Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Last spring, shortly after starting Thailand Footprint I had a lot of good luck. A friend introduced me to professional photographer, Eric Nelson from Chicago. Eric became the second interview I did on this blog. You can see that interview and 12 of his photographs by clicking here.: A DOZEN PHOTOGRAPHS AND INTERVIEW WITH ERIC NELSON.
I liked Eric’s style as a photographer and a person. He is an explorer and Bangkok presents the perfect environment for exploration. My luck continued when after those 12 photographs and interview with Eric ran, a comment came in with an interesting avatar and words:
Great interview with Eric! I am privileged to have been photographed by him on his wanders to the area of my Muay Thai gym. A talented photographer and a lovely guy too.
Five minutes of Google research told me the comment came from Melissa Ray, a Champion Muay Ying with a Ph.D from England. The holder of four Championship belts until injuries forced her retirement. I now knew I had a female, expat, Muay Thai Champ leaving nice comments about my interview with Eric and Eric Nelson too. When luck presents itself as soul singer, Sista Monica says back in California: “Sometimes you gotta move.” Arrangements were made to conduct an interview with Melissa Ray and watch her train at Eminent Air Boxing Gym. She had only recently recovered from her injuries enough to allow her to return to training at an elite level.
The interview: A SENSE OF WHERE YOU ARE … A CONVERSATION WITH MUAY THAI CHAMPION MELISSA RAY ran last June. You can read the interview by clicking the picture or text above. That interview received over 240 unique visitors in one day. Pretty good for a two month old blog, at the time. The post has since been viewed close to 1,000 times. Two more times Melissa Ray came out on top.
Fast forward to 10 days ago. I asked Eric Nelson if he would like to go back to Eminent Air Boxing Gym, where he had photographed Melissa to see her again and take some more photographs. Some decisions are easier than others. We went.
The first thing I noticed about Melissa since I had last seen her was how much leaner, stronger and fitter she looked. As part of her training 10 days ago she ran laps around the neighborhood where Eminent Air Boxing Gym is located, with another Champion, Victor “Hotchilli” Ntg, seen in the above photograph with Melissa. Melissa continues to train and enjoy training. She is now back in England on vacation and visiting family. Whether she fights in the ring again or not, she has a passion for Muay Thai and is a great Ambassador and Champion for the sport.
Eminent Air Gym is a gym of Champions. It is like a scene out of a movie. It is where Apollo Creed would have taken Rocky Balboa to train seriously if Rocky had ever fought in Thailand. Victor was one of two Champions that Melissa introduced me to that day among the many elite Muay Thais training. The other was Chok shown below after winning his Championship belt:
Before Chok and Victor got into the ring at Eminent Air Gym I had the opportunity to speak with Victor at length. Victor is an Aussie bloke and a very friendly one at that. The smile on Hotchilli seemed so permanent that I asked him if he smiles during a match, as I had witnessed when I watched a live Muay Thai fight at Channel 7 Arena two months ago. Victor shared that he has two personalities. That he often felt like a completely different person inside the ring during a match. And when the stakes were higher, when the competition was greater, Victor became even more serious inside the ring. We talked about the referees in Thailand and how they tend to judge foreigners vs Thais. Victor will fight again on December 10th, in Khon Kaen Stadium at 10:35 p.m. with big prize money and a MAX Championship belt on the line. You can watch him fight live on Thai TV Channel 7 that day.
As Chok and Victor got into the ring for their training, Eric Nelson captured the atmosphere at Eminent Air Gym:
In Thailand most Thais enjoy Muay Thai as a spectator sport, including monks on their way back to a nearby temple. It is a tough, grueling sport to participate in. Victor Ntg is a gifted athlete. He also trains most everyday and he works hard at his progress. In his past he has participated in Aussie Rules Footy at a high level, been a top sprinter in track and field and a point guard on the basketball court.
It may have been training and not an actual bout but Chok and Victor seemed to be going all out at Eminent Air Gym.
It was another fun afternoon spent at Eminent Air Boxing gym. It was great to see Melissa again, to meet Chok and to talk with Victor. They were also cool enough to wear the Gop Tshirts I gave them.
Eminent Air Boxing Gym has an intoxicating, addictive environment. Monks like it. Athletes from all over the world train there. Photographers are drawn there for the array of images to choose from. It is a unique place. As an old basketball gym rat I know how important gym camaraderie is. It was in full display on a Saturday afternoon in Bangkok.
Eminent Air is where Champions train and are honored on the walls. It’s a serious place and a fun place. It’s a gym I have now been too twice. I know I will be back. Next time I hope to meet and speak with the owner, Mr. Somboon Niruttimetee the founder of Eminent Air Boxing Gym and promoter of ‘Suek Eminent Air’ events at Lumpini Boxing Stadium. Mr. Somboon is a former corporate lawyer and current multiple business owner in Bangkok.
Many thanks to Eric Nelson, Melissa Ray, Chok and Victor. Melissa will be reading this in England. Eric Nelson will continue to explore Bangkok taking exceptional photographs along the way. And Victor “Hotchilli” Ntg will be fighting for the MAX World Championship on December 10th, 2013 in a four man tournament. I wish Victor good luck on that day. He’ll need two wins to wear the Champion’s belt. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. But nobody ever said, you can’t be both.
Eric Nelson’s contact details can be found below for anyone in Thailand in need of a first class, professional photographer: