Article Originally Published In Main Stand by Alongot Deuanklony: Link Here
Sports arenas are built for capitalism in the world of professional sports.
The income comes from the total sales provided by the audience.
Spending money at the stadium is only entertainment. There is not much impact on the lives of human beings.
But many people spend money anyways. They go to support their favorite fighters, the fighters they promote, or to cheer on their national representatives when they have competitions.
This is the overall view of the sports world.
If there are fans there is a drive to push things forwards.
But this is not the case for five round Muay Thai in Thailand. Its character belongs to the audience in the stadium. The fighters are something completely different.
Alongot Deuanklony, the editor of Main Stand spent two years following the sport of our home. He was able to observe everything through conversation with those that call themselves “เซียนมวย ” (Sian Muay/Muay Thai Gambling Experts). He noted importance of gambling in Muay Thai that is not seen in any other professional sport in the world.
The Beginning Of Gambling In Muay Thai
The truth is controversial amongst the morals and culture of the people, but people will not deny it. In the stadium, they say it is illegal to gamble, like chicken fighting, ox racing, and bullfighting. (You must have permission to do these)
Buddhism explains that gambling is one of the vices. But one side says gambling existed before recorded history. A revolution has developed though.
In past societies, gambling was a way to relax. It wasn’t a business during previous eras.
When gambling began in Thailand is uncertain. We believe that in 907 AD gambling began because the country was influenced by China and India. The first gambling was called “catching the bean.”
Many written pieces of evidence came from Monsieur De La Loure, an ambassador from France. He came to the country in 1687 AD and said, “The Siamese people love to gamble until they have nothing left.”
Gambling in Muay Thai is something that has been around for a long time.
Thai people love to gamble when there is a competition, win or lose.
The punches, kicks, knees, and elbows add to the excitement of gambling.
Gambling in Muay Thai was around since the Ayuttyah period and the reign of the Tiger King or Phra Chao Seua.
The Tiger King loved Muay Thai so much. He organized fights between villages for fun. He would also bet on the bouts.
But during the ancient days gambling was for fun and at the same time as general fandom. It was not like it is in the present period.
About 60-70 years Muay Thai rules became professional. The rules, the construction of the rings and stadiums became standardized. Tickets for audiences were created and so were promoters.
Who Buys The Tickets?
“A long time ago, maybe 50 years ago, I would say more people came to see Muay Thai than gamble. They would come to watch their favorite fighters. They came to the stadium at 3pm. They would bring food with them and wait because they were afraid there wouldn’t be any seats. There were a lot fewer gamblers,” said Sia Nao.
Sia Nao is a former promoter and is well known. He has been an expert in the Muay Thai industry for more than 60 years. He often talks about Muay Thai in Yindeeman Talk.
He pointed out that the audiences were much larger than in the past. The people liked the art of Muay Thailand. They liked to follow the fighters that they felt belonged to them. Or they came to experience the atmosphere. So they would spend money on tickets.
The context of the period is important. Fifty years ago Muay Thai was the only professional sport in Thailand. It was concrete and popular for the Thai citizens. Other sports like football, volleyball still had not become professionalized like Muay Thai. There were no standard venues or arenas in Bangkok and the surrounding areas.
People were able to watch fights in the big arenas and in other regions and provinces. They were able to watch the rising stars in Bangkok. This is the reason they bought tickets. Professional Muay Thai at that point was like boxing in the present day.
Sia Nao continued to explain that the changing point began with gambling and the Sian Muay. They started to have a bigger role 30-40 years ago because many of the famous and skilled Muay Thai fighters retired or quit. There were no other stars to replace them or attract an audience.
Gambling in Muay Thai was legalized and was given permission. Since it wasn’t against the law people who liked to search for luck came. Sia Nao explained that they are the same people that liked to gamble on other things.
The people that came to the stadium to earn money and as a business were the Sian Muay.
Following that period there were violent incidents in Muay Thai stadiums. It appeared on live TV. People that liked sports began to be interested in other things. And the Muay Thai industry lacked Superstars to draw popularity.
Because the people that liked Muay Thai didn’t gamble they weren’t hungry to travel to the stadiums except for the big fights.
So the Sian Muay began to have a bigger role in the Muay Thai stadiums. They were regular customers. The promoters felt safe that no matter the trends they would always buy tickets. Even though the reason to buy tickets was not the same as in other sports.
The Relationship With Gambling in The Muay Thai Industry
When the income from the tickets goes down there is a loss that promoters have to face. (This happened even before the COVID -19 Crisis) The effect harmed the boxers. Their purses weren’t much and now is less than it should be.
The purse of professional Muay Thai fighters isn’t different from in the past. It is between 1,000 and 90,000 baht. There are only a few people that make 100,000 baht or more. So the only way Muay Thai fighters can earn more is to do their best and to turn the odds around to earn tips from the Sian Muay.
Money can also come from bonuses, such as head kicks, reverse elbows, or knockouts.
“I am a Sian Muay and my job is a bookie. I give live commentary from ringside to the members of my subscription plan. Most of the time when I enter the stadium I have my 1-2 favorite fighters from the 10 fight card. The rest I choose from the atmosphere from the stadium and the game in the ring.
In general, I don’t pin my choice down because sometimes the situation will change and doesn’t look good. I have to change my bets to save my original investment. Except for the fighters that I sponsor, I don’t change my bets on them.
The fighters that I sponsor will wear my shirt. Before the bout, I give them 10,000 -20,000 baht. During the fight, I also put money into a side bet for the kids that I sponsor, something like that.
For me, the Nak Muay is very important for the Sian Muay because they allow themselves to be kicked or hurt for the gamblers.
Sometimes we have to give them an injection to make them have more energy. From this, we get money and they will get extra money besides their purse,” Saranwut Teerasu or Num Bangradi the famous Sian Muay said.
Alongot Deuanklony used to talk with one Muay Thai expert at Rajadamnern before the bouts. Inside his backpack contained lots of 1,000 baht bills. You could see his purse was thick clearly.
This Sian Muay told us that he came from the south and came to Bangkok. He didn’t have a favorite fighter. He planned to observe the big boss or big legs and see how they bet and the local experts bet.
So he chooses to invest depending on what’s going on with the price and odds. He does not invest because he is a fan of a fighter but he chooses based on if the boxer has a chance to win.
Because Muay Thai doesn’t have a clear scoring system like kickboxing or western boxing the decision is based on style and who shows their feeling more.
When they retreat do they counter? Do they hit the target or not? If they attack how good they are?
Sometimes the fighter will almost die in the first three rounds but they do very well in the 4-5th and they can turn the fight around and win.
Some situations for fighters are very bad. The purses have gone down far. A cornerman said that injections between 10,000 baht and 100,000 baht motivate the fighters to go for the win. A lot of the money for fighters comes from the Sian Muay.
Everything Has Two Sides
Some people feel that the group of Sian Muay come to take advantage of things, so they feel negative towards the Sian Muay. But they must admit that this group still supports the Muay Thai industry by buying tickets to the shows. Now few other Thai people go to the stadiums.
After Covid-19 the stadiums were unable to serve the audience as before. The promotions had to increase their ticket price to survive and reduce loss.
Some promotions had tickets of 1,000 baht or more (One show has 5-10 fights).
The people that can come to the stadiums no matter the economy or the context is the Sian Muay.
If not for this group some promoters would have more difficulties.
But the coin has two sides. One side has the Sian Muay. Sometimes they can affect the decisions or the referees. The referees are impacted by the cheering and voices of the Sian Muay.
Sometimes the odds and price of the bets can impact the judge’s scoring and the fighter’s game.
For example, if the red and blue corner have a close fight but the red corner has a Sian Muay in his corner, his price and odds will go up. When the red corner unleashes his weapons the odds will run straight up. If the blue corner has no one of influence in his corner, no Sian Muay, and no big legs, if he kicks, the odds will go nowhere for him.
If the situation is close the blue corner is pressured to move forward and attack. That might not follow the game plan. Although no one knows yet how the referee is going to score the bout.
But if the conditions favor the red corner, especially in round five round fights, the fighter that comes forward is considered losing because he walks forward.
That is the reason why in many five round fights, the nak muay don’t let their weapons go in the fifth round. They are afraid to lose their position. That is why they dance. They are scared to go forward because if there is an accident they will lose. Even though they did well in the first four rounds an error in the fifth round creates a chance for them to lose.
The gambler’s role has become more in Muay Thai. It can impact the general audience. The feeling of Muay Thai goes down. It’s not as fun because some people in the stadium don’t want to lose… or lose money gambling.
If the cornermen tell the boxers they must retreat, the boxers must retreat. Even if they want to move forward and fight.
But the fighters must obey their cornermen. The must look around at the stadium instead of looking at the weapons of their opponents. This creates pressure for the fighters. They can not be themselves.
Yet, Sian Muay may be not the main problem because they are also the audience that is important to the industry. Without a normal audience and gamblers, we don’t know how Muay Thai would be. How can we break the audience from the gamblers in the stadium?
But the real problem is how to make a new generation connect to the art of the sport and want to be a part of the profession as in the past. They can be a real audience that has no Sian Muay. They can upgrade the sport.
That’s more difficult and we never know when we can solve this problem.
Chom is available for individual and group Thai Language lessons. Interested? Check out her website here.
Muay Thai Vocabulary
เซียนมวย – Sian Muay – Muay Thai Experts/Gamblers
การพนัน – Gaanpanan – Gambling
จุดเปลี่ยน – Jut Bplian- Changing Point
ราคา – Raka- The Price or odds
โปรโมเตอร – Promoter
ต่อ – Dto – Favorite to win
รอง – Rong – Underdog
ขาใหญ – Ka Yai – Big legs, big time gamblers
ทรงมวย – Song Muay – The shape of style of a fighter
กรรมการ – Gaamagan – Referee
ออกอาวุธ – Ohk Aawut – To let the weapons go
มวยหู – Muay Huu – Bookie