‘More stitches than a cricket ball’
I got a phone call out of the blue a few months back, from a promoter asking if I’d be up for one final fight. After 146 of them, I thought, ‘well it had better be a big one’.
When he threw the name Anthony Mundine at me, I said yes immediately.
As a Muay Thai fighter I’ve fought in huge stadiums in Thailand; famous venues like the Lumpinee and Rajadamnern in Bangkok. I’ve fought in front of 100,000 people on four separate occasions, at open-air venues around the city.
The Brisbane Convention Centre isn’t quite as big as that but headlining with Anthony this weekend will be the perfect end to my career.
As much as I want to keep fighting forever, I can’t. My body is in agony each and every day. That pain has taken away the enjoyment of training and fighting, but I’ve still got the fire in me to put on one final show.
It would be great to feel the appreciation from the Brisbane crowd for the lifetime that I’ve put into combat sports. If they could cheer me home one last time, it would mean everything to me.
‘And then she hung up on me’
I don’t think a lot of people in Australia know what I’ve achieved in Muay Thai. It was always hard to get recognition here because the media never paid much attention to me.
In 2004, I won an eight-man tournament in Bangkok to become a Muay Thai world champion. I won three fights in two hours to take home a million baht, the world title and a trophy from the Prime Minister of Thailand. I thought it would be huge news back in Australia.
When I got back home, I gave the Courier-Mail a call and was put in touch with a reporter.
‘Well to tell you the truth’, she said. ‘It sounds like you’re exaggerating this story’.
‘We concentrate on football and cricket here at the Courier-Mail, so if you want the coverage, I suggest you ring your local newspaper instead.’
And then she hung up on me. She didn’t even say goodbye. All I could hear was ‘beep… beep… beep’ on the other end of the line.
I thought, ‘What the fuck?!’
They didn’t want a bar of me back then, but now I’m fighting Mundine they’re the ones ringing me. I find that pretty funny.
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I was asked when I was younger “What sanctioning body would you like to win if you ever become champion?”. Me: “all of them ?”! I don’t want anyone to argue I hid from this person or that person because of a belt. I’ve only ever wanted to fight the best so no one can question my legacy. I’m not here to make up numbers, I’m here to be remembered!
Accepting this fight with Anthony has definitely opened my eyes to how some people operate. For 146 fights, not many people gave a shit. But all of a sudden, I’ve got people ringing me up out of the blue saying, ‘hey mate, do you remember me from high school?’
I can’t help but think where were you 20 years ago when I was representing Australia against the best kickboxers in the world.
I was the first Aussie to live and fight in Thailand fulltime, competing seven to nine times a year. I was the first Westerner (farang) to make the front cover of the national number-one selling magazine. I was fighting on the TV all the time.
To this day, if someone says they come from Australia, the Thais will ask, ‘Do you know John Wayne?’. It’s incredible to know I’ve left that legacy.
This fight with Anthony Mundine is my opportunity to share a little of my story with Australians. I also hope it raises the profile of Muay Thai and shows fight fans how exciting the sport can be.
‘Happy birthday, now pick a cut’
I’ve had my fair share of injuries over the years. An elbow broke my eye socket in two different places. I’ve busted quite a few ribs and broken my hands a few times as well.
Then there are all the times I’ve been cut; I’ve had 346 stitches in my face over the course of my career. More stitches than a cricket ball, that’s for sure.
My scars look like wrinkles and I reckon some people must look at me and think I’m 150 years old!
I posted a video on my Instagram recently, showing how if I pull my eye lid down there’s no elasticity left in my skin. It just sits over my eye instead of snapping back into place, which sucks. It’s a good party trick though.
I won’t do be doing anything to fix that kind of stuff when I retire. Each of my scars tell a story and I’ve found them to be good conversation starters.
The worst I’ve been cut up was back in 1998, when I was fighting a gentleman from England called Chris Alan at the Crown Casino. It was a five-round fight and he cut me in every round. The cut in the fifth is the one that stopped the fight, a deep gash that went all the way to my skull.
The doctor put some butterfly tape over the wound and said he would stitch me up after the show. When all the fights were done, we went back stage and I laid down on a table while he prepared to get to work on me.
Out of curiosity I asked him what time it was, and he said it was midnight. I told him I’d just turned 22. He looked at me and said, ‘Happy birthday, now pick a cut’.
I spent the first two hours of my 22nd birthday getting 54 stitches in my face. What a present that was!
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This is the photo that inspired me to make a hypothetical of if I had all my stitches at once. Poor old Terry was an ice hockey goalie before helmets were cool. 400 stitches later and a shit load of injuries. Makes me feel lucky that I took up a safe sport in Muay Thai ?.
That’s the thing about Muay Thai, you get cut a lot because you’re allowed to throw elbows. They’re like razor blades on your arms. You can also pull your opponent’s head down and knee them in the face, which can do a fair bit of damage as well.
When you get cut it feels like a slight ‘donk’ that hurts for three or four seconds, and then the adrenaline kicks in. If the blood doesn’t interfere with your vision, you just feel a warm stream running down your face.
If the blood gets in your eyes though, it becomes hard to see. Imagine what claggy glue would feel like if it got in your eye and you’ll have an idea. You don’t want to wipe it too much though, because you don’t want your opponent to know that it’s bothering you.
If you wipe the blood away, you’ll probably just end up smearing it over your eye socket, making it so you can’t see. Then you know it’s going to be a very tough night for you.
But if you get cut in a fight and still win, it makes the victory so much sweeter. It’s proof that you’ve shown true warrior spirit.
‘What would Ramon do?’
I went through plenty of hard times in Thailand, both physically and mentally. The repetition of doing the same shit every day can get on top of you, when you’re exhausted and getting yelled at by the trainers.
Fighting is considered a job in Thailand and if I wasn’t performing at 100 per cent, they’d remind me about that. I was also the only Westerner in my camp, so if I had a bad session the Thais would be onto me.
They’d be shouting, ‘Why are you even here? We’ve got 10-year-old kids that are training harder than you. If you can’t handle it, just go home.’ That’s how they make you tough. It’s how they motivate you to become the best version of yourself.
After copping an earful I’d be thinking, ‘Fuck you! You’re not going to break me.’
My other inspiration to stay and push through the pain was a guy named Ramon Dekkers, a fighter from the Netherlands. If there’s a king of all the Westerners who have fought in Thailand, it’s Ramon. I’d be the prince.
Every time things got tough or I got homesick, I’d ask myself, ‘What would Ramon do?’. His career inspired me to never give up and never be scared.
Ramon was competing over there before me, but we overlapped for a time. I met him a few times and he fought the Thai superstar from my gym on three occasions. In those fight camps, I’d have to pretend to be Dekkers in sparring. In all honesty though, no one can replicate how hard that man kicked.
He broke his leg so many times from kicking that doctors warned him if he broke it one more time, they’d have to amputate his leg. That didn’t stop Ramon.
He’d go out and start a fight with a southpaw stance, but after a couple of rounds he wouldn’t be able to help himself. In the heat of battle, he’d switch back to orthodox and start kicking with his bad leg again. The threat of losing it didn’t deter him in the slightest.
He never did break his leg again, but he did have to get his ankle fused to his shin. By the end of his career he couldn’t spar at all. He’d just hit pads in training and wait to find out if his next fight would be the one that would cost him a leg.
So sad to hear the news of the passing of Ramon Dekkers. Ramon was my hero and all I wanted was to following in his footsteps. Very sad day for Muay Thai.
I’ve been lucky with my legs. I haven’t had any breaks and I’m at the stage now where I can have a five-round fight and not even feel it the next day. I won’t even have a limp because my shins are dead.
We condition our legs by kicking heavy bags and hard thigh pads. They cop a beating in every fight as well. They bruise and callous and over time they get stronger.
I had my hands, forearms and legs X-rayed and discovered I have no bone marrow, just bone nearly the whole way through. I’ve changed the structure of my body.
When my doctor saw the X-rays, he just said, ‘holy crap’. He wanted to take them to a university to show students how you can change your bone structure through hard work and trauma.
I can’t imagine what Ramon’s X-rays would have looked like. Our sport lost a great man in 2013, when he passed away suddenly from a heart attack. He was just 44 when he died, but his legacy lives on.
In many people’s eyes, Ramon Dekkers will always be king of the ‘farangs’.