Once I was changed and ready to get going in the famed Rompo Muay Thai Gym, a sweating trainer took a break from munching on a tooth pick to tell me to grab a skipping rope and start jumping it in the sunshine outside for the next 20 minutes. Outside I got chatting to a Ukrainian guy of around 20 who told me had amassed some 40 fights. He lived in Thailand permanently and was now a Nak Muay by profession.
Fully warmed up and slightly sunburned, I climbed onto the stained canvas of one of the rings and a trainer started putting me through my paces. I was definitely a step down from Rompo's pros and one of the few Thais training there decided to tell me so by screaming “Reo Reo!” (Faster, faster!) at me as I lagged mid-way through my final round. There was an odd atmosphere in Rompo and the raw aggression on display was something else. A Nigerian lad, whom I got talking to shortly before leaving, was training that day for a fight due the following week. He was put to work for five three minute rounds of solid punching during which time he had trainers and fighters screaming at him to hit ever harder and faster. His eyes whirled, his mouth foamed and he roared at the top of his voice while he wore down the threads on the column of car tyres he had been set on.
The poverty-associated art of eight limbs was apparently lagging in popularity in increasingly affluent Thailand, right when it was exploding internationally. The guys in that gym were from the roughest corners of the planet and looking around it became clear that Thailand's dominance at the sport would be challenged more frequently in the coming years.
The trainer smiled when I told him I was from Ireland, and asked me did I know Craig. Strangely, I did know the Craig he was talking about (although I've never met him). The man in question is two time world Muay Thai champion Craig O'Flynn from Cork, who now runs a hugely successful gym back in my home country which dispatches hungry young bands of Irish fighters to Thailand regularly. If ever there was a time to break the dominance of the Thais in their national sport, it's now.
Sadly, I decided that particular gym wasn't for me when I was told a story about its head trainer. Legend has it that he brought one of his fighters to a tournament and bet against him. When his man pulled off an upset and won the fight, the trainer was so angry at losing cash that he drove off and left his fighter there with no money and no way of getting home. Rumours are also rife that the levels of aggression in that gym may be down to more than dietary supplements. So, as it turned out, I again found myself gymless and fightless with time running out before I would be leaving the country. Luckily, I came across a Muay Thai school literally around the corner from my apartment. I wandered up its steps on my way back from the office one evening and poked my head inside – and it looked to be what I was looking for.
To be continued....
© Rob Carry. All rights reserved by the author.