Sports Talk: Could muay Thai work in Yellowknife? Why not?

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There’s been traditional boxing, complete with the Queensbury rules, in town before. There’s been mixed-martial arts in town before. Both have been well-received in large part because they’re well-known. I’ve covered major events here in town involving both sports and the atmosphere is quite exciting.

Muay Thai made its debut in Yellowknife on Saturday at the Yk Community Arena with the Muay Thai Boxing Championship. It was the first time I had ever seen it live and I have to say it was impressive.

There is plenty of tradition involved with the sport and those who do it take it very seriously. It all begins before the fight as some fighters performed what’s known as wai khru, a ritual prayer done to show respect to the fighter’s coaches, families and ancestors.

The ritual sees the fighter circle the ring in a counter-clockwise direction and pray at each corner. Some fighters will have a simple prayer while others have very elaborate movements, such was the case of Erika Bandejas of Vancouver, whose wai khru lasted close to five minutes. Rather impressive and it was well-received by those in attendance.

Once the match begins, there is a rather rhythmic music played in the background for each and every round called sarama. It begins slow and speeds up because the idea is that the match will speed up once the fighters begin striking. Normally, a group of four musicians perform it live but it was done in electronic form and I have to admit: hearing it in the background definitely adds to the atmosphere.

So you’re wondering what I thought of it. In short, the action was great. The first fight of the night between Hinsan Hikmatov and Dakota Carpenter was a great curtain-lifter. Two teenagers just giving ‘er made for a wonderful way to get the crowd into it.

Bandejas and Su Zao were impressive in the lone women’s bout of the evening and the fight between Damon Begg and Jimmy Tran had everyone wondering if it would go off the rails quickly. Begg was low-blowed in the first round and it just had the feeling of a fight that could have gotten very nasty very quickly. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Tran won by technical knockout.

The only disappointment was that the crowd didn’t come out as I hoped it would. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of advertising done for the card and it happened on a long weekend (a big bogey for organizers) but if you were looking for something to do on a Saturday night, the Yk Community Arena was the place for you.

Now, in past articles, I’ve had the pleasure of people telling me about how terrible things like this are and how violence isn’t the answer. I will respond now as I did then: it’s all controlled.

No one is out there looking to injure the other person and if it happens, the person who throws the blow is usually the first person over to try and help out. This is not personal by any means – these are sanctioned fights with full medical personnel on hand in case anything serious happens. The fighters are checked before and after their fights and every precaution is taken to make sure they’re safe.

If the crowd is the judge for whether we see muay Thai come back to Yellowknife, the answer is no but this needs a chance. We didn’t think mixed-martial arts would work in Yellowknife but it did with the nexus coming when Jarret Vornbrock nearly filled the Yk Community Arena as the main attraction all those years ago.

What will help is more Yellowknife fighters on any future cards. Todd Vatcher was the lone Yellowknife fighter scheduled to fight but he was pulled from the evening because his opponent didn’t make his weight, not helping matters. People in Yellowknife will come out to watch something like this if they know there’s a local angle. Easier said than done but there’s a wonderful thing called time. More fighters will come over time. It worked for mixed-martial arts and it can work for muay Thai.

I hope we see another card come because it deserves a second chance to make a first impression.