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An American in Thailand: Muay Thai for the Rich

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The first customer walks in, balancing her boxing gloves atop a box of Dunkin Donuts and carrying a “Venti” size of coffee from Amazon, Thailand’s answer to Starbucks. She glances at the mirror on the way into the changing room, perhaps judging her light skin, healthy curves, or well groomed black hair, tinted a slight red. A few minutes later she emerges, having swapped her short black dress for a bright red “Topshop” shirt tucked into a pair of black and white Muay Thai shorts, stiff in their newness.

 

Soon arrives another attractive young Thai woman with a venti Amazon coffee and red-tinted hair. She changes into her fashionable Muay Thai clothes as well, leaving on makeup and a gold chain necklace, and joins her friend in the Topshop shirt. They chat while waiting for class to start, giggling and flirting a bit with a couple young Thai trainers who walk past. More women trickle in, their workout clothes adorned with the slogan “Buriram Be Ballin’,” in reference to the local soccer team.

 

This gym, cleverly titled “Buriram Be Boxing,” is a tiny part of the Buriram United conglomeration. Built in an unlikely location in an unlikely area of Thailand, Buriram Be Boxing commands the spacious area under the corner bleachers of the New I-Mobile Stadium in Isaan, the country’s poorest region. Soon the women, about a dozen in all, are rounded up for class by head trainer Namkabuan Rajapuk-Cafe, once a Rajadamnern Stadium champion in his youth, and Bangsen, Namkabuan’s second-in-command and a former member of Thailand’s prestigious national boxing team. The women place their towels and smartphones off to the side and form a few lines facing the mirrors.

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