If you have taken a look around your gym recently, you may have noticed something: Yes, definitely more girls! In countries and gyms all over the world, more and more women and girls are getting in to martial arts, and yes, into Muay Thai. The movement towards more general fitness, better and healthier lifestyles and also in part to shifts in cultural values and traditions has led to the ever growing global boom.
What better than to to get up to date with current developments by chatting with Jade Sirisompan, a highly regarded ex fighter, family gym owner and Secretary of the WMO or World Muaythai Organisation, based in Bangkok!
Hi Jade! What do you think have been the three most important steps forward made for female Muay Thai around the world in recent years?
To begin, in the world of female Muay Thai, I still feel that there is so much opportunity for growth and recognition. If we compare Muay Thai to other combat sport promotions such as MMA, the way in which we support female Muay Thai is still behind.
However, when discussing growth and the steps made forward, then first I must mention the level of talent that you see these days. In my opinion, I feel that there is a much larger cohort of top female Muay Thai talent around the world than before, with better opportunities to show showcase their skills. In fact, as Muay Thai becomes more popular globally, the amount of interest and participation increases, thus more opportunity for a larger amount of high level talent.
The second step that I see is consistency, no matter the disparity amongst the genders and the many cases of unfair treatment of female fighters, females have remained consistent in their love and dedication for the sport. Resulting in the growth of acceptance and appreciation for female combat sport athletes.
Last, support. In correlation with the other steps mentioned, as the sport develops globally, support of the athletes grows with it. Also with social media and the connectedness of the world, we are able to promote and support our athletes whoever they are, wherever they are. I believe this has proven very beneficial for a large number of combat sport athletes both male and female.
Do you think disparity in fight purses is still a big issue?
Absolutely, in Thailand there still aren’t as many promotions that allow female fights and I don’t believe I have ever seen a female bout as the main event on any mixed gender card here.
Female Thaibox fighters are still committed to the same job as their male counterparts, they invest their time in training and make the same sacrifices, so why should there be any disparity in the fight purse? It is still an issue, which may have improved slightly over the years, yet with less places to fight it is almost impossible for a female fighter to survive on her fight purse alone.
You are also a gym owner – are there enough young females coming into the sport or is it still male dominated?
I believe there are more females than ever before, however it is still male dominated and I don’t see females ever outnumbering their male counterparts in any combat sport. Men definitely have a longer shelf life in this career, whereas many women eventually settle down to have families or begin other careers. Not everyone of course, but many, this is especially common with Thais.
Muaythai 2050 – what’s your prediction?
2050 is quite far off, yet definitely a deep-thought provoking question. There are a few factors that I would like to mention before answering this question.
At the moment we are in the midst of the covid-19 virus, Muay Thai stadiums are closed, fights are cancelled, Thaiboxing gyms are closed and many fighters have gone back home to their villages or are seeking other forms of income. It will be very difficult for a lot of the community to get back onto their feet after this second year of covid related struggle.
On top of that, the Muay Thai community in Thailand is and has been changing ever since the demolition of the old Lumpinee stadium on Rama 4 road (I have mentioned this previously in one of my videos). That stadium, as well as MBK Fight Night (in the past) used to be a gathering place for the Thaibox-community and for fighters. There was a particular energy and bond within the community which has completely gone since the stadium moved. Now I feel the community is becoming much more disconnected and there is a lot of “all for one” mentality.
Next, as the world continues to develop there is of course going to be an impact on society, technology and youth entering the sport, as well as sports entertainment and consumerism. We have seen many of the tradition aspects of Muay Thai decrease significantly, some promotions cut out the Wai Kru Ram Muay, some reduce their fights down to 3 rounds instead of the traditional 5, boxing gloves have been swapped for MMA gloves, Muay Thai music has been replaced for more modern music or none at all and faster pace is now asked of the fighters.
The traditional stadiums of 5 round fights cater more towards the gamblers where fighters are hesitant to show off risky techniques, therefore you don’t see as many of the entertaining fights as you did in the past (Samart era). However, you may see these 5 round full action fights in the west as many foreign fighters want nothing more than to show off the exciting techniques they’ve been training.
With thanks to the UFC, it has given Muay Thai a lot of recognition and many more westerners are interested in learning the sport. Unfortunately in Thailand, Muay Thai is still seen as a poor man’s sport therefore the amount of Thai newcomers may decrease in the future, this is also related to the advancement of technology and the popularity of smart phones, less kids are interested in Muay Thai and some may make better money e-gaming.
Being a lower-socioeconomic group sport many Thai people still don’t accept combat sports, endorsements and sponsorships are still weak and many companies assume that partnering their brand with Muay Thai looks like they are promoting violence.
What I think will happen by 2050 and considering all these factors, I think Muay Thai will predominantly be run by foreigners. Foreigners have both the capital and passion to invest into the sport.
Of course many Thais are still passionate about Muay Thai but unfortunately many of those Muay Thai passionate Thai’s lack the finances, international understanding (language and mindset), marketing and business knowledge required to grow the sport successfully.
As I mentioned, the community is disconnected and many of the promoters seem to prefer to stick to their small circles, understandable of course, as they want to protect and manage what they have, the same circle of gyms and fighters fighting at the same stadiums or promotions, it works for them so they prefer to maintain that, and the stadium fighters fight to make money for their families. Whereas many of the foreigners in the industry want to know each other, have better social media presence, have more understanding of nutrition and sports science and want to fight on different promotions to gain more exposure and build their records.
I could go on and on as there are many stakeholders in the industry who play their part and are comparable in many ways.
Last, what I would like to happen by 2050 is for the community to reconnect, for us to help and build each other up with the common goal of promoting and enhancing the value of Muay Thai.
We have a long way to go and we must adapt to the times, many Thai fighters, gyms, promotions need to enhance their social media presence. We need to expose all the best parts of Muay Thai and make the rest of the nation proud of their sport and culture, so that there is vision and hope for growth of Muay Thai in Thailand, as well as globally.
In part two of this blog, I will be chatting with Brooke Farrell from Australia, a successful female fighter with a wealth of experience gathered in the homeland of Muay Thai, and getting her take on the issues.