Lumpini Stadium has been a landmark of Muay Thai since it was first built in 1956. As the most prestigious place to fight in the world, it has been the dream of many fighters to one day make it to that ring. When it held it’s last event on February 7th this year, many were sad to see it close its doors. It was forced to do so after its lease ran out and was not renewed by the Crown Property Bureau. The header photo shows it being torn down recently. Since it had such a prime location, I imagine that it will make way for another condominium, hotel, shopping mall or something of the like. A new, revamped Lumpini Stadium now stands on Ramintra Road.
The closure of the original Lumpini Stadium marked the end of an era, and was a sad occasion for many in the sport. However, I feel that opening of the new one is a great sign of positive change and growth for Muay Thai. Although we will all look back on the original stadium with fond memories, many more will be made in the new one and this change is something to be embraced. It is not to say that we must let go of traditions and cultural history, but we can’t cling onto the old stadium stubbornly and reject the opportunity for growth. Muay Thai is growing and evolving worldwide and the shiny new stadium symbolises that. I am all for keeping traditions and am not fond of seeing promotions that stray from them with alterations such as changing the rules, cutting fights to only three rounds, omitting the ram muay and so on. Last night, Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu had to fight in a cage rather than a ring, which she was understandably rather unhappy about. She talked about it in this video update, posted just before the fight, describing it as ‘a big change, one that’s not headed in a direction that I like‘. I have to agree with her. These kinds of changes are not Muay Thai and certainly not where I’d like to see the sport go. There are lots of promotions that do these things in a bid to increase entertainment value, but I find that it actually has the opposite effect for me. While gimmicks like these can often be a bastardization of the sport, the new Lumpini Stadium is not so. Instead, it stands as a figure of how much the sport has grown. Lumpini is known as ‘the mecca or Muay Thai’ and it is quite fitting that it is now in a swanky, new stadium that shows Thailand’s investment and pride in the sport. While the old stadium had much-loved character and grit, the new one projects a better representation of the home of the sport and the direction it’s going in.
On Friday 4th April, I went to the new Lumpini Stadium for the first time. Upon arrival, it was strikingly different from its predecessor. It’s sleek, modern design made quite a change from the rickety, old building that I was so used to. Before I had even emerged from the taxi, I was greeted by P’Aor, a lady who works at the stadium. She quickly issued me with my ticket (for which I paid 2,000b) and escorted me to my ring-side seat. I usually wouldn’t sit ring-side but on this occasion, a friend of mine was fighting, so I wanted to be as close to his corner as possible. I arrived at around 6pm, when the opening bouts were just starting.
I went alone, and it was nice to just sit and take it all in. I bumped into a previous opponent of mine, Nong New Sitkrupaew, who I fought in my first and fourth fights. We exchanged hellos and she told me that she was there to watch a friend of hers, who was fighting in the first bout, after which she left and I went back to admiring the fights, people watching and ‘accidentally overhearing’ the conversations of rowdy spectators behind me. The main event that night was Dechsakda Sit. Songpeenong vs. E.T Petchsomnueg but before that was Cherry Sit. Dab Aun vs. Dech Udom Ao. Boonchuay. Dech Udom wore some rather snazzy shorts with bows on the side and it was the first time that I’ve seen a male fighter wear those. This was also actually my favourite fight of the night. See below for the video.
One of the main concerns that I’ve heard from those who are wary about the new stadium is that it may not have the same atmosphere as the original. Skeptics worried that the new stadium would lack the character that was so well-loved about the first one. After experiencing it for myself, I can quite confidently assure you that there is no lacking in atmosphere whatsoever. The stadium has been designed in such a way that the acoustics are fantastic. A friend of mine who fought on the stadium’s opening event had previously told me that it felt like being in a bowl, and I could see exactly what he meant. It actually seems a little small on the inside, but once the fights are under way and the crowd get going, the echo of the cheers make it seem much bigger than it actually is.
Melissa Ray of Muay Thai on the Brain wrote a review of her experience of the stadium, as did Rob Cox of Muay Thai Focus (definitely give those a read). They both give further insights into the stadium, both also mentioning that one undeniable difference between the new and the old stadium is the temperature. I have to agree, it is rather chilly. Be sure to take a jacket when you go, the extreme air-con gets a little too much after a while. Lumpini Stadium’s official website describes the new stadium as ‘a building with modern style’, ‘through design and use of technology in modern construction’. It also boasts the new and improved facilities, such as, ‘modern lighting, sound systems and LED display’, capacity of over 5,000′ and ‘parking capacity of over 300’. It also mentions that there are restaurants and massage shops available, although I didn’t explore those myself, I got stuck into the fights straight away.
While it may be bittersweet that the original, historic Lumpini Stadium is now gone, I wholeheartedly believe that the new one is a great thing, and rather than being a disappointment, it actually surpassed my expectations. I wonder if it will make way for more positive changes like this one.