Note: This article was originally published in Rough Asia on 29 April 2018.
In Bangkok, city roads melt down to a near standstill during rush-hour. Hailing a taxi during this time requires patience, it was only on my fifth try that I was able to hail down a cab willing to take me to Ram Intra Road.
The New Lumpinee Stadium (sometimes spelt ‘Lumpini’), opened its doors in February 2014 after almost 60 years at its former location on Rama 4 Road in central Bangkok. Many Muay Thai aficionados lament the new facility’s lack of old-world charm.
By old-world charm, they mean excessive heat, leaking roofs, and pervasive dirt and grime. The new location has also been lambasted for its inaccessibility but stadium regulars welcome the much-needed air-conditioning and amble parking.
“So who’s fighting tonight?”, the driver asked. I mentioned the two main event fights since they were the only fighters on the card that I knew. He perked up instantly. I guessed that he was also a fan of the sport. Or more likely a gambler.
More than an hour later, we arrived at the renowned Lumpinee Stadium, and that’s after training via BTS to Mo Chit Station. It cost 250 Thai Baht to get to the stadium including a couple of toll charges, and a few more Baht for the BTS to Mo Chit (depending on where you stay).
Back in the days, the old Lumpinee was the venue to catch the world’s top Muay Thai exponents in action. Foreign spectators have visibly dwindled since the move. Casual fans of the sport and tourists are contented with the sheer convenience offered by a number of other options.
There’s the equally-famous Rajadamnern stadium, the weekly Sunday matinees at Channel 7 stadium and random shows put on around the city all located within a reasonable distance from public transit. But now, the New Lumpinee is located an hour from city centre, without traffic. In rush hour, it can take up to two hours.
Lumpinee fights typically take place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with the best matchups tending to take place during weekdays but it’s always worth checking the schedule first (click here).
Some days will host dual promotions (or more), so if you up for sitting through hours of Muay Thai, you can watch two shows for the price of one. In all honesty, I would only subject myself to sit through the horrendous traffic for nothing less than the top-tier fighters in the league. This was one of those nights.
I bought myself a ticket for ringside and trotted my way to the arena gates. “Sir, no water allowed”, ordered the security at the door. I left the plastic bottle on the table somewhat grudgingly and walked in. The stadium is massive, with a capacity of 9,500— nearly double the size of the old Lumpinee.
I was ushered to my seat and soon made eye contact with a waiting staff walking around the floor to solicit orders for drinks and snacks. She was quick to respond, “Beer, sir?” Local beer is a popular choice as are peanuts and popcorn, but I asked simply for a bottle of mineral water. The security at the doors go through your bags not so much as to check for dangerous items but more likely to prevent food purchased outside of the arena from being brought in. Market economics at work.
By the time I had arrived, they were already half way through the card. I sat down to two fighters knee deep in battle, with the crowds reciprocating with deafening cheers. It may not have been worthy to be the main event but the elite standard of the fighters could easily have made this a main event anywhere outside of Thailand. It’s Lumpinee after all and most stadium fighters are another level.
There were a few championship titles on the line this night. Littewada Sitthikul delivered a devastating third round KO victory over Nonthakit for Lumpinee title. This was the only knockout of the night and by all accounts, it was a spectacular one. The gamblers obviously went wild over it.
Up next was the fight that everyone had been waiting for. Rising star, Kulabdam Sor Jor Piek-Uthai was coming up against the phenom, Muangthai PK Saenchai Gym. Supporters of Kulabdam were decked out in black t-shirts with the fighter’s image printed on the back. Muangthai had his own share of fans in his corner and on the spectator stands. Muangthai was the more experienced of the two and a regular on Lumpinee cards. He was giving up 2 lbs, a significant advantage in Thailand— every bit matters at this level.
This was an absolute thriller. Despite Kulabdam throwing punch after punch and landing a good number of brutal punches, his opponent was resolved to not hit the canvas that night. Muangthai retaliated with his notorious elbows and at any point, it looked as if someone was going to get knocked out. Muangthai edged out to win the fight on points. This was easily my pick for the fight of the year and I was fortunate to have caught it live at the stadium.
The crowds started to disperse right after Muangthai’s hand was raised. There were two more bouts left for the night. A section of hardcore gamblers stayed on along with a handful of foreigners seated at ringside, wanting to get their money’s worth. I too stayed on a little longer to avoid crushing it with the mob.
Outside of the arena, an apologetic Kulabdam was seen being comforted by his peers. As for the victorious star of the night, Muangthai was out and about taking photos with his adoring fans.
Incidentally, Muangthai bagged the year’s Lumpinee’s Fighter of the Year award for his stunning wins in 2017 including the night’s show-stopper against Kulabdam.
Still reeling with excitement from the show’s electric atmosphere, I made my way and quickly found a taxi to take me back to the hotel. The ride back took only half an hour and was 30 baht cheaper than coming here. It is an expensive excursion by Thailand standards but when the stadium stages a good card, nothing quite compares to a night out at Lumpinee.
Editor’s note: There are now talks of bringing Lumpinee stadium back to downtown Bangkok where the convenience will attract more tourists to attend. Fingers crossed.