Transgender Muay Thai fighters are more visible now 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. Boundaries have been broken and things are changing.
This post is a roundup of the achievements that have been made by trans fighters, particularly within the last year.
Nong Toom is revered as the world’s first transgender Muay Thai fighter. She famously financed her gender reassignment surgery through fighting, and her story was the subject of the movie Beautiful Boxer. Throughout her fighting career, she fought both men and 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 recently fought an exhibition bout in Japan against retired Japanese fighter Atsudo Okada.
Nong Toom has been doing a lot of travelling to promote her current project, Beautiful Muay Thai. At the moment, she’s in China to develop a stage show as part of that. Most of the details have been kept under wraps so far, but here’s one of the promotional photos that have been posted to her page.
Nong Rose Baan Jaroensuk
Nong Rose 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.
Nong Rose has fought at Rajadamnern several times since then, one of which was a rather 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.
Nong Rose recently 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’s heading to Japan to fight on Knockout, the biggest promotion in the country. There, she’s going up against Issei lshii, who won Thailand’s True4U flyweight title in February 2017.
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 trans woman to fight at 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.
Plengarom Sor. Boonchai
Plengarom Sor. Boonchai (เพลิงอารมณ์ ส.บูรณ์ชัย) is a young trans fighter from Lampang. Little is known about her so far, but one of her fights was recently given news coverage in Thailand.
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.
Update (November 2018): Plengarom fought on Super Champ, Buakaw’s promotion in Bangkok. See video of the fight below:
Nong Toom has made some TV appearances with Angie, and has mentioned a desire to get Nong Rose and Plengarom involved in more of the work she’s currently doing, too. However, she says that Nong Rose is so in demand now, that this has been difficult to put together. She’s even hinted at the prospect of putting on her own fight promotion, but we’ll just have to wait and see if that will come to fruition. Regardless, it’s great to see these fighters receiving more recognition and opportunity.
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.