Violence and friendship: the street brawls of Thai Fight Club

By Noel Caballero

Bangkok, Aug 31 (EFE).- In a makeshift boxing ring in a poor Bangkok neighborhood, an office worker and a computer scientist battle it out while an excited crowd swirls around the contenders of the evening’s event organized by the Fight Club.

With an aesthetic that tries to emulate an underworld street, this group has grown since 2016 through the popularity of videos of violent fights posted on social media networks, where they have some 780,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 470,000 subscribers on YouTube.

One of the organizers believes the key to its success is violence.

“We have to understand that violence stays with our world. Anywhere there is violence, it’s something unfixable. I think it’s unfixable, but we can limit it. Fix violence with violence, let it stay within its limits. Because some problems cannot end well, they require violence, then they can end,” said Drey Suphat Johnstone, one of the founders who sometimes acts as a referee.

The young man, who proudly displays a tattoo that links him to Fight Club, says that for him it all started as a “youthful dare,” but over time they began to establish a series of rules and protection measures.

As in the novel written by Chuck Palahniuk, and the film starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, that inspire this Thai group, the fighters are ordinary people with ordinary jobs who come to these events to blow off steam and practice contact sports.

Over time, however, they began to establish a series of rules and security measures.

“Before there were hardly any rules, but we had to adapt according to today’s society. If we are wild all the time, society can’t stand it,” he said.

The fights are a single round of three minutes in which it is forbidden to hit with the elbows, grab the opponent, throw them to the ground or throw punches to the nape of the neck and the back of the head. There are no declared winners or losers.

“I like exercising, and my house is near a boxing camp, so I had the chance to practice. Then I wanted to try to fight for real, to see how I can control my focus, whether I will be excited, whether I will get tired first in the atmosphere of an arena with audiences. I want to prove myself,” says web page developer Siam Phonsan, 35.

The extreme heat in this tropical country and the smell of muscle liniment are constants during the fights, which are organized at least once a month, usually in places away from people such as between shipping containers in a freight port or under a highway.

“My brother wanted to fight in this match so much, but he didn’t have the chance, so I dedicated this match to him,” says Yutthasin Thebamrung, 20, pointing to the sky in memory of his brother who recently died.

To avoid problems with the authorities, who usually turn a blind eye, the organizers insist on a ban on gambling and the consumption of marijuana, recently decriminalized in the country.

Drey assures that the events have the approval of the Department of Provincial Administration and the local police station.

A doctor stands a few meters from the ring to attend to any fighters with bleeding or bruising, while an ambulance waits nearby in case of serious injuries.

“It feels fun, because when you enter, it’s like we’re friends. After fighting, we’re friends, but in the ring, it’s a sport (…) This sport doesn’t make us hate each other – it creates our friendship,” says a young Fuse, an office worker and aspiring social media influencer, alongside Fluke, a 20-year-old factory worker, whom he has just fought.

At the end of the fight, the bruised combatants smile, congratulate and hug each other, while the referee tells them: “Now you are brothers in Fight Club.” EFE


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