Photos by Matthew Yarbrough
On the evening of a festival fight in rural northeastern Thailand, gamblers surrounded a rickety ring, set up just hours before, and threw down bets for the first match of the night: Bpaet “The Khorat Kid” Lukmaemali against Pupa “Rocky Mountain” Dor. Pewlawpakdee.
It was an easy call for most gamblers: Bpaet might have been a couple years older, but Pupa had well over a hundred professional fights, dwarfing Bpaet’s measly ten. Pupa was officially ranked, often commanding million-baht side bets (close to USD $30,000) between his and his opponents’ gyms. Plus, Pupa was the younger brother of famous fighter Moo-Sua-Dam, a regional champion and one of the best-known young contenders in the area.
This fight, though, wouldn’t command a large side bet. Pupa was regionally famous; his opponent was an unknown. Regardless, the gamblers bet thousands of baht on the boxers, some taking the sure winner Pupa, the Rocky Mountain himself, others intrigued by the confident newcomer Bpaet, the Khorat Kid. It didn’t matter to the gamblers that these were children they were betting on. In Thailand’s Muay Thai culture, child boxers are often considered just as legitimate as adults. Rocky Mountain, the favorite, was nine. His challenger, the Khorat Kid, was twelve.
In some gamblers’ minds, the age difference leveled the playing field. Bpaet was taller and older, but Pupa was stocky, solid, and with far more experience. Bpaet heard that Pupa had knocked out an older kid, a twelve-year-old like Bpaet, just last month. But rather than fearful, Bpaet was exhilarated to share the ring with someone of Pupa’s level and reputation.
The boys entered the ring, performed their wai kru, and touched gloves. First bets went in, Pupa heavily favored.
First round began slowly, as Thai fights often do, but quickly picked up. Bpaet was putting on ….View full article