Photo: Michael Mowery
When you first lay eyes on Watt Sriboonruang, a commercial photographer, you’d have no idea she spends her nights perfecting blocking and striking techniques. The five-foot-six, slender Thai-native has been practicing martial arts for nearly a decade, but “discovered” Muy Thai accidentally when she was trying to find a way to gain body muscles.
“I was sort of skinny back then and wanted to be stronger,” she says.
But it wasn’t until years later in New York when her trainer asked her to fight in her first match that she realised she had an even deeper connection to the sport than she knew.
After accepting the invitation, Sriboonruang called her mother to tell her of the news and learned that her grandfather had also been a Muy Thai fighter. She had not known this growing up.
It would no longer be some adrenaline rush to knock people out in the ring. Now, it was “in [her] blood” and something that she needed to conquer.
Photo: Michael Mowery
Her first fight was in Oct. 2010 and she received a black eye from it; no injuries in the second fight; won the third one; received a deep cut above her left eye in the fourth fight. In the most recent fight, her opponent was “a tough one” — usually fighting in a heavier weight class than Sriboonruang’s “super bantamweight,” which weighs in about 120 to 122 pounds.
Her cut needed several stitches, and she says her boyfriend got teary-eyed when he saw her injury after the fight, but informed us that she “heals really fast.”
When we asked her if she’s afraid of getting hit in the face, she asks “Because I’m a girl? What do you mean?”
“If you think you’re going to get hit, you’ll get hit. If you think you’re going to hit them, you’ll hit them. You can’t be afraid to get hit.”
It’s never about winning.
Her record is currently one win out of four fights, but Sriboonruang isn’t after a championship title. Instead, she says she learns more about who she is as a fighter after each match.
“If you never challenge yourself, you’ll never improve. You have to push yourself. You have to get more experienced opponents each time.”
“Losing doesn’t necessary disappoint me as long as I get better as a fighter.”
But don’t get her wrong — she feels “absolutely great” when she wins.
The hardest part about the fight.
The training is brutal, she tells us. but necessary if you want to become disciplined.
“There is so much distraction in New York City — there’s your life, social events, parties, food and drink. If you don’t have discipline, it’s hard to achieve your goals.”
“Training takes a lot of your time and energy and you have to be really dedicated. If you don’t have discipline, you could make an excuse to skip a run because you’re exhausted and totally drained from the last training session.”When she’s not focused on her physical strength, Sriboonruang’s travelling for her photography gigs. She says sometimes, she’s “totally burnt out,” but just keeps pushing herself.
“Being disciplined doesn’t involve just the training aspect. It’s also about your diet and rest. You have to eat well in order to stay strong and healthy for a fight.”
You also have to make your weight class.
Don’t become friends with your opponents.
Not before you fight them, anyway.
The fighting community is tight and close-knit and the female division is even smaller, so Sriboonruang is careful about who she becomes friends with, especially if there’s a chance she’s going to get in the ring with them. No exception. She doesn’t even become “Facebook friends” with them.
Photo: Lane Burns
It’s too hard for her to fight her friends. “For some fighters, it’s easier for them to fight their friends, but I can’t do that. I need to build up an aggression against them. I can’t do that with friends.”
Sriboonruang doesn’t know what her future in fighting holds — she just knows this is her calling for now. Whether or not she’ll become “pro” is also undetermined.
“An amateur can turn pro anytime he or she wants, but nobody would want to turn pro when they’re not experienced enough and can get destroyed by an opponent who is much more experienced.”
“I can’t say if I will ever turn pro or not but will keep doing it as I enjoy it so much. Getting better as a fighter is my goal rather than turning pro.”
Sriboonruang currently trains with Coban Lookchaomaesaithong of Team Coban in Manhattan.
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