. The first boxing match was held 23rd December 1945. The original stadium was an open-air stadium, resembling a amphitheatre in design. Six years later a concrete roof was added. The fights continued during this construction phase with the boxers picking their way carefully to the ring.
From the start, the Rajadamnern was established as the standard for Muay Thai in Thailand. The regulations used in stadiums around the country follow those laid down here.
Boxers enter the ring over the top rope wearing a mongkon. Traditionally a trainer will present the mongkon to a fighter once he feels that the fighter has trained hard and is ready to represent the gyms name in the ring. The mongkon is a symbol that represents your loyalty and respect of your gym, your trainers and your family. It’s worn it when you enter the ring to show that when you fight is not all about you, it’s about the people around you who have helped you along your journey. It’s common for most fighters, whether Buddhist or not to bring the headdress to a Buddhist monk who blesses it with good luck prior to stepping in the ring. Traditionally, the student is never allowed to touch or handle the mongkon, only his Kru may handle it. He will take care of the mongkon and present it at the right time prior to the fight.
After the fighter seal the ring and/or perform the ceremonial wai kru and ram muay, his Kru will say a short prayer while taking the mongkon off his head and then placing it on top of the ring. The mongkon should never be close to, or held near the ground since it is bad luck to do so. Also, based on tradition, there are gyms that won’t allow women to wear one since it’s deemed bad luck by Thai culture. However, most gyms have adopted a more open-minded approach and will allow women to enter the ring with one on. At the Lumpinee, obviously this will never be the case.
The rounds consist of 5 rounds of 3 minutes each with 2 minutes resting interval between rounds. Music is played once both fighters have entered the ring to perform the Wai Kru and Ram Muay and is played during each round. When the fight begins the tempo of the music is increased and becomes turbulent at moments of excitement during a fight. The music is a part of the atmosphere, culture and tradition of a Muay Thai bout and urges fighters to fight harder. Instruments consist of drums, cymbols and a Javanese clarinet (Pi Java).
Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Stadiums are one of the few places in Thailand where gambling is permitted. Gambling is a double edged sword. On one hand it keeps the stadiums filled with people who are lively and passionate about the sport. Gamblers create a lot of excitement around the fights and really do create an exciting atmosphere in the stadiums. On the other hand, the downside of betting it potentially influences the fights.
As we encourage people from our club to support our fighters, the influence of the crowd can sometimes influence the judges if their view is blocked or they didn’t entirely see if a strike landed or not. Making a lot of noise on the impact as a spectator can sway the decision in ones mind if it was successful or not. This is also the case when it comes to gambling. They will place their bets, then in one round the crowd can be cheering on the blue corner and cheer when only when they see blue land a strike, change odds, place bets in the next round on the other fighter and cheer on whenever red corner lands a strike.
I also sensed that during one round a particular fighter at the Rajadamnern went ‘easy’ on his opponent, was giving some instruction from his corner who just so happened to be talking to one of the people gambling in the upper tier, and the next round absolutely smashed his opponent.
The gambling, the tradition, the music, the atmosphere at these events is extraordinary. Along with the Lumpinee Stadium, the Rajadamnern Stadium comprises the original home of Muay Thai.