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Combat in the ring brings speedy moves that are difficult to see or to capture with a camera.

Kick like a mule

Sunday, November 18, 2007
WHEN IT comes to sport, Thais are among the world's most fervent football fans. Proof of this comes with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra taking over Manchester City, rather than take over Thailand.

Thai feet don't stop with football, either.

Takraew involves teams kicking a rattan ball over a net, much like volleyball for the toes. Even more foot-tastic is muay Thai , or Thai kick-boxing, the other national sporting obsession.

While the rest of the world may have decided that the noble craft of boxing is for two pugilists with their feet firmly on the canvas, Thais realize that good fighters don't just float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. They also kick like a mule.

A visit to Fight Night one Sunday evening at the new Airport Stadium delivers plenty of excitement. Fighters are buffed with linament and handlers make sure legs are stretched, much like ballet dancers before a pas de deux.

While the high-kicking continues in the ring, there isn't a frilly tutu to be seen. Unlike television wrestling, none of the action is choreographed. It's a real contest.

Fists are gloved yet feet stay bare. Participants line up either in the Red corner or the Blue corner.
After prayers, the fighting starts. Often, the first round will be cautious as the opponents assess each other's strengths and weaknesses.

But once the action begins, elbows, knees and forearms all become legitimate weapons.

From the comfort of a ringside seat, the speed and the skills of the sport become apparent, even if some of the movements are so fast and furious that the eye can't take them in.

For any photographer who has ever wanted to be close to a body-contact sport, Thai boxing is an opportunity not to be missed. You can lean on the canvas and snap the flying fists, feet and sweat . . . if you are quick enough.

Yes, of course it's violent. On a typical card of nine events, several knockouts can be expected. Fortunately, whether winning or losing, good grace is part of the fighters' code.

From the bleachers, locals cheer good blows, gamblers place legal bets, and a trio of musicians play astutely, emphasizing the beat as each fight reaches its climax.

For these young men, superbly fit with six-pack abdomens and supple as can be, kick-boxing is a supreme test of strength and character. It's their Thai heritage in action.

Kick-boxing enthusiast CherdChoo Sae-eaw likes the sport so much he built the stadium and opened it in February.

Unlike some other kick-boxing venues where punches and kicks are usually pulled for tourists, bouts at the Airport Stadium are genuine. Fights sometimes include top-liners from Bangkok.

Prices range from 1000 baht up to 2000 baht, and for that you earn the comfort of a ringside perch that's as padded and bum-friendly as a seat in Business Class. Drinks and snacks are available.

There's a 10 percent discount until September, and a taxi pickup can be arranged from just about any resort on the island. The first bout begins at 8.30pm each Sunday, with tickets at the door.

Those who are keen enough to try this strenuous sport can join the daily training sessions between 6am and 8am and 4pm and 6pm for 500 baht an hour or arrange a personal session.

The numbers: 076-328582, 081-8028432 or 081-5350388.


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