Transgender Muay Thai fighters are more visible than ever before.
They’re fighting in rings that were previously strictly male-only spaces, and having their stories told and celebrated by the media. However, it should be noted that in Thailand, trans women still fight cis men.
This post is a celebration of Thailand’s trans women in Muay Thai, and a roundup of the achievements they’ve made.
Nong Toom is revered as the world’s first transgender Muay Thai fighter. She famously financed her gender affirmation surgery through fighting, and her story was the subject of the movie Beautiful Boxer. Throughout her fighting career, she fought both men and cis women, travelling to several countries to do so. In 2007, she fought Jorina Baars in Holland, and the following year, she fought on K1 Max Scandinavia against Pernilla Johansson. After taking a break from fighting, she made a ‘comeback’ in an exhibition bout with Zahrah Memon in 2013. Her last fight was against Tracy Lockwood in 2014. Outside of Muay Thai, she’s also had a career in acting and modelling.
Now, Nong Toom is working on projects to promote other transgender fighters. As part of this, she fought an exhibition bout in Japan against retired Japanese fighter Atsudo Okada in 2017.
Nong Toom travelled extensively to promote her current project, Beautiful Muay Thai, spending time in China to develop a stage show as part of that. Here’s one of the promotional photos that was posted to her page.
In 2022, Nong Toom released a music video for her song, ‘Sao 4.0’, which features some Muay Thai-inspired outfits.
In an interview with FEED, she told the story of her first fight at Lumpini Stadium. She talked about how fighters there are required to weigh in naked, and that this prospect caused her a lot of stress and anxiety leading up to the fight. When it came to the weigh-in, she says she asked the promoter to allow her to keep her sweat pants on. He refused, and she broke down in tears. Eventually, he agreed to let her wear her underwear, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
In an interview leading up to the fight, her opponent had said that he would knock Nong Toom out by the third round. On fight day, the bravado continued. As the referee called them to the centre of the ring to touch gloves, he jumped on her to grab and kiss her, knocking her mongkol to the floor and stepping on it in the process. This made Nong Toom angry, and she used this as fuel to go on to win the fight.
Janet Phayak Lamphong
Janet Phayak Lamphong (เจนศึกพยัคฆ์ลำพอง) is a fighter-turned-media star from Khon Khaen, who started fighting at the age of 16. Below is a video of one of her fights, against Wansawang Chompoothong on October 21st, 2000.
After fighting, she moved into the entertainment industry. In 2012, she was a memorable contestant on season 2 of Thailand’s Got Talent. She began her audition by singing in a gown. As the song went on, she peeled away her dress to reveal Muay Thai shorts, and continued singing while kicking pads at the same time. This caught the eye of movie producers, and she went on to feature in the 2016 French film Pattaya. Since then, she’s made countless media appearances, and in 2019, she took part in the Miss Trans Thailand beauty pageant.
You can follow Janet on TikTok @Janetboxer.
Nong Rose Baan Jaroensuk
Nong Rose has been fighting since she was 8 years old, and had a great year in 2017. She won a Northeastern Thailand championship belt, as well as the ThaiRath 115lb title. Then, she was catapulted into the spotlight in June, when she became the first trans fighter to fight at Rajadamnern stadium.
Since that fight, her story has been covered by several international news outlets, including Reuters, The Independent, Asian Correspondent, and Times of India.
Nong Rose has fought at Rajadamnern several times since then, one of which was a strange match up with Kompayak Singmanee, a 48-year-old former Lumpini champion who had been retired for twenty years. One Songchai arranged the fight in a move to make headlines, and put 2.5 million baht on the line to draw even more attention. Of course, Nong Rose won the fight, after which she was then given a shot at the stadium’s super flyweight title in November. This fight ended her winning streak, but had she won, she would have been the first transgender stadium champion in Thailand.
In 2018, Nong Rose had her first fight abroad in Paris. Her journey was given a lot of coverage by BBC Thai, who followed her there to document the occasion.
For her next fight, she travelled to Japan to fight on Knockout, the country’s biggest promotion. She fought against Issei lshii, who won Thailand’s True4U flyweight title in February 2017.
You can learn more about Nong Rose in her interview with Siam Fight Mag.
Unlike Nong Rose, Angie hasn’t had very much international publicity. In fact, if it wasn’t for her training partner, Sylvie Von Duuglas-Ittu, we might not know very much about her at all. This is surprising, because Angie recently made history by becoming the first openly trans woman to fight at the new Lumpini Stadium. Sylvie has documented Angie’s career and posted several interviews with her.
Angie began fighting at the age of 30, long after she transitioned. When you consider how new she is to Muay Thai, her story becomes even more incredible.
Since then, she’s returned to Lumpini twice to fight the same opponent. In their most recent match, she won by TKO in the fifth round.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Angie’s trainer, Kru Nu, translated by Sylvie.
“Khun Anurak says when he met her 2 years ago, she just came to the gym to work out. She didn’t have any notion of fighting. But when he saw that she was serious and getting stronger and better, he asked if she wanted to fight. She accepted and had her first fight in Pattaya, against a female opponent. She also fought against men and after 10 fights she started getting bigger opportunities and the media took note. Khun Anurak guarantees that Angie is, in fact, a “real” trans fighter – she has breasts and in her heart she is a woman, he says.”
Angie credits Nong Toom as her inspiration, and the two are now good friends. After Angie’s first fight at Lumpini, I was able to interview them both. We talked about how they met, how they feel about the changes being made for trans fighters, and some of their plans for the future.
Plerngarom Sor. Boonchai
Plerngarom Sor. Boonchai (เพลิงอารมณ์ ส.บูรณ์ชัย) is a young trans fighter from Lampang.
I first saw her on a televised promotion called ‘World Muay Thai Lifestyle‘, and remembered her for the flowered monkgol she wore. She fought Abdulvosid Buranov from Tajikistan and won on points.
In November 2018, Plerngarom fought on Super Champ in Bangkok. You can watch the video of the fight below:
Here are some photos from one of Plerngarom’s fights at Thaphae Stadium in Chiang Mai in 2022.
PhetChompoo Por. PuiPheuch
PhetChompoo Por. PuiPheuch (เพชรชมพู ป.ปุ๋ยบุญพืช) is a teen fighter from the North of Thailand, who has been fighting regularly at Thapae Stadium.
A fight poster highlighted her as ‘beautiful boxer’, showing the legacy of Nong Toom and the impact her story has had on the generation of fighters who’ve come after her.
Nong Tim Sor. Pumarin
On February 21st, 2004, 19-year-old Apinya ‘Nong Tim’ Sor. Pumarin fought American fighter Anthony DeMaio at Lumpini Stadium.
At the time, Nong Tim was referred to a ‘transvestite fighter’ in news reports. This is likely a result a lack of public knowledge or empathy surrounding gender diversity. Due to a lack of public reports, it’s difficult to verify her identity and provide any further details. However, that’s is why it’s important that her story is documented, and she deserves a mention here.
According to reports, DeMaio claimed to have been headbutted, and after the fight continued, failed to obey the referees commands and was subsequently disqualified after 2 rounds.
Some of the only images of her Lumpini fight were taken by photojournalist Paula Bronstein. There seem to be no other public reports on her fighting career, and very little is known about her. When asked, Nong Toom confirmed her story, but told me that she’s lost track of her now, as she stopped fighting a long time ago.
Other Trans Representation in Muay Thai
In December 2021, Lumpini Stadium hosted a beauty pageant for trans contestants, organised by the Lumpinee Go Sport promotion. This is part of the work that Nong Toom has been doing, and she took part as one of the judges.
One of the requirements of the contestants was to ‘love the art of Mae Mai Muay Thai’. During the pageant, contestants dressed in Muay Thai shorts and gloves, as well as gowns. This was not a beauty pageant for fighters (like the Miss Muay Siam pageant of 2013 and 2016). Instead, this was a pageant to promote acceptance of trans people, using Muay Thai as a theme.
Opportunities and Barriers for Thailand’s Trans Muay Thai Fighters
Nong Toom made several TV appearances with Angie, and has mentioned a desire to get Nong Rose and Plerngarom involved in more of the work she’s currently doing, too. However, she says that since Nong Rose is now in such high demand, this has been difficult to put together. She’s even hinted at the prospect of putting on her own fight promotion. In the meantime, she’s doing all she can to raise the profile of upcoming trans fighters.
In September 2022, she publicly thanked Lumpini Stadium for allowing trans fighters to take the stage there, teasing the announcement of an upcoming bout. Two days later, she announced that Plerngarom Sor. Boonchai will be fighting there that same month. She was matched up with a male opponent, Narongrit RongrienGila Phitsanulok.
Nong Toom arranged for Plerngarom to have a special celebratory entrance for her fight to mark the occasion, with cabaret-style dancers. When I asked her how the concept came about, she said that it was her idea, and that Lumpinee promoters allowed her to make it happen.
While Thailand is often seen as a haven for the LGBTQIA+ community, that’s not the case. Trans people still experience discrimination and human rights violations here, and are unable to change their title or gender on their legal documents.
This presented a public issue for model Rachaya ‘Mix’ Noppakaroon in March 2022. She was due to perform a Muay Thai-themed show at Dubai’s World Expo, but was turned away at immigration and forced to fly home because officers refused to accept her passport. After arriving in Dubai, she was asked intrusive and humiliating questions about her body and held for hours in a men’s waiting room before being sent back to Thailand.
The lack of legal gender recognition, coupled with the fact that Thailand doesn’t have marriage equality, means that many trans people are unable to become legally married. It also presents barriers to justice, housing, employment, healthcare, and social services.
The fact that trans women in Thailand generally fight cis men (with the exception of some of Nong Toom’s fights), also reveals attitudes to trans fighters here. I mentioned this in an interview with Thai news outlet The People.
“We asked Emma for her opinion on whether Muay Thai is LGBTQ-friendly. Emma observes that there are many fighters who identify as ‘tom’, but she’s never known of any openly-gay male fighters in the sport. She said that Lumpini and Rajadamnern, stadiums previously reserved for men, have allowed transgender women to fight in recent years. However, they must only fight cis-male opponents, and they enter the ring by going over the top rope. She wonders if this means that trans women who fight are effectively being treated as men.”– The People, เอมม่า โทมัส: เฟมินิสต์ นักมวยมืออาชีพผู้เรียกร้องความเท่าเทียมบนสังเวียนมวยไทย, 2021
To learn more about trans issues in Thailand, follow Equal Asia Foundation, Asia Pacific Transgender Network, and trans rights activist Best Chitsanupong.
Read Rosi Sexton’s article for Outsports about how she changed her stance on trans fighters after doing her research and listening to the voices of trans people. After previously publicly opposing MMA fighter Fallon Fox’s career, she’s now an advocate.
Extra Links and Fight Videos
‘It Comes and It Goes‘ – A 2009 music video by Dido featuring Nong Toom
Nong Toom vs Kinoku Inoue, a Japanese female wrestler.
Nong Toom vs Kazuki Wakamiya, Japan.
Nong Rose vs Kongsanan Sakhomsin.
Nong Rose vs Akram Hamidi, France.
Plerngarom Sor. Boonchai Facebook page.
Follow Under the Ropes
Pingback: Dating, Disclosure, and the Transgender Panic Defense
Pingback: British Trans Fighter Tara Wolf Has First Fight Under Tutelage of Nong Toom | Under The Ropes
Pingback: ≫ el quién, el qué, el cómo – Muay Ying มวยหญิง