Saenchai has the presence and charisma of Mohammed Ali. I met him in July 2010 when I photographed the international Muay Thai tournament in Nakhon Pathom Stadium, Thailand. Eight nations were represented: Thailand, Japan, Spain, UK, USA, Iran, France and Germany.
The meticulous preparation had elements of the physical, spiritual and ceremonial. Physical in the oiling, massaging and knuckle-binding; spiritual in rituals such as putting hands together in prayer to attract auspicious energy; ceremonial in the donning of the headband, armbands and garlands before performing the arresting Wai khru Ram Muay dance to show respect to the teachers and trainers before the tournament.
The fights were brutal and suffocating, as one might expect. But more striking were the breathtaking speed, agility, and above all, grace.
The fighter representing Thailand was the charismatic Saenchai, the current World Lightweight Champion who has won the Lumphini Championship in three different weight divisions and is viewed as one of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world. He is a man with tremendous presence, composed and gracious, no movement extraneous, and from the first moment it was clear he was in a class of his very own.
Wrists and knuckles of the fighters are bound for protection before the tournament (photo above).
Multiple Lumphini Muay Thai champion, Saenchai, prays for auspicious energy (below left). Fighters wear ceremonial headbands and garlands as they pay respects before the fight (below right).
Saenchai shows his agility in avoiding a powerful kick.
Fighters have a few moments to cool off between rounds.
The Japanese opponent attempts to defend himself against Saenchai’s attack.
Brutal and claustrophobic combat.
Saenchai – charisma and grace in the ring.
The Iranian champion, is ‘encouraged’ by his coach between rounds.
He receives stitches – without anaesthetic – before the final against Saenchai.
The final fight between Thailand and Iran.
Spectators feel the force of the blows (below left and right).
Saenchai’s winning strike, securing his victory as tournament champion.
Seemingly unscathed, Saenchai stands calm and proud in victory.
November 23, 2010 – 7:13 pm Karen – Jackie, These are some of my favorites. The photos are phenomenal. You just keep getting better and better. Karen
November 23, 2010 – 8:44 pm Cathy – Great photos Jackie – you got really close… did you need special permission? You capture the spirit of the fighting really well, Cathy
November 23, 2010 – 8:51 pm Polly – Jackie, just incredible …….. some of your shots seem you were in the ring with them! Amazing clarity & perception. These must be due for some awards, you deserve them! Incredibly inspiring, loved them, thank you! Polly
November 23, 2010 – 8:59 pm jackierado – Thanks for the comments, great to hear from you all! I was at the event photographing one of the fighters which gave me access behind the scenes – very useful. Once the fight started it was a free for all, but I managed to squeeze in – trusty telephoto at the ready!
November 23, 2010 – 10:22 pm Claire – Wow… these are truly awesome! Each blog gets more interesting and this one is really explosive! Amazing.
November 24, 2010 – 7:24 pm Saranya B – Wowwww…great photos!! You got really inside the scene!! love them all 🙂
November 24, 2010 – 8:58 pm Marie Linnér – Jackie, extremely inspiring photos. I´m not much of a thai boxing fan. I really don´t like sports when people are hurting each other, but these photos are truly wonderful. I feel I get more in contact with the person and like I can feel and experience their emotions through your eyes. Love the face of the spectator with scrunched up mouth and very hooded eyes, what an expression.
November 25, 2010 – 7:14 am Kaylea – Jackie, wow, wow and wow! My favourites are the close ups of the boxers’ faces. You have really captured the emotion and the exhaustion on their faces. I take it you have a zoom lens?!! Either that or you were in the ring dodging them! Whatever…stunning photos! x
November 30, 2010 – 9:03 pm jackierado – I have to say, there were some fabulous expressions in the audience – as well as some highly colourful characters. Hmm, perhaps a blog devoted to them next time..! Women are strictly forbidden from climbing up onto the podium so the best I could do was edge forward and shoot from below. Thanks again for your wonderful words!
February 8, 2011 – 6:28 pm Claussniazi@yahoo.com – ouch….you really capture this amazingly well and tho I was wincing the whole way….your talent in taking all these shots is just amazing….so to balance out…..I scrolled down….and then back up…..and end with the delightful and peaceful babies….ahhhhhhh 😉