Bell tolls for legendary Thai boxing stadium

Mon Feb 10, 2014 8:00pm EST
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Every muscle of Sattan Muanglek's body glistened as he was rubbed down by his trainer with liniment, its herbal odor permeating the dank corridors of Bangkok's legendary Lumpinee Boxing Stadium before a historic fight.

For once the Thai fighter was not focused on the prize. Friday's match was his last in one of Bangkok's oldest boxing venues, which will be demolished after 57 years to make way for high-rise urban development.

"Lumpinee closing has left me speechless. I could barely concentrate the first time I boxed here I was so excited. This is where every young boy dreams of fighting," said Sattan.

Like many men who choose the rigorous life of a Thai boxer, 21-year-old Sattan came from a poor background and saw the national sport as a means to support his extended family.

"Muay Thai", a violent sport that can make western boxing look tame, is said to be 2,000 years old.

Known as "The Art of Eight Limbs" for its extensive use of hands, elbows, feet and knees, it also mixes religious beliefs with traditional cultural practices.

Lumpinee's circular structure, with an ageing tin roof that lets in rain and sunlight, is a stone's throw from the central oasis of Lumpini Park and had avoided Bangkok's frenetic building boom. The stadium harks back to the capital's golden days before the invasion of skyscrapers that now soar above it.

But it stands on prime real estate and its lease was not renewed by the Crown Property Bureau, one of Bangkok's biggest landlords and the fund that supports Thailand's monarchy.   Continued...

Spectators follow a fight during the closing Thai boxing, or "Muay Thai", fight night of the legendary Lumpinee stadium, one of Bangkok's oldest boxing venues which is being demolished after 57 years, February 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj