On June 1st, an eight-page article on female Muay Thai fighters living in Thailand was published in the Sunday supplement of La Vanguardia, a Spanish newspaper. Put together by journalist Luis Garrido-Julve and photographer Joan Manuel Baliellas, it features several different women, including myself. The featured fighters are Victoria Garcia of Jitti Gym, who fought at one of the Muay Thai Angels events; Laurene Pumpanmuang of Muay Thai Plaza 2004; Melissa Ray, writer of Muay Thai on the Brain and retired world champion who trains at Eminent Air; Jade Marrisa Sirisompan of Luktupfah Gym; Jasmine, a German fighter at the beginning of her career; and Tracy Lockwood, a WMC world title holder training in Phuket at Tiger Muay Thai.
Before the article was published on paper, an online preview was posted, which you can see here. Of course, both this and the final article are in Spanish, so I wanted to post a translated version here, not only for the fighters themselves, but for those who want to read their stories. It would have been very inspiring for me to read an article like this one when I was first finding Muay Thai, so it’s important to give material like this exposure so that other women may discover it. It shows that living in Thailand and dedicating your life to Muay Thai as a woman isn’t some kind of unattainable dream; it’s a real, feasible possibility and these women, we women, are doing just that. We’re all from different backgrounds and have our own stories to tell, and we aren’t the only ones. This is just a representation of a growing community. Hopefully, material like this can contribute to that growth.
As well as telling some inspiring stories and giving insights into the lives of foreign female fighters in Thailand, this article also features portraits of each fighter by photographer Joan Manuel Baliellas. Scroll down to see the photos he took of these fighters. I feel rather privileged to be included among them, and am thankful to Luis and Joan for producing this article. I do hope you’ll like it as much as I do.
Click here to see a pdf of the full article, see below for JPEG images (click to enlarge) and scroll down for the full English translation and photos.
“In Asia, they say that a woman’s beauty has nothing to do with being the one that looks best in a photograph, but the one that ensures that each and every gesture she makes is restrained; a woman on whose forehead drops of sweat never peer through. For those who still follow such archaic stereotypes, the idea of a woman entering the ring is unthinkable. However, it’s easy to see this in Thailand, where the women training are almost all Western, even in some of the best gyms in the country.
All of these women share a passion: boxing. However, every woman who comes to Thailand to fight professionally is different. Some have higher education, including engineering. Some combine fighting with modelling; others with teaching. They all say that they are fighting for the recognition of women in professional boxing, by mothering this sport, which has a lot more humility and honor than what some may think. They say they are normal girls, each with their own passions and concerns, just like any other girls of their ages.
Victoria Garcia, 21 years old, born in Sweden, 11 professional fights:
“I just want to know how far I can get and how much I can take, and to get a championship belt”. Victoria Garcia, Latin American in ancestry but originally from Sweden, simply explained. As if her name were a premonition, she only craves one thing: victory. Since she was a little over 18 years old, she began to focus her life on Thai boxing. “At first I just wanted to exercise and lose some weight,” she says. Now, she is devoted exclusively to the sport, living in Bangkok. To do so, she had to save for a year, as very little money is earned from fighting in the female categories compared to the male; men earn five times as much. Perhaps, Victoria Garcia does not leave time to ‘burn the midnight oil’ in a nightclub after training six hours a day, including on weekends. However, she knows what she wants: victory.
Laurene Pumpanmuang, 23 years old, born in France, 30 professional fights:
Laurene Pumpanmuang explains a story following a change of profile photo on her Facebook: a picture with an angelic pose and perfect make up to enhance her blue eyes like two seas and smooth, ivory-white skin, ushered with a huge smile that seemed to contradict the two tremendous bruises and scar with three stitches on her forehead. Her friends in the Parisian neighborhood where she was born asked with horror why the 23 year old, who was remarkably beautiful, would bear elbows and knees to her face. When still a child, she began practicing ballet, which was her great dedication until puberty. Then, at 15, she wanted to be a Muay Thai fighter. Her mother objected: ballet can’t break a nose or cut an eyebrow. “She thought it was a teen fad,” she says. It was not easy, but Laurene managed to change the stage to the ring and ballet shoes to boxing gloves. Almost a decade later, she has been living in Thailand for over four years. She has fought on thirty occasions and studied economics at the University of Bangkok.
Melissa Ray, 33 years old, born in England, 41 professional fights:
While tightening the wraps around her hands, Melissa Ray has her eyes on the two newspaper clippings framed in the gym where she trains. She appears in both, portrayed holding a trophy in each one. “She’s a legend for us”, say many young boxers. this is normal for her. At 33 years old, this English woman in Thailand has achieved some important numbers in this world: Four titles and 41 contested bouts. She was born in England, after adolescence, studied a neuroscience course. ‘I discovered boxing by chance after university’ she explains. Melissa says that she had gained some weight. “You know, in England the food is very calorific and there is a lot of drinking at university parties”, she jokes. She approached a gym near her home and had to choose to whatever activity that could fit the only free time she had in the day. “I didn’t know about Thai boxing, but it was the only thing that I could fit into my schedule”, she says. This accident changed her life. She now lives for Muay Thai. She is sure that she has no regrets of not working in neuroscience because this is what she really wants to do. In Thailand, she has found her passion: to devote her life to the culture she loves and travel, these are the things which give her the greatest joys.
Jade Marrisa, 21 years old, born in England, 13 professional fights:
Many call her ‘college girl’. This is not because she is finishing her degree in communication arts, but because on the Bangkok Skytrain she can be seen on the posters of a known university in Bangkok. The daughter of a mixed marriage between a Thai and a Brit, she was born in England, but every year she visited her father, a leading promoter of professional fights in Bangkok. Since then, she has always known the smell of liniment and the toughness of punching bags. Her father never wanted her to take an interest in the sport, but, at 18, Jade moved to Bangkok and started training, which her father did not accept. “He didn’t believe in me”, she says. “I had to prove I could do it”. After some time apart, there was a happy ending and now Jade and her father train together. They form an unstoppable team that has only lost three bouts.
Emma Thomas, 25 years old, born in England, 14 professional fights:
When Emma Thomas teaches at one of the most reputable English language centers in Bangkok, many of her students comment that they can’t imagine their sweet teacher knocking out another female fighter in a ring. This is because at first glance, she appears sweet with a bright smile. Emma is a full-time English teacher, she wanted a job that would not take her far from what she loves the most: the ring. “This is my dream”, she says, surrounded by punching bags and dripping with sweat, but happy. This is her daily routine. She chose to become an English teacher precisely to live outside her country. She loves to teach and through this line of work, she has been able to remain indefinitely in Bangkok, where she trains daily at the prestigious gym owned and operated by Master Toddy. She has almost 15 matches under her belt and has become accustomed to appearing in the newspaper. In only her *second fight, she delivered her first KO. “I want to show other women the beauty of this sport,” she proclaims.
*Should read 'fifth fight'.
Jasmine, 30 years old, born in in Germany, 1 professional fight:
‘I thought it was a sport played by violent people’, says Jasmine, a German journalist. That was her belief until her job took her to Malaysia, where she had her first contact with fighters. Then, she started to feel attracted to the life and feelings of those fighters. She discovered that many of them had found the gloves and the ring something that was worth trying. and who had done better people, points out. That was when Jasmine also decided to try donning the gloves. Her pugilistic career starts now, at the age of thirty. “This art makes you a better person”, she says. She adds that it took her a long time to realize, but she now dreams only of fighting.
Tracy Lockwood, 33 years old, born in New Zealand, 43 professional fights:
For many Western women, it would be impossible to live solely on the money earned from fighting in Thailand, as it is considered that the 50 to 100 euros received from each fight is insufficient to live on. However, Tracy Lockwood, New Zealand 33 years, appears ready to refute this general idea. For her, boxing is more than a struggle for survival; it is a battle against her own limitations. Her ‘complicated metabolism’ once reached up to 130 kilos on the scale, something against which she will fight to death. In a short time, she managed to reduce her weight by half, which was her first battle. The second was to find a place in the world of fighting in Thailand and to penetrate its roots. ‘I have been able to discover the true Thai culture; the essence of the country that is not in those skyscrapers or those fancy clubs,’ she says proudly.”