MMA in the Land of Muay Thai

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It seems only appropriate to move forward from the last post on child boxing into the Mixed Martial Arts fights happening in and around the Thai capital. I got to spend some time with a few MMA champions and upcoming Thai fighters, as well as attend some Muay Thai training and other martial arts disciplines over the course of a few days while on assignment with The New York Times. These MMA fights mean a bit more in Thailand, as the country has always been over-protective of traditional Muay Thai fighting. And for a while, there was fear that an MMA invasion would cripple the homegrown sport. Of course, it turns out that fear was completely unfounded. If anything, the two will exist in total and complete harmony. Muay Thai is an integral part of MMA fighting, and locals in Bangkok and other areas of the country seem proud to see these Thai fighters competing on a more international stage. As well they should be. Anyway. It was a great shoot. Here are a few images and outtakes. Until next time.

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Child Boxing in Thailand

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This was a tough assignment, photographing child boxers in the poor outskirts of Bangkok. Not tough because of access or subject matter or anything like that. Tough in a different way. Tough showing what it was really like without falling into classic cliches of poor youths quite literally fighting to survive in a harsh unforgiving environment. Because while it was certainly that to a certain extent, it was also so much more. Muay Thai is for all intents and purposes a sacred sport and art in Thailand: graceful and disciplined and beautiful and savage, much like the country itself. It’s an honor to fight, and while it attracts poor youths much more so than those born with gilded golden spoons in their mouths, it isn’t only for their dreams of making it big and getting out and all those other big words and phrases that have captured the world’s imagination on more than just a few occasions. It’s also done out of the pure love, the sheer joy, the absolute simplicity of it all. Muay Thai is Thailand as much as anything else. From youths onwards. And so really, this is just the beginning.

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A portrait of Boonsong Samrong outside of his home and gym in Rayong, Thailand.
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The crowd and gamblers at Thepprasit Boxing Stadium in Pattaya, Thailand.
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