One Night in Bangkok

One Night in Bangkok

By Mar 21, 2012

BANGKOK, Thailand — Young 20-somethings pour into Club Insomnia. DMX barks from the speakers, and the strobe lights splash color on everyone and everything. Thai waitresses lean into your ear and ask what you would like to drink. The brands are out in full force: Tapout, Sprawl, Hayabusa, Jaco, Throwdown and Affliction. For the first time in Thailand’s history, there is about to be a sanctioned, professional mixed martial arts fight inside an octagonal cage.

“Welcome to DARE Championships!” the announcer yells over the music. “You are about to witness history being made!”

While Jussi Saloranta, head of fighter and public relations for Dare Fight Sports, is quick to point out that this organization is promoting the first sanctioned MMA event in Thailand’s history, he remains humble enough to acknowledge that he is merely extending the roots that were planted many years prior. He made constant reference to Art Davie’s MMA experience in Bangkok.

“It’s a story many fight fans don’t know about,” he said. “It could be argued that MMA was born in Bangkok.”

What Saloranta refers to dates back to 1969. Davie was a young Marine on R&R in Bangkok. A former Golden Gloves boxer, he was attracted to the fight game, so there he was in a smoky saloon that doubled as a fight arena when he witnessed a muay Thai kickboxer take on an East Indian wrestler. Although the muay Thai fighter ended the bout with a knee to the wrestler’s head, it was the energies outside of the actual encounter that captivated Davie, a blossoming adman, for the next 20-plus years of his life: the sheer excitement of what would happen when styles collided, the fact that every discipline was welcomed and the uncertainty in a fighter’s eyes when he stood across from a man trained in a totally different art.

Fast forward to the summer of 1993, and Davie is in Torrance, Calif., negotiating the production of such an event with Rorian Gracie. By September 1993, ads for the Ultimate Fighting Championship were blanketing the martial arts industries. Then, at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, on Nov. 12, 1993, the UFC was born.

Before the fights began at Club Insomnia, I spoke with several Thai fighters in the audience, including one who would be competing on the card in less than an hour.

“You’re a decorated muay Thai champion,” I said. “What are your keys to victory in this fight?”

In broken English, he responded: “I’m going to take him down — ground-and-pound, baby!”

His opponent was a wrestler and submission artist. It does not take much imagination to know the outcome. Other Thais echoed similar responses. Still, I tried again, this time asking a retired Thai boxing champion who was just there to watch: “What do you think is the best part about MMA in Thailand?”

“The grappling,” he said. “Love the triangle chokes and ground-and-pound. Love that Matt Hughes kind of style.”

“It seems that the muay Thai fighters here aren’t interested in using their muay Thai,” I said. “Is it just because grappling is so new and something different they want to try?”

“It’s like this. We’ve been training muay Thai every day of our lives since we were little kids. Many of us are burnt out; we’re tired of it. Sure, it’ll help us in there,” he said, as he pointed toward the cage,” but some of us have had nearly 200 muay Thai fights. We’re sick of it.”

As Thais tire of their national sport — some even go so far as to say that muay Thai is becoming the poor man’s sport, similar to boxing in America — Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA academies are thriving in Bangkok. Take, for example, Bangkok BJJ. Led by Luke Chaya, founder of the wildly popular BJJ-Asia blog, and Ben Weinstein, it is a Ralph Gracie-affiliated school in the heart of Bangkok.

A major hurdle now is making the MMA and BJJ classes accessible to the Thai people. Many of the MMA and BJJ academies are priced about the same as schools in America — $90 a month, or 3,000 Thai Baht (THB). While this is a reasonable fee in America, it is quite expensive for most Thais, so the more those prices rise the more Thais will be excluded. Consider that even some associate-level professors at universities here are working full-time and only bringing in about $1,000 per month or 30,000 THB, and it is easy to see why many of these academies will fill primarily with foreigners.

Economically, Bangkok is in the middle of rapid change. While many employers pay “Thai salaries,” the pricing of food and housing in Bangkok are increasingly being westernized. While you can get a plate of pad Thai from a street vendor here for 30 THB, you often have to walk past 10 or more new restaurants with westernized prices to get it. There are also plenty of businesses here that hire both Thai and foreign workers, yet pay the Thai workers less than half to do the same job or more.

The latest Dare Fight Sports show was held on Jan. 7 and featured Daiju Takase — the Pride Fighting Championships veteran who holds wins over Anderson Silva, Chris Brennan and Carlos Newton. The Thai fighters had developed their ground game significantly since the opening event nearly six months ago. Most Thais in the crowd actually cheered for ground transitions — when one fighter passed guard, for example. Not only had the Thai fighters themselves improved, but the fans had expanded their MMA knowledge.

Thailand prides itself on its fresh foods, friendliness and fighting. Mention muay Thai to any taxi driver, and you are sure to get smiles and stories. This makes it all the more powerful to be part of the MMA revolution here. It is one thing to have an elite training center like Tiger Muay Thai, which brings in guys like Royce Gracie and Roger Huerta to its beautiful Thailand island resort. It is another animal entirely when the soul and economic heart of an entire country — a city with a few million more people than the entire state of Pennsylvania — begins fully embracing a new sport so like and unlike its own.

During this event, I stood beside a Thai man in his 50s. He jumped and shouted “oo-way!” when a Thai fighter threw a knee, elbow or kick; you hear this a million times if you watch a muay Thai bout here in Thailand. However, when the fight hit the ground, he grew quiet. His eyebrows furrowed as the athletes jockeyed for position, and he paced around the cage to get a better view. He was clearly confused, but from his confusion seemed to grow a fire for understanding.

The foreign fans went wild at an armbar attempt, but he stayed calm, meditative even. He squatted down to get a different angle, to see how the bottom fighter was swiveling or how the top fighter kept his base. Just then, Tanaphong Khunhankaew, who had previously been getting dominated on the ground by a fellow Thai fighter, Mangthus Rewtawee, sat on his knees while Mangthus relaxed on his back in closed guard. Khunhankaew began smiling.

The man’s forehead wrinkled deeper as he pressed himself closer to the cage. All the fans were swaying and moving to get a better glimpse of the action. They did not boo when the action hit the ground; the Thais do not lose face in this way even if they want to on the inside. Just then, Khunhankaew shot a right hand straight down the middle. Rewtawee went limp. Before the outburst of cheering, the fans covered their mouths in awe for a split second. The man looked over at me and smiled. He nodded his head enthusiastically and began clapping.

We had just watched a true Thai MMA bout filled with side mounts, triangle choke attempts and double-leg takedowns, a bout that ended with a familiar result: a knockout. Even the Thai bartenders began cheering. The music came back on with a club remix: “One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble.”

Cameron Conaway is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet.

This article was originally published here on


CrossFit is Badass

Cameron Conaway talks about his discovery of Crossfit and why men

should embrace this transformation team workout style.

Whether guys have too much pride, like the control of maintaining and establishing their own workouts or simply enjoy the alone time to zone out and hit the weights, it’s clear upon walking into most gyms that women have better embraced the idea of group fitness. While solo training can certainly be the ultimate stress relief and can take you quite far depending on your goals, it also imposes certain limits that a team can better help you surpass. Even bodybuilders renowned for their solo training often have a team around them at the gym. And when it comes to skill improvement and refinement – whether it’s in the deadlift or the armbar – it’s clear that having a team of some sort is crucial.

CrossFit’s official Facebook Page is about 240,000 strong, but the organization shines brightest at the local level. Years ago when CrossFit first erupted and began making national news headlines I was skeptical. I felt that they were using Olympic-style lifts for high repetitions and that this was a sure path to injury. I also felt that their intensity, while great for people like myself, would not be accommodating to those less physically capable and would wreck bodies and then member confidence in the program as a result. Lastly, part of me believed this was all just another fad – something that would be gone in a few months time and replaced with something else. You know, the downward spiral that 99% of other fitness programs flush into. Although some of my concerns over injury were found valid, CrossFit, through its sustainability and willingness to change over the years, has crushed the low expectations I had for it. I’m happy to say that it still thrives. Like my Bikram is Badass piece, I believe CrossFit is a great program that will be around for years to come. Here are five reasons why:

Click here to read the full article on the Good Men Project.

Photo credit: Flickr / CrossFit Fever


Saints’ Bounty Program: Insignificant In Amount, Heavy With Meaning

Cameron Conaway thinks the New Orleans Saints’ paying for injuries to opponents raises some deep, unsettling questions.

From this article on CNN: “The New Orleans Saints’ defense had a bounty program that paid players for injuring opponents and for making interceptions and fumble recoveries, the National Football League said Friday.

The program involved as many as 27 defensive players, at least one assistant coach, and was active during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, said the league.”

Players were allegedly paid for knockouts and for “cart-offs,” when an opposing player had to be carried off the field. A team source tells Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that before the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was offered $10,000 to take out Brett Favre. Brett’s response was, “I’m not pissed. It’s football. I don’t think anything less of those guys.”

This all leaves us with a host of questions including but not limited to:

Click here to read the full article on the

Photo: AP


Pinterest is for Girls, Gentlemint is for Boys

Pinterest has been dubbed the hottest new social network trend, and rightly so. Pulling in an average of 12 million unique users per month, Pinterest allows people to showcase and catalogue their likes and interests through a medium that never loses its steam, the image.

A week or so ago I signed up on Pinterest and created several “boards” including one for Warrior Poets and one for Malaria. Then, a few days ago I stumbled across this article on Since then I’ve read the many articles and Twitter posts about how “Pinterest is for chicks.” Some preliminary Pinterest numbers showed that, in fact, 80% of users were female. When I signed up, many of the “pins” on the front page were of dresses and wedding-things and love quotes, but I didn’t explore any deeper than that before creating my own account. The pins that I saw were just other people’s pins, not male pins or female pins. In fact, I didn’t know the male/female numbers difference until I read about it. Now, there are loads of articles about how Gentlemint is Pinterest for dudes. The Forbes article opens with:

“On your first visit to Gentlemint, users of Pinterest might find a few familiar things. Tiled layout, shared content based on pictures by users, etc. But it’s clear that it’s catering to a different crowd entirely. As I write this, the site features pictures and links to tattoo machines, door handles modded to look like guns, Bugs Bunny cartoons, and of course, a bacon-topped donut.

“In other words, this is a site more focused on manly things.”


Click here to read the full article on the Good Men Project.


Are Men More Risky With Social Media?

Cameron Conaway wonders why men are more willing than women to share personal information on the Internet.

A new study has shown that men are more likely than women to share their phone number, physical address, geographic location and political and religious affiliations on social media sites. The market research company uSamp surveyed only 600 social media users, which isn’t really enough to draw good conclusions, but for the sake of discussion let’s assume that this study was error-free and garnered the same results after studying 600,000.

While this study will surely be used to help companies target ads and direct traffic, what does it reveal when viewed through the lens of gender?

Click here to read the full article on the Good Men Project.

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video


My Religion’s Better Than Yours: On Tebow, Quinn, Football, and Evangelism

Cameron Conaway insists that this has nothing to do with football and everything to do with what it means to be a good man.

“If you look at it as a whole, there’s a lot of things that just don’t seem very humble to me,” Brady Quinn said of his Denver Bronco teammate Tim Tebow as part of an oral history in GQ Magazine. “When I get that opportunity, I’ll continue to lead not necessarily by trying to get in front of the camera and praying but by praying with my teammates, you know?”

More than any other position in any other sport, the quarterback is expected to represent everything that is pious. It seems quite a shallow definition of piousness as it often begins with looks. In movies and even in real life, quarterbacks have been shaped into the good ol’ American boy model. The perfect hair that takes time to groom but comes off as careless. The masculine jaw. The perfect size: not freakish like the offensive lineman but not too jacked like the running back. Once a decent level of play and look are established, it’s all about the morals. Unfortunately, the morals of men are still inextricably linked not to their character but to their religion, in particular, the way they showcase their religion.

Click here to read the full article on the Good Men Project.


Hero Worship Always Ends Poorly

Mahatma Gandhi left his wife to live with a German-Jewish bodybuilder. Martin Luther King Jr. had a violent orgy the night he was shot. And Lance Armstrong’s a cheater.

These are just a few of the rumors in magazines, blogs and books about people we call heroes. But what if the rumors are true? What if they are much worse? What if Gandhi regularly beat his wife to near death or MLK raped women? Are persons capable of being heroes or are they simply in possession of certain characteristics we deem heroic? Textually it may seem like splitting hairs, but emotionally and socially it can mean the world.

Click here to read the full article on The Good Men Project.


“He’s not complex. He’s a lacrosse player.”

Wait, all men who play sports are idiots? Cameron Conaway thought we were past that.

I’m calling out Defense Attorney Francis Lawrence based on his recent comments regarding the murder trial going on in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A quick recap: University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V is facing first-degree murder and five other charges for the May 2010 death of his ex-girlfriend, University of Virginia women’s lacrosse player, Yeardley Love.

I lived in Charlottesville when this alleged murder happened and I’ve been following the case for about 21 months now. While I fully understand that Lawrence’s job is to prove George Huguely’s innocence, I believe he’s doing so in a way that stereotypes all players of lacrosse, all players of sport, and by insinuation all men who participate in and/or define themselves through said activities.

Lawrence is smart to pair the case that Huguely didn’t commit the murder with a backup plan that would reduce the sentence if Huguely were indeed found to have killed Yeardly. But his argument seems to be that Huguely is too much of an idiot to have committed an act of violence that took even the slightest bit of rational thought, that dismisses the mental side entirely while answering yes to Could he have repeatedly smashed her head into a wall until she died?

… and this means he’s carrying his bucket of arguments across the crumbling bridge of a male stereotype that continues to permeate our culture and make it difficult to have a conversation about men and manhood.

Click here to read the full article on the Good Men Project.

- Photo AP


“What About Fathers?”

Cameron Conaway discovers the important intersection of masculinity and fatherhood while at a malaria research unit and refugee camp in Thailand.

The sounds of various languages took the shape of fog and swirled through the air in front of me. Burmese was maroon, Thai was blue, Karen was yellow and the various accents of English were green. They merged and melted and drifted upward but always maintained their integrity, their separate selves.

Click here to read the full article on the Good Men Project.


CAGED’s New Book Trailer

CAGED has a new book trailer. I had fun shooting this with the talented team at Enjoy!

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